A Good Auld-fashioned Road Trip
With the summer fast approaching, what better way to celebrate than a good “auld-fashioned” road trip! That’s right, road trip. I have been doing a lot of reading over that past year during my travels back and forth between New Hampshire and South Carolina and a lot of that reading has been focused around the Civil War. I am not sure what my fascination about that period in American History is all about, but one of the most prolific American architects had a similar one. In 1938, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design a southern plantation for C. Leigh Stevens in the low country town of Beaufort County South Carolina known as Yemassee just west of Charleston. According to Beaufort County Open Land Trust, “Stevens reorganized the Savannah River Lumber Company, and as a fee for his services the company gave him several tracts of land. C. Leigh Steven’s combined Old Brass (formerly Mount Pleasant, Mount Alexander, Richfield, Old Combahee, and Charlton to form a large piece of property. He then commissioned Wright to build a plantation complex that represented a working farm. A new kind of plantation, one that would address issues of contemporary use and economics while remaining strongly evocative of its southern location. Wright was credited for naming the complex Auldbrass.”
So now that we have our location set, as with any road trip, it’s always good practice to pull out a road map just in case you want to know where you are going. In this day and age, it’s a lot easier to Google Map Quest which calculates the distance to Yemassee, SC, at 1,018 miles from downtown Elm Street in Manchester, NH. If you decide to drive straight through, which I do not recommend, it will take approximately 16 hours and 5 minutes. A majority of your trip will follow the I-95 corridor along the eastern seaboard and take you through 10-states and the District of Columbia. Along the way, you will have opportunities to visit many historical sites, some of which you have read about or heard about over the years. I can assure you that the most unusual, will be the only southern plantation designed by Wright known as Auldbrass.
As it turns out, when construction started on the plantation in 1940, World War II was just around the corner and with materials and supplies being relegated to the war effort and in short supply, construction soon came to a halt. Work started again after the war, but building material shortages continued. Stevens in the meantime suffered from personal as well as financial upheaval until Wright’s death in 1959 and his own death three years later. The project remained unfinished and the house fell into disrepair over the years. In the early 1980s, celebrated movie producer Joel Silver purchased the plantation and began his quest to not only “rescue it from decay, but also to complete it as Wright had envisioned, and as Stevens had wished. It stands at last as the archetypal image Wright conceived…” Edgar Kaufman junior, the celebrated Wright scholar, considered Auldbrass one of Wright’s most important designs.
The house itself has a very familiar quality to it, especially to those who have toured the Zimmerman house in Manchester, NH. Once you see the plantation, the comparisons are obvious, even though the scale of the home dwarfs the Zimmerman house. All of the qualities and character that Wright employed there have been recreated in Auldbrass many times over. What makes this example of one of Wright’s last works so unique is his application of modern design in an attempt to bring back a “lost lifestyle.” The traditional “southern plantation” has a certain look and appeal, but a consistent feature between Wright’s design and the traditional southern plantation is the open and permeable exterior, a hallmark of his Usonian work.
So that’s my brief history of Auldbrass. I still have many miles to go before I reach my destination, and I hope that you will have a chance to explore all this country has to offer in a good Auld fashioned road trip this summer. As it turns out, Yemassee was the site of the little known Civil War Battle of Pocotaligo. On October 22, 1862, 4,200 Union soldiers descended on the area from Hilton Head South Carolina. After a day of fighting with confederate rebels, Union troops retreated back to their flotilla and returned home to Hilton Head. It seems the architectural history of the area was a lot more interesting. Safe travels!