Episode 19 – The Huntington Legacy in South Carolina

Brookgreen Gardens and Huntington State Park are both on land that belonged to Archer Milton Huntington and his wife Anna Hyatt Huntington. They were northerners (he was a poet and scholar focussed on Hispanic Studies whose wealth came from being the son of a railrood tycoon/industrialist, and she was a well-known sculptor). Around 1930 they bought up the land that had been 4 large rice plantations, totalling over 45 sq km and reaching to the oceanfront, as a winter home on which they built Atalaya “castle”, a Moorish style house intended as a retreat and Anna’s sculpture studio. They were incredible philanthropists, donating money, land and buildings in several states, helping found museums, endowing literary chairs at universities, and helping establish the United States’ National Poet Laureate program. Archer and Anna shared the belief that a nation is defined through its educational and cultural endeavours, and their vision was to bring education and culture to as many people as possible.

Neighbouring plantations were bought by the Vanderbilts, among other “Yankees” who took advantage of the fact that the large plantations were no longer viable after emancipation. The Huntington land is now split into the state park, with a large unspoiled beach, wetlands and forest, the house (built during the Great Depression using all local workers), boardwalks, and wetland trails … and Brookgreen Gardens which houses an art gallery and acres of manicured gardens including reflecting pools and a total of over 1400 sculptures! It was the first sculpture garden in the U.S. and is the largest outdoor display of American sculpture in the world. There is a ton of information at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brookgreen_Gardens if you want to know more.

The amazing Patti, who rented us her condo for March and April, kindly included a state park pass which allowed us to return to Huntington Beach several times. The huge wetlands are home to alligators, egrets, herons, anhingas, pelicans, ducks, swans, oysters, crabs, shrimp and more. The forest inhabitants include rabbits and deer. The beach itself is over 3 miles long, all unspoiled by any commercialization… and then there is the historic home.

Brown pelican swallowing its catch as a completely unimpressed egret stands by.
The sprawling Moorish home, “Atalaya Castle”, viewed from the east. Every one of the windows on this side had a view of the ocean during the time the Huntingtons lived there. Now that the land is a state park, the underbrush obscures the ocean view.
One side of the split inner courtyard. As we toured the home’s now bare brick-wall rooms, if I closed my eyes I could imagine the house in the 1930’s, with all the interior brick whitewashed, walls covered in tapestries and the floors with Moroccan rugs, the library full of books, the dining room furnished with its table and chairs designed by Anna, the office filled with Archer’s papers, the studios with Anna’s sculptures, their macaw flying free and their beloved deerhounds in front of one of the many fireplaces.
The entrance, through the courtyard, to the front foyer.

We visited Brookgreen Gardens first in December for the absolutely spectacular Night of 1000 Candles Christmas event that involved 4500 hand-lit candles, 2 million LED lights, and a 90 foot tall live Christmas tree with 130,000 lights. If you follow us on Facebook, you saw our pictures of that magical night. The four below give you some idea of just how beautiful the gardens looked.

Clockwise from top left: giant balls of light hung from trees wrapped in light; candle-lit walkways, lights mirrored in a reflecting pool; 80 foot long “icicles ” hanging from the trees in one of many colour-themed areas of the park.

This month we went back to visit the park in daylight with spring on full display. Since entrance tickets give 7 consecutive days of access, we were able to take our time enjoying all the gardens had to offer. I’m going to share just my “top 5” sculptures. With over 1400 of them in bronze, concrete, marble and gilded bronze, you can imagine how hard it was to choose!

“Ring of Bright Water” by Ken Ullberg. There could be no better setting for this gorgeous sculpture than in a garden filled with natural ponds and curated reflecting pools.
“Alligator Bender” by Nathaniel Choate. Two magnificent creatures.
“I’m Tall” by Alex Palkovich. Perfectly captures the pride of accomplishment.
“The Visionaries” by Anna Hyatt Huntington, a tribute to her own and her husband’s hopes for the Brookgreen Garden legacy, showing them surrounded by their other loves: dogs, books, and references to Hispanic culture.
“Eve” by Janet de Coux. There’s just something about the expression on her face as she contemplates offering the apple.

Also on the property is a large wetland reclaimed from the rice plantations, archeological evidence of the slave houses and plantation kitchens with audio stops along the way, a butterfly pavilion, trails along the marsh, a pontoon boat narrated cruise, and the Low Country Zoo (a series of animal habitats and an aviary situated along a treed walking trail). Here are some of Ted’s favourite pictures from the “zoo”.

Clockwise from the beautiful grey fox: a White Ibis, Fulvous Whistling Duck, and Black-Crowned Night Heron. (With thanks to our amazing wildlife photographer friend Maggie for helping us identify the birds.)

Brookgreen Gardens was definitely a highlight of our Myrtle Beach area winter. Their motto “Ever Changing, Simply Amazing” really says it all. The “simply amazing” part also sums up my feelings about the Huntingtons and their legacy.

6 comments

  1. Glad to be sharing it with you. Seems like a good trade for all the wonderful wildlife pics with which you inspire us! (Hope you got a kick out of the credit on our waterfowl pics)

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  2. Loved it! Ted should have a byline under all the pictures!! I was looking at my pictures and loved the “pink flamingo” he took earlier on. Sent Carolyn the blog; she’ll love it Love you

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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