Historic Charleston Foundation Involvement with McLeod Plantation
In his will, William E. McLeod, who died shortly before his 105th birthday in 1990, left his one-third interest in the plantation to Historic Charleston Foundation. Two of his three sisters, each predeceased him without direct descendants, divided their two-thirds interest in the property among 13 nonprofit organizations which included the Foundation. To ensure the plantation was preserved and not liquidated or subdivided, Historic Charleston Foundation purchased the remaining beneficiaries’ shares in 1993.
Since its ownership of the property, Historic Charleston Foundation has focused its preservation efforts on protecting the plantation’s land and archeological sites, while stabilizing the most threatened structural components of the buildings. This work includes restoring the slave cabin roofs that were heavily damaged in Hurricane Hugo with appropriate cypress and cedar shingles, painting and repairing siding on the main house and cabins, undertaking the most pressing plaster repairs inside the main house, and making roof repairs to the outbuildings.
Over the years, Historic Charleston Foundation spent countless hours and no small expense exploring options that would provide for the best possible stewardship of McLeod Plantation. In an effort to assess the feasibility of the property’s being successfully operated as an educational museum, the Foundation retained the services of two market research firms that specialize in museum development. Those projects revealed that while McLeod Plantation is a unique and significant site, the admission fees it could reasonably expect to generate would not sustain a high-caliber restoration and ongoing operating costs of the property without an additional revenue subsidy.
The Foundation sold the property in December 2004 to the American College of the Building Arts. Historic Charleston Foundation’s Trustees felt that the American College of the Building Arts, whose educational mission is to train the next generation of artisans in the preservation arts and craftsmanship, was uniquely qualified to restore the plantation’s historic buildings. The Foundation also felt its sale to the American College would allow the plantation to remain within the public domain so that local residents and visitors alike could have access to and enjoy the property for generations to come. At the time of the sale, both the American College and the Foundation mutually agreed to a list of protective easements and covenants that would ensure the property’s preservation.
As guaranteed in the covenants, in September 2005, Historic Charleston Foundation’s trustees exercised the Foundation’s right to buy back McLeod from the American College at the college’s request. The Foundation’s repurchase of the property allowed the American College to secure the collateral capital it needed to obtain a low-interest loan from the City of Charleston in support of its core academic programs. This action best guaranteed the protection of the property’s architectural and cultural resources, while allowing the college to secure the fiscal stability it needed while seeking national accreditation. The American College no longer intended to establish a campus at McLeod.
The Foundation’s challenge became not simply finding a buyer who could afford the purchase price of McLeod Plantation, but rather, to find a buyer who also had the demonstrable financial resources to responsibly complete a costly restoration of the property and subsidize its ongoing operational expenses at a net loss. It was the Foundation’s desire that McLeod remain accessible to the community, as it embodies the story of southern agriculture in the time around the Civil War and is invaluable in illuminating the African-American contributions to southern agriculture and culture. Historic Charleston Foundation explored a wide range of options to ensure McLeod’s future, while keeping the property within the public domain, including talking with public park services at the county, state and federal levels.
On April 27, 2010 The Town of James Island filed notice which would start the condemnation process for McLeod Plantation. Historic Charleston Foundation reviewed its legal options with attorneys. The Foundation attorneys notified the town’s attorney that the Foundation rejected its offer of $2.7 million.
Historic Charleston Foundation’s highest priority in considering McLeod Plantation’s future was to ensure the protection of its architectural and cultural resources. The Foundation has spent more than a decade exploring a wide range of possibilities, including operating the property as a museum site, selling it to a private individual as a single family residence, or identifying a public entity that could demonstrate that it could purchase the property, afford a high-caliber restoration of the property, and operate the site within the public domain.
September 2010, Historic Charleston Foundation issued a request for proposals for the purchase of McLeod Plantation. The Foundation sought a buyer who could demonstrate a proven preservation ethic and expertise, the financial means to restore and maintain the property, and a justified plan for this unique property’s ongoing stewardship. The 38-acre property was appraised within the range of $3.725 million to $4.191 million. Multiple bids were received in accordance with the proposal guidelines.
Proposals were evaluated on the basis of:
A demonstrated commitment and capability to preserve and rehabilitate the property
Terms and conditions of proposal
Proposed usage and/or programming of property
In February of 2011, the Foundation announced the sale of McLeod Plantation to the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission (CCPRC) for $3.3 million. To ensure the protection of the site’s historic buildings in perpetuity, the property conveyed with protective covenants. The CCPRC has been working with architects who have experience in historic preservation to stabilize the structure and eventually open the Plantation the public.
Historic Charleston Foundation continues to be engaged in determining the future of McLeod Plantation by serving on its steering committee. The 21-member steering committee, which includes the CCPRC, Historic Charleston Foundation, Friends of McLeod, the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, plus architects, and engineers is developing a responsible plan for ongoing stewardship of McLeod Plantation.
Requiring construction techniques and materials that are appropriate for the site’s historic environment, Historic Charleston Foundation will approve proposed construction on the property. Archaeology will be performed should any new construction disturb the Plantation’s ground deeper than five inches. If anything significant were found during preliminary archaeological research, further study would be completed before work could continue.
McLeod Plantation is the last of 17 antebellum plantations on James Island to survive with its accessory buildings intact. It is admired for its historic assemblage of agricultural buildings, domestic service facilities and a corridor of slave cabins along one of its two oak allees to the main house.