Saturday, June 28, 2014

Georgetown's Hobcaw Barony 6/27/14

     We have arrived at Georgetown SC, and the first stop we are making is just to the north of town.  This is Hobcaw Barony, so named in 1718 by King George of England.  The property was originally given to one Lord Cartaret, who used the local Indian word Hobcaw ("Between the waters") when naming it.  The land passed through many hands and was divided in various ways over the next 180 years until it was purchased as a hunting camp by a man named Baruch, a young Jewish wall street multi-millionaire. Over time he pieced all the pieces that the land had been subdivided into, plus some, and brought it up to its current day six of roughly 16,000 acres.  It passed through him to his eldest daughter who established a trust, which still holds the property today.  The property runs from the ocean to a river, and includes all of the ecosystems common to the low country - beach, tidal marsh and tidal streams, estuary, hardwood forest, fresh-water swamps, long-leaf pine forest and lob-lolly pine forest.  

     My guide for the day was the witty and energetic Lee Brockington, who did not say a word about the fact that she has published several books.  It was later when I was wandering around the gift shop that I happened to see her name on these two - but she already gone, off working with a new volunteer.

     I met Lee at the welcome center, a spacious area with numerous educational exhibits.  There are many live animal displays and exhibits that show the current and past inhabitants of this property - plant, animal and human.

     This is "Aggie," a live alligator that hisses a bit if you come too close to her cage.  There were also live turtle displays, marine crustacean displays, a large fish-tank and many others.  It is important to note that if you visit this place, this center is open all the time, but the tours that take you into the interior of the land require an advance reservation.  

     Many don't realize that the range of the Buffalo went clear to the Atlantic Ocean.  Here is a bison jaw bone found here on the beach.

     So, Lee loaded about ten of us up in the short bus to take us on a tour of the grounds.  We ran along another stretch of the Kings Highway, the old route from Boston to Georgia.

    Along the way various critters crossed our path - many of them I couldn't get pictures of, but a few I did.  Here is a cotton-mouth snake that was sunning in the middle of the road.

     And a fox squirrel acted like we had really put it out by having the nerve to drive down its road.

     As is the case with these houses on the rivers, we arrived at the back of the house.  This is far from the first structure built on this bluff - there are signs that perhaps four or five structures dating clear back to the Spanish in the 1500s were built here.

     The house has a beautiful view through live oaks back across a river toward Georgetown.  

     This is a 16 bedroom 12 1/2 bath mansion.  Baruch served as an independent financial adviser to numerous US presidents, several of whom he entertained here.  The property was rich with fowl, and his primary interest in it was for it to serve as a winter quarters and a hunting ground.  He had two daughters and a son, all of whom failed to produce an heir.

     There is a tour of the house, but it is requested that photos not be taken.  This is just a slightly larger and a little newer variation of the rice plantations like Brays Island and White Hall that were converted into hunting camps in the early 1900s.

     Baruch's oldest daughter was named Belle.  She was born in 1899, and at 6'2" she was extraordinarily tall for her day.  She became quite talented and a number of things and carried a very competitive spirit into everything she did.  She accumulated over 300 trophies for equestrian and yachting competitions - competitions against men.  She spoke several languages and spent a number of years in Europe.  She jumped at a chance to buy the property from her father, and then spent many more years keeping this property going.  

     Dying of cancer in 1964, she left the land in a trust whose language dictated that the land be used for the purpose of teaching and/or research of forestry and marine biology, as well as the care and propagation of indigenous species of plant and animal.


     There are photos of her hand feeding deer and wild turkeys.  But one thing that needed hunted - feral hogs.  The entire house is surrounded with a huge fence to keep these animals at bay.  They are a dangerous nuisance whose breeding capabilities are staggering.  A female can give birth to over 30 piglets a year, and a piglet is ready to breed in less than a year.  They are not native here, and most of their food comes from digging up and eating roots.  This of course kills off huge swaths of plant life.

     Along the way the tour passes through the old slave quarters.  Here is an early photo.

     A few of the houses still stand - some of the only rice plantation slave quarters remaining.  The Smithsonian used one of them to pattern and exhibit in Washington.

Even the old church/school remains.

     And the lengths that they had to go to trying to keep deer and hogs out of their gardens?  Well, it was a lot of effort.

     There is a cooperative research effort here with over 20 major universities.  One of those that has taken advantage of the opportunity is Clemson.  Here is one of several buildings Clemson has built on the site.  

     The inside is neat - the support beams are meant to mimic trees, and ample light floods every cranny of the building.

     Classrooms, conference rooms, offices and labs dot this building and the others Clemson has here.  Here is Dr. Skip Van Bloem, Clemson's director of this site.


     Skip has a warm nature about him, and is responsible for a fair amount of things that Clemson has going here.  There seems to be a bit of a division of labor at the site - University of South Carolina's research efforts focus on the marine environment and Clemson's on the interior.  

     Skip oversees Professors, researchers assistants, graduate students, undergraduates and even some folks who work here as part of vocational rehabilitation programs.  There are three basic lines of work - forest management, wildlife management and water shed/hydrology.  Of the three, the most interesting to me at the moment is a sub-category of water shed - the study of marine water intrusion.  

     This is one of the few sites where ongoing measures of plant life and ecosystems have been carried out consistently over the last 5 decades. A lot of places do studies, but they tend to be short term and after the goal is reached they move on. This place has a long and deep data set.  And it reveals some facts about this area.


     Measuring instruments along with aerial and ground based surveying confirm that the sea is steadily rising in this area.  In fact, over a mile of the old cypress swamps have died out due to the rise in saltwater over these last decades.  

     You can believe in global warming or not believe in it - when you come to this site and look at this data set it is irrelevant.  The salt water level is steadily rising and encroaching on the low-lands.  It doesn't matter if you think it is aliens, politicians, Muslims or feral hogs that are causing it - the water is rising steadily.  In an area that the ocean's advance and the effects of that advance are so easily observed and measured the reality of rising seas cannot be denied.  

    And of course the logical culprit is an ocean that is expanding due to warming.  There are several photographs altered to show a before and after view that clearly demonstrates how this present rate of ocean intrusion will affect local land-marks when today's children are eighty years old.  

Pawley's Island Church

     Being that this area is called the "Low-Country" because it is precisely that - close to sea level, it is very susceptible to this change.  These areas are being developed with communities like never before, just as huge tracts of land stand to be wiped out.  We might be wise to spend our efforts addressing this problem rather than running around the globe starting wars.  Our kids and grand-kids might just appreciate having these areas available to use.

     And today's parting shot comes from an old door knob.  You see the cartoons and such of folks peeking in at others through the old keyholes.

     Well, the doors here have spyware.  Little flaps installed both on the inside and outside of the doors can easily be moved to cover the keyhole.  Too bad our cell-phones and computers are not so easily protected from peeping Toms.

Have a great Saturday !!

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