It’s hardly short of miraculous that the captivating Southern lady known as Wavering Place Plantation is still around to exert her charm. Co-owner Weston Adams III, a descendant of the lower Richland County plantation’s original owner, relates the story of its providential preservation during the Civil War era.
“About 100 years into the plantation’s history,” says Weston, “two sisters, Frances Tucker Hopkins and Christian Tucker Weston, lived as near neighbors to one another, one at Grovewood Plantation, the other at Wavering Place. When Sherman came through, he went to Grovewood first, and his soldiers met Mrs. Weston there. One officer told her, ‘I studied with your husband in Paris; we were at the Sorbonne together.’ So the soldiers didn’t burn Grovewood. The officer also asked, ‘Do you want me to spare any other houses?’ Mrs. Weston said, ‘My sister lives at Wavering Place. Would you spare it?’ He did, and Wavering Place was saved.”
Ownership of Wavering Place, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has remained in the Adams family since the beginning of its history. Having emigrated from England to Virginia in the 1640s, the Adams family moved first to North Carolina and then to lower Richland County in South Carolina. There, in 1768, Joel Adams established his plantation, Wavering Place, and married neighbor William Weston’s daughter, Grace, of Grovewood Plantation.
When showing the Wavering Place big house as it is today, present co-owner Robert Adams VI, Weston’s brother, likes to point out a portrait on the living room wall. “That’s Robert Adams I and his wife, Charlotte Pickett Adams. He was in the second generation of Adamses to live here,” says Robert, “and he fought in the War of 1812. Over there is a portrait of James Hopkins Adams of Live Oak Plantation, who served as South Carolina’s Governor from 1854 to 1856. His home, which stood near Wavering Place but burned 100 years ago, was where McEntire Air Base is now.”
According to Robert and Weston, Joel Adams was the family’s fortune maker. An indigo planter in the 18th century, Joel served with Francis Marion during the Revolutionary War. When he died, he left seven or eight plantations in lower Richland County to his children, including Wavering Place, which Robert and Weston bought from their uncle, Dr. Julian Calhoun Adams, in 2013 at which time they modernized the house with heating and air conditioning. Julian had just used the fireplaces in the winter and fans in the summer, the old-fashioned way. Several other nearby family plantations remain in the hands of the Adamses’ Weston, Hopkins and Hayne cousins.
“This house, which dates from 1850 and replaced the first big house, is probably the best example of Greek Revival architecture in the area,” says Weston. “It’s a four over four over four, meaning each floor has four big rooms and a central hallway. The wainscoted walls in the living room and library are made of sycamore harvested from the plantation and were once varnished black. We helped our uncle strip off all the varnish about 20 years ago and returned the walls to what it looked like originally.”
In order to keep up the plantation, the Adams brothers knew they would need a revenue stream, which they decided to create by making Wavering Place available as an events venue.
“The kitchen outbuilding,” Robert notes, “is our most recent renovation project. It’s a 1790 yellow-brick structure — all the bricks on the plantation were made here from Congaree River mud — and it was used as a doctor’s office at one time. During the Great Depression, Adams Hayne and his son Ike Hayne, who were both physicians, ran a clinic for the area on weekends, predominantly for the local black population. They’d set up shop here on Saturday morning, and anybody who needed to see the doctor could pay a call.”
Key to the successful renovation of the old kitchen outbuilding was the skilled hands of Weston’s wife, Lisa, and Robert’s wife, Shana. Lisa, a designer with an architectural firm in New York at the beginning of her working career, drew up the plans for the entire kitchen renovation, which included raising the dropped ceilings to reveal beautiful old beams, deciding where the walls should go and choosing the different woods used, all of which were pine and walnut cut on the property. She also reused the building’s doors and shutters. Together, Lisa and Shana did the interior decorating of the newly restored kitchen. Their color scheme of white, beige and brown predominates inside, with blue as an accent color, all complementing the white exterior and “plat-eye” or “haint” blue shutters, roof and doors.
Lisa’s architectural design retains the original fireplace and includes a European shower in the master bath, two details that illustrate her insightful dovetailing of the historic and the modern in the kitchen house.
Weston outlines the logic behind their choice of the kitchen as the first of the five plantation outbuildings to be renovated. “We decided to renovate the kitchen first because it’s brick. You can more easily renovate a solid-brick building than you can one of these old wooden buildings out here. We felt we could modernize it, make it tight, and heat and air condition it to suit our event and B&B business. It’s incredibly comfortable. Lee McCaskill of Camden did most of the contract work. He specializes in old buildings and is an incredibly talented guy.”
As for the other four outbuildings, which include the barn, infirmary/plantation office, smokehouse and double slave cabin, the Adams brothers are still considering which one to tackle next in their renovation plan. He and Weston chuckle when they visit the barn and view a historic reminder of their ancestor James Pickett Adams, Confederate Colonel and member of the Legislature, who painted his initials with tar in the barn to show where he kept his horse.
One secret the barn has given up of late: a massive stash of 220-year-old original bricks made on the plantation. Robert and Weston used some of these yellow bricks to fix the barn’s foundation, as well as that of the smokehouse. They also put a new roof on the plantation office/infirmary. The office/infirmary, smokehouse and double slave cabin, Weston says, have good roofs and are sound.
“We’d like to make the double slave cabin a museum because it’s important to African-American history. We likely will seek a grant to help with that project,” Robert says.
In gentlemanly fashion refusing to let the ladies carry the entire work load, Robert and Weston mow grass and do a lot of cleaning up and painting at Wavering Place. “We carry the big unskilled-labor end of the operation,” says Robert with a twinkle. “However, we do hire help to maintain Uncle Julian’s unique native-plant garden. There are seven types of magnolia indigenous to our area, for example, and they’re all in this garden — like this big-leaf magnolia. Uncle Julian is the only person known to have successfully propagated stewartia, and we have both varieties here. It flowers and looks something like dogwood.”
When did Wavering Place first get its grip on Robert’s and Weston’s souls? Robert recalls, “From our earliest years, Wavering Place was imprinted in our minds as an old family place, a special one to the Adamses. Oral history is huge in our family. It has to do with places and locations and origins and houses and people. We were raised with, and taught, these things, the stories about who lived where and who did what. Our family has been here since 1768, and Wavering Place has always been sort of a touchstone for us.”
Just inside the big house’s front door is a table holding a framed invitation to a special event at Wavering Place. Weston explains, “We have the original, but this is a copy of an invitation to Confederate soldier James P. Adams’s 25th-anniversary celebration, which took place here in 1874. I love that, especially since we’re in the wedding business now.”
Thanks to Robert and Weston Adams’s preservationist vision for their family home, this revitalized Southern belle called Wavering Place Plantation has made a new debut in the 21st century and, along with her many guests, is enjoying the party.