Dr. Robert Russell, director of the master of science in historic preservation program, is featured in today’s Post & Courier article on the College of Charleston’s potential acquisition of McLeod Plantation.
Robert Behre’s article was originally posted in The Post and Courier on Monday, October 12:
Walking around McLeod Plantation gives a sense of the opportunities and challenges that await the College of Charleston, should it close the deal and buy this historic site.
Robert Russell, director of the college’s Historic Preservation and Community Planning program, has been considering these buildings for months as the college quietly considered buying the property.
The quiet ended late last month, when the Historic Charleston Foundation announced a plan to sell the 40-acre plantation to the college, which has three months to study the pros and cons before finalizing the deal.
McLeod offers a paradox to the college
On one hand, it would give the college much more room for classrooms and a potential laboratory for historic preservation, archaeology and African-American studies, as well as possible recreational space. The site could serve as an important release valve for its downtown campus now tightly bound by historic neighborhoods.
On the other hand, the plantation’s relatively pristine condition, a stark contrast to much of James Island, and its high visibility near Folly Road and Maybank Highway have given it a powerful constituency of people who want to see its buildings and open space remain much as they are.
McLeod Plantation is the historic James Island site that the College of Charleston is preparing to purchase.
Russell notes the current buildings are in varying conditions of repair and lend themselves to different uses.
The main house, which dates from the 1850s but was remodeled around 1925, has the most potential for use, both as classrooms and possibly event space.
“The house is in good shape. It does not need any stabilization as far as I know,” he says. “It needs work, but it’s mostly cosmetic.”
The slave cabins, which many consider the property’s most unique and evocative feature, also are in relatively good shape, and they will remain much as they are.
Russell points to the shingle roof on a cabin near the main house and notes that its black cypress shingles are only 10 years old but already are succumbing to rot. He says that itself can be a sort of lesson to students, a lesson in how today’s materials, even while ostensibly the same, often prove inferior to what earlier generations had on hand.
The most urgent preservation challenge can be found on the opposite side of the main house, where a two-story gin has a good roof but advanced rot problems.
“The sills are gone,” Russell notes. “Everything is gone here.”
A nearby barn, privy and garage are in nominally better shape, and their repairs probably won’t prove as tricky as figuring out how they can be used.
“That’s the question, too. Once you get the buildings back in shape, what do you do with them?”
Russell says the dairy or gin could be used to display historic materials — bricks, slate tiles and other remnants that currently are stored out of sight, or they could be used to store other stuff, perhaps things as mundane as the lawn mower the college’s grounds crew will use.
Dottie George of the Friends of McLeod, a nonprofit with hundreds of members, says the group isn’t hostile to the idea of the Historic Charleston Foundation selling the property to the college for $4 million, but the group realizes many details remain to be ironed out as far as how the property is used.
“We would like a place at the table while they’re drawing up these easements,” George says. “That’s a very important part –that’s where it all is determined.”
Concerns range from the number and character of the parking areas to any lighting or equipment there to the siting and appearance of any recreational fields or new buildings.
“Whatever we do is going to have to be inconspicuous or low impact,” Russell says. “As far as I can tell, that’s what the president has in mind.”