Rose Hill Plantation Union SC

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Not far from Union, South Carolina, you’ll find a place where you can step back in time and learn about South Carolina’s history from secession through the Civil War, slavery and emancipation, and Reconstruction and its aftermath. All of this at Rose Hill Plantation, one of the best preserved plantation houses in the South.

The History of Rose Hill Plantation

stucco plantation house seen from the front and side magnolia tree growing infront
Rose Hill Mansion near Union South Carolina

The house was the home of secessionist governor William Henry Gist. Originally built as a brick Georgian style home, two-story porches where later built on the front and the back and the brickwork was stuccoed over, giving it the Greek Revival look you see today.

Other than the house, the only Antebellum structure still standing is the kitchen directly behind the house. Because of the risk of fire, stately homes kept their kitchens separate from the house. And a fire is just what happened to the original wooden kitchen at Rose Hill. The structure that you can see today is the brick replacement.

The plantation gets its name from the rose bushes planted throughout the ornamental garden. Over 100 types where planted over the years by various owners, including a rare green rose originating from China. Many of the original elements of the 1800’s garden remain today like the southern magnolia trees, terracing, and a brick wall topped with an iron fence.

Remembering the Enslaved People of Rose Hill

While walking through the gardens or touring the house, it’s easy to forget about the realities of most of the residents of Rose Hill. It was a working plantation of between 2000 and 7000 acres and had the largest enslaved population in the area. The 178 slaves at Rose Hill lived in 17 structures, none of which are still standing today.

formal antebellum dining room. wooden table, fireplace, dinnerware laid out on table
Dining room at Rose Hill where crops grown by the enslaved peoples would be served to the Gist family

We don’t know much about the people held in slavery at Rose Hill. Census records tell us that the family’s cook was a 25 year old woman with a six year old son. Three teenagers, one girl and two boys, worked as “house servants”. The rest of the 178 slaves held at the plantation were most likely left to toil in the fields growing cotton to sell; or corn, oats, and other foodstuffs for the Gist family’s dinner table.

The Civil War and Emancipation at Rose Hill Plantation

Rose Hill Plantation- blue room with fireplace in center of room sofa and chairs paintings above fireplace two tables in center of room with parts of chandelier
Formal sitting room on the first floor of Rose Hill

The plantation house and gardens survived the Civil War only because of chance. Rose Hill, being the home of South Carolina’s secessionist governor and the birthplace of the secessionist movement, was a ripe target for General Sherman as his army moved north after capturing Savanna in his March to the Sea. Unfortunately for Sherman, the Broad River was at flood stage and his troops couldn’t cross, so after sacking Columbia, he marched his army to the northeast away from Union County. This would not be the last time Rose Hill would be threatened by a military force.

After Emancipation, William Gist returned to Rose Hill and began to rent land out to sharecroppers. Most of the tenant farmers at the former plantation where former slaves. Today, as a historic site, Rose Hill preserves the history of freedmen like Vardy and Clayborn Gist. After gaining their freedom, they stayed at Rose Hill, joined the state militia, registered to vote, and worked to build up a strong community among other freed people in the area.

Rose Hill in the 20th Century

plantation mansion with large magnolia tree in front
The southern magnolias in the front garden have grown to obscure the house from the front.

The house stayed in the Gist family until 1938 when it was sold to the United States Forest Service. The Civilian Conservation Corps established a camp nearby and began planting trees in the fields of the former plantation. These trees would later become part of the Sumter National Forest. The house remained but fell into disrepair.

When war broke out in Europe, the US Army Air Corps needed to evaluate how much damage their bombs would do to the solid brick buildings common in Germany. With a bombing range nearby in Union County and the Rose Hill plantation house being on federal lands, it became an obvious target. When Clyde Franks, a Federal Land Bank representative from Laurens, found out about the plan, he stepped in and bought the house and 44 acres from the Forest Service in 1944.

As an antique collector and lover of history, Franks intended to refurbish Rose Hill as a home for his son. Unfortunately, his son died the following year in WWII. Franks then opened the house to the public finally selling the property to the South Carolina Park Service in 1960.

Visiting Rose Hill Plantation

Road leading up to Rose Hill house can hardly be seen
As you drive up to Rose Hill, the mansion is almost entirely covered by the Magnolias. Most of them as old as the house.

Today the historic mansion and gardens have been refurbished and preserved. House tours are available, but it’s free to explore the grounds including the formal gardens in the front of the mansion. Special educational programs take place throughout the year (be sure to check the State Parks Website for more information). And parks employees are at hand to answer any questions you have about the history of the plantation including the lives of the people who lived here before and after emancipation.

front door hedge infront
Front door of Rose Hill from the formal garden

There’s a picnic shelter that can be reserved. If its not already reserved, guests are free to use it.

Two hiking trails start near the parking area for the picnic shelter. One is an easy half mile nature loop that runs through the woods to the far side of the mansion. Part of the trail follows a historic roadbed used by tenant farmers. The second trail is a two mile out and back through the Sumter National Forest to the Tiger River.

Fast Facts about Rose Hill Plantation SC

Type:Historic Site – Antebellum Plantation House
Admission:Grounds are free
Location:2677 Sardis Rd, Union, SC 29379
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Things to do: House tours, walk the formal gardens, picnicking, learn about history, short nature walks.

Map to Rose Hill Plantation in Union SC