Middleton Place is one of the "living museums" that we are so fond of. Not only can you visit the beautiful gardens and buildings, but on many occasions see the past actually come alive through the interpreters they have exhibiting different aspects of life on a southern plantation. We found out that Middleton Place contains some of America's oldest landscaped gardens. Middleton Place is a proud survivor of the American Revolution, Civil War, changing fortunes and natural disasters. First granted in 1675, only five years after the first English colonists arrived in the Carolinas, this National Historic Landmark has history, drama, beauty and educational discoveries for everyone in the family. For over two and a half centuries, these graciously landscaped gardens have enchanted visitors from all over the world. You can stroll through vast garden "rooms," laid out with precise symmetry and balance, to the climatic view over the Butterfly Lakes and the winding Ashley River beyond. Today, as they did then, the gardens represent the Low Country's most spectacular and articulate expression of an 18th century ideal - the triumphant marriage between man and nature. We were able to walk the same footpaths through these gardens as did pre-Revolutionary statesmen, and enjoy the same vistas that inspired four generations of the distinguished Middleton family from 1741 to 1865. Here lived Henry Middleton, President of the First Continental Congress; Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; Henry Middleton, Governor of South Carolina and later Minister to Russia; and Williams Middleton, a signer of the Ordinance of Secession. The main house, which is now in ruins, dates to the late 1730s, and with some 200 surrounding acres was part of the dowry brought by Mary Williams to her marriage to Henry Middleton in 1741. Almost immediately Henry began establishing the gardens; in 1755, he further improved the property with the construction of two dependencies, or flankers, one on either side of the three-story brick house. The north flanker (which was originally intended as a gentlemen's guest wing) contained a library of leather-bound volumes plus many oil and watercolor paintings, prints and other objets d'art. A music room may have been housed in the north flanker as well. The plantation office was located downstairs in the south flanker with additional sleeping space upstairs for visiting friends and family. Unfortunately, in February of 1865 Union troops set fire to the main house of Middleton Place burning the house and north flanker beyond repair. However, the less severly damaged south flanker was restored by the family in 1869-1870 to be their residence. Today the only remaining building, the north flanker, contains family furniture, paintings and books; most of the objects date from the 1740s through 1880s. This collection tells the story of the men, women and children who made Middleton Place their home for over two centuries. Some of the paintings include works by Benjamin West and Thomas Sully. After touring the house we were able to take in the colorful sights and sounds of the working plantation stableyards. They had crafts-people demonstrate the skills performed by slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries, surrounded by the domestic animals who work and live among them. This was the first time Bob or I had seen how they processed rice in the past. The people who did the demonstrations were very knowledgeable in their areas. It was fascinating to watch. After doing all the gardens we sat down to an enjoyable lunch at the Middleton Place Restaurant where they served an authentic Low Country lunch. Dinner is also available. If you're interested in staying nearby they have the Inn at Middleton Place which is only a short walk from the gardens. The Inn is in a lovely secluded woodland setting. They offer horseback riding, kayaking and nature hikes for their guests. I have to say that no visit to Charleston is complete without a visit to Middleton Place. If you would like to find out more, drop by their website at: http://www.middletonplace.org.