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High Art in a LowCountry

One of the special things about travel is the happy accidents and serendipity. There are, naturally, places you know about, have always wanted to see, and make a destination. Those usually anchor our itineraries. But then there are places in between, that we just find ourselves, where we discover a treasure. Today being such a day.

I booked a campsite at Huntington Beach SC. It was selected simply based on it being a state park (we like those), on the ocean, and a reasonable stopping point before our next planned port of call, Charleston. I knew, precisely, nothing about Huntington Beach beyond that. Just a point on the map. Shame on me, but there you are.

Yet here in the lowcountry of South Carolina is an American Treasure: the 9000-acre former estate of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Anna was already a famous, wealthy for an artist, sculptor when they met in New York. Archer was heir to a massive shipyard and railroad fortune and thus silly wealthy. They meet cute.

They were both artists, scholars and well ahead of their time in terms of ingenuity and ideas. Their legacy in and around New York in terms of museums and foundations is too long to list. What is left here in SC is the shell of their oceanside castle Atalaya ("watchtower" in Spanish) which was full of countless architectural and philosophical innovations for its day. For example, the servants had quarters that were comfortable, bordering on lavish, for the time. But there were no guest rooms. Guests were not encourged to stay the night as it presented undo stress and annoyance that they simply chose to do without during their winters here. Archer lived into his 80s, Anna to 97 despite contracting TB in her 40s, so it might be a recipe for longevity. Archer’s building innovations are reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a great tour. And at $2 quite a bargain.

As an aside, Lori likes tours. Anytime we go anywhere, she finds out about all the tours and starts slotting them into our day. Some are great. Like today. Some require more patience on my part and frequent visits to any places to sit along the way. She will tour about anything. The old house where people used to live. The old village that once had old houses in it. The old septic field, etc. I can feel my legs and back getting tired just writing this.

At any rate, across the highway from the castle, is a great tour. There lies Brookgreen Gardens. It sprawls across thousands of acres of pre-Civil War rice plantations purchased by the couple.

Anna & Archer created stunning gardens of incredible variety and richness, enriched by hundreds of magnificent sculptures. They feature exclusively American artists and it is the largest such collection in the world. Anna’s own work is prominent, but so is the work of many others whose pieces might have been lost, but for their patronage during the Great Depression. I’m a sucker for sculpture gardens anywhere, but this is one of the best ones we’ve ever seen.

Again, I should have known about thiBut we would not have even visited it today but for a neighbor camper telling us to. Happy accidents. Serendipity. Take the tour.


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