It’s not every day that hundreds of people travel from Sun City, Atlanta, Dallas or even China to visit Yemassee, a small Lowcountry town with a population of about 1,000 people.
But then again, it’s not everyday that the only Southern plantation designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Auldbrass Plantation, is open to the public.
On Saturday, Beaufort County Open Land Trust hosted tours of the plantation as part of a fundraiser, which happens once every two years.
Attendees moseyed slowly around the grounds, admiring Wright’s designs, learning about the property’s history, gawking at the exotic animals and simply immersing themselves in the work of one of America’s most famous architects.
“Mr. Wright realized that we needed an American architecture,” said Deanna Adams, as she finished up her tour. “...He wanted his structures to almost look like they came right up from the land where they were built.”
Adams and Carl Smith, of Dallas, planned a special trip around Saturday’s tour—but not without jumping over some hurdles first.
The couple was on a 36-day Mediterranean cruise when the tickets went on sale. Still, they were determined to grab their chance to see the plantation, they said.
At their home in Dallas, Smith and Adam’s living room is dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright, complete with four Lego replicas of his designs, two of his original lamps and a handful of coffee table books about the architect.
“I love the way he puts things together,” Smith said. “For instance, putting together the Legos, you get a feel for what goes where and why its going there, and when you look at his buildings, you get the same concept.
“He is more concerned with, to me, functionality than beauty, but it turns out to be beauty.”
Jerry Stocks, 82, a Beaufort native, has been volunteering at the Open Land Trust plantation tours for the last 14 years.
She has seen the plantation in its many phases—after it was first built, when it fell into disrepair and in its current state, after decades of restoration.
Stocks first visited the plantation when she was 11 years old. Her godfather worked as the Yemassee postmaster and knew the plantation’s caretaker, so Stocks was given a private tour at that time.
“I fell in love with it then...All the slanted walls and roofs, as a child it was just fascinating,” Stocks said.
Auldbrass Plantation was designed by Wright in 1939 for C. Leigh Stevens as a self-sufficient modern plantation for farming, hunting and entertaining.
Stevens owned the plantation until his death in 1962, when it was passed on to his daughter. The property fell into disrepair shortly after and was sold to a group of local hunters.
Stocks said she remembers visiting the home at that time and seeing broken windows, cracked decorations and rotting wood.
“We just drove right up here opened the door and walked right in,” she said.
Auldbrass plantation remained unfinished and in deep disrepair until Joel Silver, Hollywood producer of films such as “The Matrix” and “Lethal Weapon,” purchased the property in 1987. He has spent the last three decades working to restore and finish the plantation in the way that Wright had intended.
Walter Jackson, who was also at Saturday’s tour, said he owns about 12 books on the famous architect. Only two of them, however, include any information about Auldbrass Plantation, he said.
“Most of the books were published at least 20 years ago, so it (the plantation) would not have been restored to this level then,” Jackson said, hypothesizing why the plantation has not received as much attention as other Wright-designed works.
Jackson, who works as an architect in China, said Wright was “clearly the most influential American in architectural design.”
“(Frank Lloyd Wright) didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of European (architects) at the time, he wanted to create something new and unique,” Jackson said. “This plantation is a perfect example. You can see it in the way the walls tilt, inspired by the tilt in that oak tree.”
Auldbrass plantation consists of a main house, caretaker’s house, kennels, stables and various other buildings, and was designed to match its Lowcountry surroundings, from the oak trees to the Spanish moss and everything in between.
Maybe that is why, over the years, the expansive property has transformed from a well kept Beaufort County secret into a prized attraction sought by architects and Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts the world over.