Auldbrass Plantation

Auldbrass view toward the pool. Image by Anthony Peres.

Nestled amongst the live oaks and cypress swamps of the Combahee River sits a unique treasure. Hidden from passersby, this lovely jewel is only open for tours one weekend, every other year. The legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed only one plantation during his legendary career. Luckily for us, it sits just outside the town of Yemassee.

Image by CBS Sunday Morning.

“Auldbrass” was established in 1938. Over 4,000 acres from Old Brass, Mount Alexander, Richfield, Old Combahee, and Charlton plantations were combined and given to C. Leigh Stevens (from Michigan) for reorganizing the Savannah River Lumber Company. In 1939 Stevens commissioned Wright to envision and design a self-sufficient, modern plantation for farming, hunting and entertaining. Wright called on his principles of organic architecture to design a complex that would exist in harmony with its surrounding Lowcountry landscape. Wright, not being a fan of the more traditional right angle, designed walls to slope at an 80 degree, to mimic the live oaks on the property. He also looked to the property’s cypress trees for inspiration for exterior siding. Wright named this complex Auldbrass.

Image found on Pinterest.

Initial drawings and plans of the house and complex were finished by 1940. Hexagonal shapes and inward sloping walls, with low lying ceilings were the theme. By 1941 the farm buildings were nearly completed, and the main house was in the beginning stages. Work was halted in 1942 due to World War II and shortages of supplies.

An example of the copper Spanish moss-inspired downspout can be found near the pool.
Image by Ed Forgotson.

Wright’s plans included a low-lying complex of geometric pavilions, outbuildings, stables and kennels. The main house was supplemented with multiple guest cottages and service quarters. Plans also included a swimming pool, laundry, and bath houses for the staff. Decorative motifs inspired by local flora compliment the design. A great example of this can be seen in the down spouts designed to resemble Spanish moss. The downspouts were not realized until the 1980s because WWII caused a shortage of building materials. By 1946 Stevens was ready to resume construction. He moved into the completed caretaker’s cottage to oversee construction. Very little was done between 1946-1948 because Stevens began guest lecturing at Harvard Business School. Frank Lloyd Wright died in 1959, the Stevens followed in 1962. Neither saw the project completed.

Image found on the Island Packet.

Stevens’ daughter Jessica Loring took over ownership of Auldbrass in 1971. She and her husband managed the estate and produced corn and soybeans. They made extensive repairs to the buildings with their profits. They also replaced the roof, upgraded the mechanical systems and eliminated changes made to Wright’s original designs. By this time visitors became curious about the plantation. Jessica and her husband welcomed them in and gave tours. The Lorings also did something very important for the property. They nominated Auldbrass for the National Register of Historic Places. By 1979 the Lorings were ready to sell the property.

Image by Anthony Peres.

The cost of upkeep was more than they were able to accomplish. The Boise Cascade Timber Company purchased the property, except the Old Combahee tract, which they retained for themselves. Westvaco quickly bought the property, selling the buildings and a small tract of land to local hunters. Unfortunately, they could not manage the buildings and they quickly fell into disrepair. Beaufort County Open Land Trust became involved with the property. It was decided to place an easement on the property and sell at a drastically reduced price.

Bluebird Cottage image by Ed Forgotson.

Hollywood producer Joel Silver purchased the property in 1987. Silver had long been a fan of Wright’s architecture. He lives in the Storer House in Los Angeles, which was designed by Wright and built in 1923. Silver enlisted the help of Eric Lloyd Wright, grandson of the designer. Together they set out to restore the buildings on the property and complete Wright’s vision. His plan has four stages: restore all original buildings as designed, rebuild destroyed buildings, complete unbuilt projects, and add structures needed by Silver, mimicking Wright’s style. Silver and his team have spent the last 35 years realizing this dream.

Shades of rust and brown help the structures blend in naturally with their surroundings. The low-lying, rambling main house feels like a hunting lodge, complete with all the trappings of comfort. The symmetry that is so prevalent in traditional plantation homes has been cast aside for this one-story, sprawling home. In fact, all buildings on the property are one level and no single grand drive leads to the house.  

Even the windows join in on the geometric fun! Image by Ed Forgotson.

Visitors to Auldbrass will have to look hard to find a right angle in Wright’s buildings. Staff quarters, barn, guest cottages, and even the pool and hot tub all have an abundance of obtuse and acute angles. While the windows are squared, their panes are not.

Interior image by Anthony Peres.

Geometry is at play in the interior of Auldbrass as well. The wall angles and windowpane designs are much more visible inside. Even the furniture was designed by Wright, with the same design principles. Much of the furniture had to be replaced when Silver restored the plantation, but as luck would have it, the purchase came complete with Wright’s original blueprints for the plantation structures and furniture designs. The home is currently furnished as Wright envisioned it.

Beaufort Open Land Trust image of the livingroom.

There’s only one way visitors can tour this beautiful plantation. Every two years the Beaufort Open Land Trust schedules tours for one weekend. For more information visit BeaufortOpenLandTrust for more information. For more information about other sights to see in the Yemassee area visit YemasseeDrivingTour.

Location: Combahee River, 7 River Road in Yemassee East of Yemassee on River Road, Beaufort County.

A special thank you to Gayle Kovach for suggesting we share a story on this iconic Lowcountry treasure, and for enjoying the Driving Detour Through Yemassee blog.

Even the Auldbrass dock on the Combahee River shares the same design principles. Photo by Carmen Pinckney
Map from Beaufort Open Land Trust tour program.

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