The picturesque natural beauty of the shallow blackwater wetland of Cypress Gardens that we see today was born in the cultivation of rice during the eighteenth century. Originally part of Dean Hall Plantation, 3,100 acres acquired in 1720 as a land grant by Sir Alexander Nisbitt, the area was subsequently diked to create a freshwater reservoir to flood rice fields when the Cooper River became too salty.
In 1821, owners William A. Carson and his mother turned their attention to creating a thriving plantation, with Mr. Carson becoming one of the most skillful and respected rice-planters in the Lowcountry. Upon Mr. Carson’s death in 1856, estate executors sold the property to Elias Nonus Ball for Confederate securities. Caroline, Carson’s widow who had fled north during the war, successfully sued to recover the plantation by asserting that the Confederate securities were “the illegal promissory notes of an unrecognized government”. Although the Carson sons attempted to plant from time to time, the plantation gradually fell into disrepair and the reserve reverted to water forest.
In 1909 Benjamin Rufus Kittredge purchased Dean Hall and in 1927, was inspired to hire 200 men to clear the water forest, create islands connected with decorative bridges and plant thousands of azaleas, camellias, winter Daphne and many varieties of bulbs. The private gardens were opened for the public to enjoy in 1931 for 11 weeks each year. Following the death of his father in 1951 and mother in 1959, Benjamin, Jr. donated the Gardens to the City of Charleston in 1963.
Following restoration after the devastation caused by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Berkeley County took over the Garden’s care and management in 1996. More than 50,000 visitors a year are able to take pleasure in leisurely strolls through more than three miles of flower-filled paths, relax while gliding along in flat bottom boats and learn about the long history of the area through a new exhibit in the Heritage Room. A small working rice field has recently been recreated and rice once again planted, tended and harvested by centuries-old methods.
The flowers are in peak bloom in March and April, but the gardens are beautiful at any time of year. The natural beauty of Cypress Gardens has not gone unnoticed by Hollywood. A number of movies have been filmed there including The Yearling, North and South, The Patriot, Cold Mountain and The Notebook