Cypress trees tower above the murky black waters of this swamp garden, located near Moncks Corner in Berkeley County. Cypress Gardens was created in 1909 by Benjamin Rufus Kitteredge on the original rice fields of Dean Hall Plantation. Today, the walking paths through the gardens follow the tops of the dikes. Kittredge opened the gardens to the public in 1932.
In the 1842 book, A Day on Cooper River by Dr. John Irving, there is a passage detailing Dean Hall Plantation that reads: “It resembles a well ordered village more than that of a single plantation. The residence of the proprietor – the condition of the fields – the banks – the white and cleanly appearance of the negro houses – the mill and thrashing machine in complete order, all excite a strong feeling of admiration, and stamp at once the proprietor as an experienced and skillful planter.” In 1909, Benjamin Kittredge purchased the property and started the creation of the swamp garden, initially for his wife’s enjoyment. The house at Dean Hall eventually fell into disrepair and was relocated to Beaufort County to avoid demolition in the 1970s.
The original home at Dean Hall was not the brick manse seen above but was actually the house seen below, which now sits within the town limits of Moncks Corner. The property originally belonged to the Nesbitt Family, and this simple home, one room wide, was the main plantation home for the property that would later became part of Cypress Gardens. When William Augustus Carson built his massive brick residence at Dean Hall in 1827, the original home became the house for the overseer of the plantation. Over the years the house was unused and was later discovered abandoned in the woods in 1967. The house was moved to its present location in 1968 and is fully restored and used as the Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce.
Cypress Gardens showcases the unique natural environment of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Below is a photo of cypress knees, or the knobby, woody formations that grow vertically from the cypress tree’s (Taxodium distichum) root system. Scientists still do not know the purpose of knees but suspect they might have multiple uses as a sort of “snorkle,” bringing oxygen to submerged roots, and to anchor the massive trees during storms or even acting as a hedge during such events. While the functions of knees are only hypotheses, their mysterious beauty is synonymous with a cypress swamp.
170 acres of gardens and swamps are so evocative of South Carolina’s timeless beauty that the property has been used as a set for over 15 movies, including The Patriot, Cold Mountain, The Notebook, and not surprisingly, Swamp Thing.
The above photo is of a foam bridge that was used as a prop in The Patriot. Visitors used to enjoy visiting Cypress Gardens to try and locate the many props that were left intact after filming. Unfortunately after storms, and flooding, none of the foam props remain.
A little over a mile down a winding trail, meandering around and along the murky swamp waters, lies this cemetery almost hidden in the forest. Brick walls surround what presents itself like a formal garden, pierced by a towering cross. Inside those walls, visitors can find the final resting place of Benjamin Rufus Kittredge, and his family, forever interred on this place they loved so dearly.
Every day except major holidays, visitors can walk along trails which wind through lush gardens or paddle flat-bottomed boats into the swamp for a close-up view of the cypress and tupelo trees, birds, turtles, and sometimes even alligators. To make a day of it, there’s also a Butterfly House, a Swamparium with live exhibits of fish, amphibians, and reptiles native to the swamp, and a gift shop.
Following the historic floods in October of 2015, Cypress Gardens suffered extensive damage, forcing the popular landmark to close. Repairs to features such as the walking trails, boat landing, visitors center, and beloved butterfly house were necessary before the park could reopen. Cypress Gardens officially began welcoming visitors again on April 13, 2019, just over three years since it was forced to close its doors. Many improvements and expansions were made in preparation for its new opening such an expanded playground, improved boat dock, exhibits, walkways, parking lot, visitors center, and more.
More Pictures of Cypress Gardens