The Santee Coastal Reserve, headquartered in McClellanville, was established in 1974 on 24,000 acres of land purchased by the Department of Natural Resources and donated by The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy had acquired the land from the Santee Gun Club, which was established here in 1898. The property comprising the gun club had previously been Eldorado and Ormond Hall plantations. The plantation land was originally inhabited by Sewee and Winyah Indians.
The property that became Ormond Hall was first purchased by a free black named John Williams, who bought 400 acres in 1757. Eldorado was owned by Revolutionary War heroine Rebecca Motte, who built a brick home on the acreage in 1797. Though the structure burned in 1897, its ruins remain within the reserve. After acquiring the former rice plantations, Captain Hugh Garden of Sumter established the Santee Gun Club in 1898. Membership consisted primarily of wealthy northerners, including honorary member President Grover Cleveland. The gun club building, seen below, now serves as a meeting place and informal museum.
Within the reserve are Cedar Island, Murphy Island, The Cape, and the Washo Reserve (sometimes spelled Washoe). The Washo Reserve is owned by The Nature Conservancy, which co-manages the property along with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Cedar Island and Murphy Island are comprised of former rice fields that support a diversity of bird species and are accessible to visitors only by private boat.
A component of the land which made it desirable as a gun club were its marshes and former rice fields, which make good habitat for water fowl and other wildlife. Thus, the area has been a managed wildlife reserve of sorts since the late nineteenth century. The Collins Creek Gun Club helped manage the reserve from 1974 through 1999. Above, a rice trunk helps control flooding and drainage of the tidal marsh.
Santee Coastal Reserve was designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, a recognition that attempts to promote bird conservation and biodiversity. Loggerhead turtles nest on Cedar and Murphy Islands, and alligators also thrive here in abundance. The reserve hosts a number of diverse forests, including a large natural stand of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and mixed hardwoods. It also features those mysterious South Carolina geological formations, Carolina bays.
Santee Coastal Reserve is full of recreational opportunities for visitors. Hunting, hiking, cycling, and bird-watching are all popular activities within this carefully managed-preserve. Though it is closed to the public during scheduled hunts, the Santee Coastal Reserve is otherwise open in daylight hours and for primitive camping overnight.
Eldorado Plantation – Santee Coastal Reserve
As mentioned above, a portion of the Santee Coastal Reserve was once known as Eldorado Plantation. Eldorado was the home of Thomas Pinckney. Pinckney’s mother was the revered Eliza Lucas Pinckney, who introduced indigo to the colonies. His cousin was Charles Pinckney, a signer of the United States Constitution, a United States Senator, a United States representative, and, the Governor of South Carolina, of Snee Farm Plantation in Mount Pleasant. Thomas Pinckney married two of Rebecca Brewton Motte’s daughters: Elizabeth Motte in 1779 and, after her death, her younger sister, Frances, in 1797.
Before acquiring Eldorado, Pinckney lived at neighboring Fairfield Plantation with his mother-in-law, Rebecca Brewton Motte, and family. Fairfield was acquired by Thomas Pinckney and Elizabeth Motte after her father, Jacob Motte, died without leaving a will. Thomas Pinckney, Frances Pinckney, and Rebecca Brewton Motte relocated to Eldorado in 1797. Under a collaboration between Rebecca Brewton Motte and Thomas Pinckney, the brick house was designed and built here.
In the book Historic Houses of South Carolina by Hariette Kershaw Leiding she says this about the house at Eldorado:
… situated on a sandy knoll, jutting out into the rice-fields, embowered by live-oaks with their outstretched arms and lofty magnolias with their glittering foliage,” “the spacious mansion, which he (Pinckney) planned and built with his own carpenters, is very suggestive of a French chateau, with its wide corridors, its lofty ceilings, and its peaked roof of glazed tiles.
The house overlooked the Santee Delta. It was shelled by gunboats from the Union fleet in 1863. The mills of the plantation were torched, but the home itself was saved when a Confederate calvary unit arrived under the command of a grandson of a former owner. When the house burned on May 10, 1897, it was still owned by descendants of Thomas Pinckney.
Murphy Island – Santee Coastal Reserve
Murphy Island consists of 13,530 acres, only 650 of which are considered high ground. Remnants of rice fields can be observed on the island.
Cedar Island – Santee Coastal Reserve
Cedar Island is a ten-mile-long, two-mile-wide island of 4, 050 acres within the reserve. The island separates the Santee River into two parallel channels, the South Santee and North Santee, before the river flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Though the Santee Coastal Reserve has its headquarters in Charleston County, Cedar Island is located in southern Georgetown County.