Resolution Honoring Elizabeth McRae Petersen & William Harris McRae
WHEN Elizabeth and Willie McRae moved to Boone Hall in the 1950s, they were little children. Their father purchased the plantation as a gift for their mother, who called it “the most beautiful place in the world.” While the McRae family enjoyed deep roots in Ellerbe, North Carolina, they soon developed an ardent love for the South Carolina Lowcountry.
IN 1956, one year after buying Boone Hall, the parents opened the 600-acre property to the public. Two things motivated them: sharing a place they adored and making it sustainable. Over the course of six-and-a-half decades, the family transformed the plantation into a beloved community gathering place. Countless festivals, concerts and events occurred on the site each year, forming indelible memories for thousands of visitors.
MOST important to the McRaes was the historic context that the plantation embodied. Beginning with the presence of Native Americans and early European settlers, Boone Hall was a working landscape, well situated along a deepwater creek. Hunting and fishing, lumbering, indigo, brickmaking, pecan and cotton production, and vegetable farming all took place on the property. Its 18th century “slave street” of brick dwellings is testament to the ingenuity and steadfastness of the enslaved Africans who toiled there. Civil War earthworks remind us of battles that freed them.
WHEREAS in the second half of the 20th century, Boone Hall found itself surrounded by one of the fastest growing towns on the East Coast — Mount Pleasant, S.C. The plantation became an oasis of green space cherished by area residents. In 1972, when Willie McRae assumed management of Boone Hall, he championed its agricultural heritage. The U-Pick fruit and vegetable operation became a popular mainstay for countless families and schoolchildren, as did the Boone Hall Farms Market and its local farm-to-table program.
NOW well into the 21st century, in the final year of Willie’s life, he and his sister Elizabeth contemplated the future of Boone Hall beyond their generation. Current zoning allowed for as many as 1,800 homes on the property, representing tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the family. Instead of cashing in, they chose to preserve in perpetuity the legacy that their parents bestowed on them. On November 5, 2019, Elizabeth McRae Petersen and William Harris McRae affixed their signatures to a conservation easement agreement with the Lowcountry Land Trust; foregoing development of Boone Hall and preserving forever its working forests and farmland for the purposes of agriculture, education and tourism.
LET IT BE KNOWN that the S.C. Conservation Bank, the Charleston County Greenbelt Fund and Charleston County Council provided critical funding. In requesting compensation for only a fraction of the value of the land, Elizabeth’s and Willie’s gift represents one of the most valuable private donations to conservation in the history of South Carolina. “It will always be a magical, mystical place,” said Willie, speaking for himself and Elizabeth after the conservation easement signing. Indeed, we thank them for making “always” a reality.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that we, the Trustees of the Lowcountry Land Trust, enter this Resolution in our Minutes and that copies be given to the McRae family, with gratitude.
Date: May 21, 2020
Signed: Ashley Demosthenes
President, Lowcountry Land Trust