Sandlapper Slept Here. . . .

Cedar Grove Plantation, Edgefield

by Dan Harmon

EDITOR'S NOTE: "Sandlapper Slept Here" is a column that appears in each issue of Sandlapper Magazine, featuring bed-and-breakfasts and historic inns throughout the Palmetto State. Here's an example. If you find it interesting, you may want to peruse our back issue listings for information about previous columns.

This is part love story. Owners John and Sandy Whitehouse eloped 25 years ago while they were attending college in Atlanta. He was 20; she was 18. At that age, you couldn't get a marriage license in Georgia, but you could in Alabama.

"We got out of class at 2:30 and had our little blood tests and drove to this little town in Alabama," Sandy said. She described the matronly receptionist at the courthouse who solemnly escorted them into an anteroom to be greeted by a plump little judge in a white suit. They did not plan to get married that day; they just wanted the license. But the judge was all set to go, and the next thing they knew, he was clutching a Bible, extolling them on the sanctity of the marital institution and eliciting their vows unto death. John didn't have a ring to give her, but the judge said that was all right. Sandy laughed through it. They still love each other.

It's part ghost story, too. Unlike some B&B owners, the Whitehouses don't deny certain . . . weirdities about Cedar Grove Plantation. In fact, the haunted guest room is officially labeled "The Spirit Room" with a nameplate on the door. "We give a discount for this room," John said.

The spirit, they've been told by locals, is that of an Irish servant girl in the 19th Century who was accidentally shot when she and a playmate discovered a loaded pistol in the room. All old houses creak, but the noises in this room are positively human, guests have sworn. One of the Whitehouses' relatives on an extended visit began his stay in "The Spirit Room" but ultimately asked to be moved upstairs.

Of course, this is also a history story. (After all, we're in Edgefield County, here.) John Blocker had the house built as a gift to his child bride 200 years ago (Part Two of the love story - or would it be Part One?). Around the walls of the parlor, a mural depicts the courtship and marriage of two lovers. The wallpaper was hand-painted in France to the dimensions of the room, then shipped over. Some say it was a gift from Napoleon, an aficionado of murals, although others question the notion that Napoleon would have presented such a gift to Blocker (formerly Blucher), of Prussian descent. Cedar Grove, named for the cedar trees imported from Prussia by the Bluchers, remained in that family until 1973.

Finally, it's a story my cousin Aïda possibly should be writing in her dining column, because Sandy is a chef par excellence. She serves five-course meals for special occasions to groups of as many as 20 or as few as two. I've enjoyed both a dinner and luncheon there, and would like to rave just a bit. Dinner, served with white wine, was her special-recipe cream of broccoli soup, homemade bread, salad with Sandy's own raspberry/vinegar dressing, fillet mignon with bournaise sauce containing ingredients from the Whitehouse' garden, and a homemade wild mushroom pasta.

Dessert was apricot mousse topped with whipped cream and orange/chocolate shavings - which I thought was heavenly, but John, perhaps a touch jaded by this level of fare, had been hoping for something else. "Her pots de cremé is to kill for," he confided.

"What's that?" I asked.

He considered a moment, then just said, "Chocolate."

Sandy gets her chocolate from California.

Set five miles north of Edgefield, the house is two centuries old and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That listing is attributable to its architecture, John said. "It's Adams style, not Greek revival. Adams style was popular in Charleston, but in the 1790s, this place was the frontier."

Surrounded by a 15-acre estate (the plantation originally was 2,000 acres), it features several restored outbuildings, including the ice house and the plantation kitchen and kitchen slave quarters.

The front yard is filled with boxwoods, the back yard dominated by twin pecan trees looming about 100 feet tall. Inside, you're first impressed by the barrel-vaulted hallway ceiling downstairs. The dentil molding was hand-carved by slave craftsmen. Floors, walls and ceilings are heart pine.

In the parlor is a Chickering square grande piano dating to 1855, an Empire-vintage settee and a fireplace crowned by sunburst carvings.

The "hidden" (as opposed to grande) staircase toward the rear emphasizes the size of the hallway. The slightly drooping steps reveal two centuries of wear. "Bachelor's quarters," a private room off the back porch, is used as the Whitehouse' library and houses such oddities as a boomerang, digeridoo, aboriginal bark painting and other items brought back from Australia, where they lived for five years.

The "Blocker Suite," where I stayed, is spacious and "historic" in feel with a separate sitting room offering a TV and VCR. The "Spirit Room" downstairs is much smaller but more than adequate, with, as mentioned earlier, its own quaint mode of entertainment from a prior century.

Guests may use the swimming pool, and there's plenty of room to walk. Deer, wild turkey and fox can be sighted.

Sandy, a retired travel professional, is the Cedar Grove hostess. John is a research engineer at the Savannah River Site.

"So many people in Edgefield have ties to Cedar Grove," Sandy said. "That's one of the reasons we decided to do a B&B here. We like history, we love to entertain and we like having guests."

Cedar Grove Plantation (Highway 25, Rt. 1, Box 180C, Edgefield, SC 29824; (803) 637-3056) has two guest rooms, each with private bath, $65/75 for the "Blocker Suite," $40/45 for the "Spirit Room." No children. Smoking outside only. Pets possibly.

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