With just a 45-minute drive from Conway down U.S. 701 South, visitors can take a step back into history and view nature in all its splendor.
With multiple slave villages from the 1800s, two historic homes, beaches, wetlands, marshlands and old rice fields, Hobcaw Barony in Georgetown County is a beautiful oasis for locals and visitors.
Established in 1964 after Belle Baruch died, Hobcaw Barony moved under the rubric of the Belle W. Baruch Foundation. It is a protected wildlife refuge and a teaching/research site for many South Carolina colleges.
Richard Camlin, a tour guide and resident at Hobcaw Barony, said the 25-square-mile, 16,000-acre refuge is larger than the island of Manhattan and offers a lot to the community.
“We have 37 structures on the National Historic Registry, five miles of the original Kings Highway that connected New York to Charleston, forest areas, wetlands, endangered species, protected beaches, marshlands, old rice fields and old indigo fields,” he said. “In truth, the Hobcaw Barony encompasses almost every kind of coastal land type that South Carolina offers.”
The name “Hobcaw” is a Native American word for “between the waters.”
The word Barony means 12,000 acres.
“The land was given out based on the person’s title,” he said. “If you were a Baron, you got 12,000 acres. John Lord Carteret, who received the original land grant that is now Hobcaw Barony, was given four baronies or 48,000 acres. It was then divided up and we have 16,000 acres.”
According to its website, John Lord Carteret was given the land grant in 1718. It was eventually subdivided into 14 individual rice plantations.
Many of the old slave houses and old rice fields still exist on the property.
After the plantations were broken up, the land was sold.
Ten of the plantations are now part of the Hobcaw Barony.
Between 1905 and 1908, Wall Street millionaire and presidential adviser Bernard Baruch purchased the land to use as a hunting winter retreat.
Camlin said the family often visited the estate from November to February holding midnight fox hunts and deer hunts and hosting top government officials including former Pres. Woodrow Wilson's wife and Pres. Franklin Roosevelt.
Baruch’s daughter, Belle, who was known to love the land, purchased all of the barony over a period of several years and at her death in 1964 a foundation was created to use the land for the “purposes of teaching and/or research in forestry, marine biology, and the care and propagation of wildlife, flora and fauna in connection with colleges and/or universities in the state of South Carolina.”
Currently the University of South Carolina and Clemson University have studies in place on the land.
When Belle was alive, Camlin said it was known that she really felt at home only at the Hobcaw Barony.
“In many of the pictures, she was in her riding clothes and just looked comfortable,” he said. “She could fit in with high society in New York City, but here was her home.”
Belle was a prizewinning horse rider and competitor in Europe where women were allowed to ride and compete. She won more than 300 competitions including the French President’s Cup.
Belle was a modern woman who was always protecting her property, Camlin said.
“She was the first woman to be deputized in the state so that she could protect and patrol her land. She was a pilot at age 40, an award-winning sailor and she was a top-of-the-line hunter,” he said. “She even helped catch German spies when J. Edgar Hoover asked for help patrolling the beaches.”
She worked in the Women’s Radio Corps and taught Morse code.
Camlin said there are four money sources that help keep the Hobcaw Barony running.
They include Belle’s trust for the land, grants and fundraising efforts, tours and programs and occasionally timber harvesting.
Tours and programs are offered daily. Visit www.hobcawbarony.org/tours for details. Tours often last two hours and cost $20 per person. Reservations are required.
During the tour, docents take visitors through the Hobcaw Barony offering insight into the slave villages, Belle’s home and Mr. Baruch’s home and recalling stories from when the family lived on the land.
School trips and summer camps are also offered for students.