50th Anniversary Q/A With Charles Duell

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Looking back over the five decades since you established the Middleton Place Foundation, name one of the more memorable challenges.

CD:  “The imperative to protect the view shed of Middleton Place – namely the vista across the Ashley River – came into stark focus in the 1990s when several housing developments were proposed for the other side of the river.  Over the course of a few years, I worked with the owners and developers of these properties to establish vegetative buffers, held in perpetuity under conservation easements, that preserve the distant forested view so essential to the original 18th century garden plan.  Additionally, the developers enjoyed significant tax deductions for their contributions of conservation easements.”

What have been some of the most gratifying moments and achievements?

CD:  “The support and advice of expert mentors when I inherited Middleton Place as a young man – historic preservationists and cultural leaders such as Carl Humelsine of Colonial Williamsburg, Milby Burton of the Charleston Museum and Emmett Robinson of the Footlight Players – ensured the timely opening of the Plantation Stableyards during Charleston’s tricentennial celebration in 1970.  The Stableyards’ living history program enhanced the visitor experience exponentially, continuing and advancing Middleton Place’s standing among historic sites and its path toward sustainability.”

Since then, who have been some of the key allies in sustaining and moving the Middleton Place Foundation forward?

CD:  “Frances Edmunds, director of Historic Charleston Foundation, and investment banker Dick Jenrette were early leaders in championing and financing historic preservation.  They promoted the business of heritage tourism – a concept I fully embraced – which ultimately saved Charleston and historic sites like Middleton Place.  Trustees of the Middleton Place Foundation who are no longer with us – such as Peter Manigault, Thomas Chrystie, Jim Ferguson and Earl Middleton – and current trustees, including Sallie Duell, Mike Laughlin, Lee Pringle, Anne Tinker and Jonathan Green, have carried the torch into the 21st century.  Furthermore, staff members past and present – like Barbara Doyle, Ileen Grange, Tracey Todd, Sidney Frazier and Jim Woodle – have played a key role in sustaining and moving Middleton Place Foundation forward.  By marshaling more of the assets of the National Historic Landmark and broadening the interpretation, the foundation reaches a wider audience, which in turn builds a larger constituency.” 

How has the mission of the foundation grown and evolved over its half-century?

CD:  “The Middleton Place Foundation’s basic mission of historic preservation, research and education remains the same.  But its scope and reach have increased substantially, especially since the completion of my gift of the entire National Historic Landmark to the foundation in the 1980s – comprising the structures and 110-acre national landmark site – as well as the recent gift of The Inn at Middleton Place.  In addition, research and development in African American interpretation, also begun in the 1980s, has grown and progressed to where Middleton Place is considered a leader in the field.”

What are your hopes and aspirations for Middleton Place Foundation in the future?

CD:  “I have faith that sound governance by the Middleton Place Foundation Board of Trustees will continue to ensure the fulfillment of its mission of historic preservation, research and education.  At the same time, it is important that the mission never be too specific, so as to allow some breathing room for the future.”


By Virginia Beach

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