Written by Katherine Mahon Robinson

The Towell Family’s vacation home doubles as a show stopping event venue.

In the northeast corner of Kershaw County is a place which time forgot. Just seventeen miles from Camden, Pleasant Oaks Planation in Liberty Hill feels like a step back in time which is exactly how Jack and Lisa Towell like it.  The Towell family spends most days at their home in Camden on Finally Farm or traveling the hunter jumper circuit, but when they really want to get away and ride a horse of a different sort, a left turn onto Peay’s Ferry Road takes them a million miles away.  On a Monday after a busy horse show weekend, you may find Jack Towell still wearing his signature red cap but riding a lawn mower and thinking about anything but horses. “This is a for sure getaway - not a horse on the place,” says Towell.

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Lisa and Jack purchased the 10 acre property in 2006 as a family getaway, “It is our lake house without the lake,” says Lisa referring to its close proximity to popular Lake Wateree. Son-in-law Blake Boyd actually found the property by chance and knew it was just the right project for Jack and Lisa. 

The Towells bought the property and went about restoring the home and surrounding grounds to its late 19th century charm. It was a true restoration rather than a renovation as they uncovered old windows in the dining room, refinished existing heart pine floors and added gingerbread cornices to the front porch which overlooks a  sweeping front lawn. 

Lisa, an avid historian and collector of period American antiques, was drawn to this area and the history which surrounds it.  Her eclectic style and attention to detail has truly brought this home back to life and to the glory of a bygone era.  Lisa’s collection of fine china, paintings, and antiques adorn every room, giving the home a sense of lived in comfort.

According to the Kershaw County Chamber, there has been a settlement in Liberty Hill since 1813.  Granite deposits in the soil made for excellent cotton farming and wealthy planters flocked to this area, building grand mansions during the period of 1830 - 1860.  By 1858, Liberty Hill was one of the wealthiest communities in South Carolina and home to South Carolina’s first millionaire, Joseph Cunningham. 

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All that was to change in 1865 when elements of Major General W.T. Sherman’s Federal army, coming from Columbia, came to the Wateree River in Liberty Hill. The river was flooding at the time, so half the men made it across and the others were left behind. For nine days, over 30,000 Union soldiers camped in Liberty Hill waiting for the rest of the men to take the ferry over. When they left, they left behind a community in total destruction. Many of the large homes were burned to the ground, however the original home on the Towell’s property survived Sherman’s troops only to be burned down sometime after the war.  By that time, the remaining homes and surrounding area were reduced to a state of poverty. All that remained were the live oaks and buried family treasures which had been hidden from Union soldiers in the woods.

“It’s amazing what you can find around the property,” says Lisa, showing off a fragment of brown and white transferware found in the driveway which is almost an identical match to a set she has in her kitchen pantry. 

Like most agricultural communities, Liberty Hill never recovered and fell into despair during the Reconstruction period. Very little remains of the original settlement today.  One notable structure that does remain is the Liberty Hill Presbyterian Church. In 1851 a dedicated group of ten men and sixteen women established the church and erected the first church building the following year. As membership increased, a larger church was built in 1880 using timbers salvaged from the original structure. The white clapboard church remains much the same today, functioning as an active community house of worship.

As much as Lisa Towell loves the history of Liberty Hill, it’s the quiet, peaceful restful nature of the place which calls her family back time and time again.   Whether they’re relaxing by the corner fireplace or swinging from the tree swing, Pleasant Oaks is a place for all seasons, but it is most enjoyed by the family at Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Eve, the Liberty Hill Community Center, which is located just a little bit further down Peay’s Ferry Road, holds Thanksgiving ceremony, featuring hymns of praise, for the entire community to enjoy.

“This is a diverse, yet close community, and this special evening always sets the tone for the holiday season,” says Lisa.  Thanksgiving Day features all the traditional trimmings at a large family picnic table under the oaks in the front yard. Dinner is usually followed by the perfect porch nap. Granddaughters Elle and Adeline Boyd also enjoy exploring the grounds and fishing with their grandfather, affectionately known as “Jack Towell,” in one of the fully stocked ponds on the property.  However, the best part of any day at Pleasant Oaks might quite possibly be the night .  “With no street lights and amazing views, the night stars will truly take your breath away.” 

It was on an evening much like this that Lisa got an idea. With the busyness of horse shows and the in-town farm, Lisa thought that the times they weren’t here might be enjoyed by others who truly appreciate stepping back into time . “It’s too special of a place for just one family.”  She knew the space worked well for large gatherings as she has hosted fundraisers, book clubs, and large family affairs including the upcoming wedding of son Ned Towell and his fiancé Mary Katherine Farnell. She knew Pleasant Oaks was the perfect venue for the bride with an eclectic sense of style; someone who loves the something old more than the something new.

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Lisa contacted fellow horse enthusiast and event planner Jill Grant of Gillian Valentine Events, Development, and Public Relations about creating an event space in Liberty Hill. With her vast experience, Jill knew Pleasant Oaks was something special -.“Pleasant Oaks Plantation is the perfect location for a destination wedding or event. Located an hour south of Charlotte, NC and 20 minutes outside of Camden, SC, the venue is just enough out of reach from day to day life to enjoy your day!  We are partnered with the Liberty Hill Community Center to give an array of options for your next event.” 

With ample parking and gorgeous spots throughout the property, the possibilities are endless. “I can’t help but think of the wedding of John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette which took place on Cumberland Island in 1996 completely private and off the grid - Pleasant Oaks feels a lot like that,” says Towell.  

If you are planning a wedding, corporate event, family gathering, or simply find yourself lost on the scenic route of Highway 97 from Camden, take a left turn onto Peay’s Ferry Road. If you see the man in the red cap on the lawn , step back in time to a place steeped with southern charm and  history - you have arrived at Pleasant Oaks in Liberty Hill. 

For more information on how to book Pleasant Oaks Plantation for your event, visit; www.pleasantoaksplantation.com