History of Newington Plantation
In the center of Plantation Circle is a one-acre park maintained by the Town of Summerville. Many years ago, this site was a stately colonial mansion overlooking a large estate that cultivated rice and indigo.
In 1678, a royal grant of 3,000 acres from King Charles II to a London merchant named Daniel Axtell marked the start of Newington Plantation. The land grant was named after the Axtell family estate in England.
Interestingly, only eighteen years earlier, in 1660, the grant recipient’s father, also named Daniel Axtell, was hanged, drawn, and quartered for his involvement in the death of King Charles I. The son had worked himself back into the new king’s good graces.
Daniel Axtell married Rebecca Holland, and he took his family to Carolina in 1680. Once arriving, Daniel was conferred the lofty position of “landgrave” by the Lords Proprietors. Daniel talked up Carolina with his friends in England, and he convinced Ralph Izard and Robert Cuthbert to bring their families to the colony in October 1682.
In 1680, when the Axtell family departed England, they left behind their oldest son, named for his father (that’s right, another Daniel Axtell). The next year, in 1681, the oldest son sailed to join his family in Carolina. With anxious anticipation, the entire family gathered at the Charleston waterfront to meet the son’s arriving ship. They received devastating news when the captain regretfully informed them that Daniel had died during the trip and had been buried at sea.
Daniel and Rebecca Axtell had a total of seven children. Their first child was a daughter, Sibilla. Their second was the son, Daniel, who had died at sea. Their third child was a daughter, Mary. Mary married a gentleman named Cuthbert. Their fourth child was a son, named Holland (for his mother’s maiden name). Holland became a Carolina landgrave upon the death of his father, and he died in 1692. Their fifth child was Rebecca, and she ended up marrying John Moore. John and Rebecca moved to Philadelphia where John Moore became the Attorney General and the King’s collector of Pennsylvania. Their sixth child was a daughter named Elizabeth. She married Governor Joseph Blake in December of 1698. Their seventh and last daughter was Anne. Anne married John Alexander, and, after his death, she married Joseph Boone.
Work on the first of the three houses at Newington was started in 1680 by Daniel Axtell. After laying the brick foundation and erecting the wooden frame, he died in 1684 before the home’s completion. His wife, Lady Rebecca, and the remaining Axtell family members completed the house in 1690, and moved in.
To make the family members even more confusing, a nephew, also named Daniel Axtell, moved from Marlboro, Massachusetts to South Carolina in 1690 and became part owner of a saw mill in an area that would later become Summerville. His wife’s name was Thankful Pratt, and they had a son named Daniel (of course) and a daughter named Elizabeth. So, as you can see, keeping the Axtell family straight is not an easy task!
In 1711, Lady Rebecca gave Newington to her daughter, Elizabeth (Axtell) Blake, and willed three hundred acres of the grant to Daniel Axtell from Massachusetts and to his son, Daniel, two hundred acres. At that time, Elizabeth Blake was the widow of Joseph Blake, a Proprietary Governor of South Carolina from 1694 to 1695 and 1696 through 1700. In 1715, the first Newington house was burned by Indians during the Yamassee Indian War. Sometime later the house was rebuilt, and Lady Rebecca continued living there with her daughter, Elizabeth, and her grandson, Colonel Joseph Blake. After her death, Lady Rebecca was buried beside her husband, Daniel Axtell. Their unmarked graves remain somewhere within the Newington subdivision.
When Lady Elizabeth Blake died in 1726, the land passed to her son Colonel Joseph Blake. In 1730, now one of the wealthiest men in the colony, Colonel Blake demolished the second Newington house and built a magnificent brick mansion called “the house with a hundred windows.” The third Newington house was said to have been one of the largest brick houses built in lower South Carolina during that period. It used a Georgian design with elaborate cornices and moldings. The first floor had an open, southern-style plan with a central hall flanked by four rooms, two on each side for maximum air circulation during the hot, summer months. The second floor followed the same pattern with a great hall that could be used as a ballroom.
The plantation’s surrounding gardens were carefully laid out, with a large reflecting pond, a magnolia walk, a holly walk, and garden terraces sloping to large rice fields. A double row of live oaks was planted along the main carriage road that rose to the front of the mansion (which faced south, towards Charleston). This road followed a course over what is now Hulton Lane and ended at Bacons Bridge Road. The largest of the road’s original live oaks can still be found on Kenilworth Road.
By the time of the Revolutionary war, the “Blake House” and its and gardens were considered a showplace. The Blake family lived on the property until 1837 when it was sold to Henry A. Middleton. The mansion burned eight years later, in 1845. It remained in that condition until 1876, when Middleton leased the property to the U.S. government as a part of famous Pinehurst Tea Plantation, under the direction of Dr. Charles Shepherd.
Since then, farm plows have destroyed any remnants of the old terraces and garden mazes, and, today, nothing but trees and a State Historical Marker remain to mark the mansion site. Some of the original live oaks still exist; and 300-year-old bricks, pottery, nails, and other artifacts occasionally turn up in the soil. The ornamental pond has been cleaned up and it is now home to a thriving duck population. The brick foundation is mostly intact underground, and it was examined during a USC archeological dig in the early 1980’s.
If you haven’t visited the original mansion site, please do so. It is located on a hilltop at Plantation Circle surrounded by a neighborhood of five hundred and forty-six homes. Please take a moment to read the marker that was erected in 1997 by the Newington Plantation Estates Association. The SC Historical Marker Program was established in 1936, and Newington’s marker (at site 18-6) is one of more than 800 markers that have been erected throughout the state (the marker at Fort Dorchester is at site 18-3). After reading the marker, walk through the preserved grounds, now a one-acre historic park maintained by the Town of Summerville, and move among the remaining trees. Enjoy the beauty of the stately magnolia trees that were planted around the park perimeter by the Town two decades ago. Try to visualize the “house with a hundred windows.” As you can imagine, it must have been quite a sight to behold!
Newington Plantation Subdivision History
The subdivision known as the Newington Plantation Estates is nestled between Bacon’s Bridge Road and Sawmill Branch. Sawmill Branch is an offshoot of Chandler Bridge Creek and the Ashley River. Many of the streets in Newington have been named after acquaintances and descendants of the colonial plantation’s original landowners, Daniel and Rebecca Axtell. As evidenced by recorded home sales, Newington Plantation is one of the most desired areas in Summerville, and Newington residents are very proud of their beautiful community.
The development of the Newington Plantation Estates subdivision has a long history. Jack Pratt and Tommy Salisbury began developing the subdivision in 1969. Their plan envisaged an upscale neighborhood comprised of custom homes, large half to one-acre lots, and several big traffic circles surrounding one-acre green spaces. They sold lots throughout the early 1970s to home builders in Newington Plantation’s first development phase.
In December 1976, a development partnership headed up by John Murphree bought the remaining Newington property from Pratt and Salisbury. The new developer had a huge impact on the layout and composition of Newington. John Murphree grew up on a farm near Lake Keowee in the Upstate and moved to Moncks Corner to work for the Soil Conservation Service in 1962. He took a job with the Army Corps of Engineers, before getting into real estate development. His projects included the Okatee subdivision near Goose Creek, which he started in 1974; the upscale Newington neighborhood in Summerville that he began two years later; Tramway in Berkeley County in 1979; and the Summit neighborhood off Parsons Road in Summerville which started in 1989.
John Murphree kicked off Newington’s second phase of development by selling lots on Smythe Drive in 1977. Except for the traffic circle around the colonial mansion site (at Plantation Circle), he eliminated the plan for large traffic circles. Septic permits became more difficult to obtain, so he installed sewer lines in Newington, which allowed the lot sizes to be reduced. He offered one-third acre lots, and he fitted out the streets with curbs and sidewalks. Ten years later, the third and final Newington phase began with builders focusing on two-story homes with two-car garages.
Gene Richter was one of Newington Plantation’s most prolific builders, and he constructed over a hundred homes. Raymond Hughes and Ed Altman also built many high-quality Newington homes, and there were many occasions when dozens of different builders were working at the same time in Newington.
Newington didn’t have any community amenities until 1986, when a neighborhood swimming pool was built. The developer agreed to pay for half the cost to construct the pool, and homeowners covered the other half.
In 1989, home building started in Newington Gardens. In these 47 lots, smaller home sizes were permitted on quarter acre lots.
In 2004, John Murphree signified his completion of Newington Plantation with his legal transfer of all rights and responsibilities to the Newington Plantation Estates Association. Following this event, in 2005, a new set of restrictive covenants and association bylaws were drawn up and approved by Newington property owners. This effort created a better organization to deal with its added responsibilities, and it improved rules designed to protect Newington property values.
Today, Newington Plantation is a highly desirable 546-home community with a diverse mix of well-built homes. Designed for families, the neighborhood is made of dozens of cul-de-sacs, spurring off from King Charles Circle, which winds around the entire neighborhood. It also has an amenity center with a pool, a youth swim club, a Town children’s park with a picnic shelter, and award-winning public elementary, middle, and high schools located within or near the neighborhood.