Interpreting Life at Hobcaw Barony through Maps and Blueprints

In a prior post, maps illustrated by Rockwell Kent, a guest of Bernard Baruch in the 1920s, and Minnie Kennedy, born at Hobcaw Barony in 1916 to parents descended from slaves, provide remarkably different interpretations of the area’s geography as shaped by access, privilege, and social class. In both examples, the illustrators identified and defined the spaces through which they moved to create individualized geographies of the estate.

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Development stage of Hobcaw House navigation based on 1930 blueprint

A blueprint of Hobcaw House drafted in 1930 by Columbia, South Carolina architects LaFaye and LaFaye provides another visual means to contemplate relationships between the Hobcaw Barony’s occupants in relation to space and geography. As a technical drawing, the blueprint guided the construction of Hobcaw House while, by design, engineering the dynamic by which the occupants of the house, the Baruch family, their staff, and servants, would interact, or not.

The first story floorplan separates the house into two distinct areas; a space built for the leisure and accommodation of the Baruch family and their guests, and a utilitarian space accommodating, and somewhat hiding, the day-to-day labor and lives of the servants. Access between the areas could effectively be shut off by closing only two doors, creating physical, and presumably psychological, barriers between the worlds of the served and the servant.

Detail of blueprint showing service wing of Hobcaw House

Detail of Service Wing, Hobcaw House

In the service wing, lunch and dinner for white staff were taken in the servants’ hall, and a separate stairwell led to the white servants’ living quarters. African-American staff did not live in the house and it is conceivable that many African-American staff saw little of the home outside its service areas.

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Screenshot of Prototype Navigation, Hobcaw House

Documents such as the blueprint of Hobcaw House and the Kennedy and Kent maps continue to inform how we conceptualize and develop original, interactive environments for the Between the Waters virtual tour. It is the goal of our team to understand the potential of such items as more than visual aids but integral to navigation, storytelling, and interpretation on the site.

Stay tuned!

Two Visions of Hobcaw

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Rockwell Kent’s “Chart of Hobcaw Barony”

Rockwell Kent’s original 1927 pen and ink illustration “Chart of Hobcaw Barony” hangs on the wall in the formal dining room of Hobcaw House where it provided Baruch guests with a first glimpse of the sprawling estate, from its inland rice fields to its outer coastline. Kent, a prominent artist, illustrator, author, adventurer, naturalist, and social activist of the early 20th century, was widely known for his haunting illustrations in the 1930 edition of Moby-Dick and his contributions to the pages of Life, Harper’s Weekly, and Vanity Fair. As a member of the intellectual elite during the Jazz age and the New Deal era, Rockwell Kent was typical of the company Bernard Baruch kept.

Detail from Chart of Hobcaw Barony

Detail from “Chart of Hobcaw Barony”

Visually akin to well-known works of “geofiction” such as maps of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Middle Earth” and A.A. Milne’s “100 Acre Wood,” “Chart of Hobcaw Barony” uses imaginative flourishes to characterize the real world of Hobcaw and its inhabitants, past and present. The drawing depicts the estate from a bird’s-eye view, with exaggerated features and cartoon-like elements including a castle to represent Hobcaw House, a king with attendants holding his cape to represent Bernard Baruch, a church and cluster of small cabins to represent Friendfield Village.

Detail from "Minnie's World"

Detail from “Minnie’s World”

One could say the “Chart of Hobcaw Barony” reflects, in some ways, the perspectives and prejudices of the privileged world occupied by Baruch and his social set. In contrast to Rockwell Kent’s vision of Hobcaw Barony, “Minnie’s World,” illustrated in 1999 by Minnie Kennedy, provides a different interpretation of the property.

Betsy Newman, project director for Between the Waters, writes, “[Minnie’s] hand-drawn map reflects an intimate connection to her birthplace, an abiding knowledge of the structures of Hobcaw and their inhabitants, the roads, pathways and woodpiles, even the location of the ‘community pump.’ Unlike Rockwell Kent’s ‘Chart of Hobcaw Barony,’ in which blacks are abstractly represented by an outsized ‘Mammy’ figure surrounded by small children, in ‘Minnie’s World’ we see precisely where each family lives and who their neighbors are. Several of the houses are identified by the same name, reflecting the close family ties of the villagers. Separated by a fence and a horse meadow from ‘The Big House’ on ‘The Hill,’ these are the workers who maintain the barony and serve the Baruchs and their guests. Both the Kent and Kennedy maps characterize Hobcaw Barony, its environment and its residents, albeit from distinctly different perspectives.”

The project team will utilize these two images, in addition to a larger collection of artwork portraying cultural and natural landscapes of the region, as another means to unlock the depth of human experience exhibited by material culture preserved at Hobcaw Barony.

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Minnie Kennedy’s “Minnie’s World”

Minnie Kennedy at Friendfield Village, 2010.

Betsy Newman recollects the storied life of “Minnie Kennedy – Hobcaw Rebel” in her most recent post to Making History Together.