Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pinehurst Tea Gardens and U.S. tea history

After visiting the Charleston Tea Plantation a few years ago, I became especially interested in anything related to the history of tea here in the U.S. And while I had known Summerville, S.C., as a great town for shoppers (and especially quilters), it wasn't until the Charleston Tea Plantation tour that I learned Summerville was actually the home of Pinehurst Tea Gardens, site of some early tea growing here. Since then, I've been on the lookout for anything even remotely related to the tea growing operations at Pinehurst. This unused postcard from 1908 shows a driveway at the Pinehurst Tea Gardens. On Friday I showed this vintage postcard photo of azaleas at Pinehurst, and last year I wrote about this postcard from Pinehurst Tea Gardens.

Here's another postcard, and I find it interesting that a Pinehurst Tea Farm cottage was so important it was the subject of a postcard scene. Does that mean visitors from out of town came to Summerville just to visit the tea plantation there? Or was it merely a local attraction of interest to the Charlestonians who are said to have escaped the town's stifling summer heat by heading to Summer-ville? (I had a real "Aha!" moment when I learned where Summerville got its name!)

When reading Sarah Rose's "For All the Tea in China" recently, I was delighted to find a few paragraphs at the end of the book revealing that Robert Fortune himself was hired by the U.S. Patent Office in 1857 to bring tea seeds to America. By now Fortune was quite an expert at this tea hunting business, and Rose says that "as soon as the cases arrived in Washington, the commissioner of U.S. patents unceremoniously fired Fortune, presumably in the belief that American gardeners could take care of the by now flourishing seedlings. ... By 1859 some thirty thousand well-rooted plants from Fortune's shipment were available for distribution to plantations in the South. By 1860 the dispersal of tea seeds and plants had become a significant portion of the work of the Patent Office's agricultural division." But of course the Civil War would interrupt these well-laid plans, and Rose says that by the war's end, the lack of slave labor meant American tea could not compete with tea from Asia. The 1900s-era postcards, however, make it clear that competitive or not, some sort of tea operation was still going on in Summerville in 1926.

So, I continue to collect what tidbits I can about the brief history of tea growing efforts in this country. At an antique mall the other day, I came across (for just $2.50) this 1908 Yearbook of the Department of Agriculture, which contained yet more info on the tea growing operations in Summerville. So I'll end with a few scans from the book (double click and you'll be able to see them well), and if you happen to come across any further information related to tea growing at Pinehurst, I'd love to hear about it!


  1. wow! I want you to write a book about this!!! Great info. Thank you!

  2. Sounds like Frivolitea has a great idea, Angela! There's a book here (fiction? nonfiction?) and you are just the person to write it! B-)

  3. Angela you teach is so much! I'm really looking forward to more on this wonderful piece of history!

  4. I think it's wonderful that you're researching this. I too became fascinated when I learned that the U.S. (and other countries like the UK) has not only grown tea historically, but also currently grows it.

    If you ever compile this information in one place (book, website, etc.), I would be very interested in drawing attention to it and/or linking to it from my page on RateTea.net about the U.S. as a tea-producing region. Also, if you think there's any information that's important enough for me to add to that page or the pages on specific states, let me know.


  5. How interesting - you may have a book here! You do such a good job of unearthing 'items of interest!' I enjoy your site so much, thanks for sharing,

  6. Thanks for sharing more on the history of tea growing in the U.S. I enjoyed seeing your vintage postcards too.

  7. I enjoyed this post. I've heard of Pinehurts tea plantation but never knew much about it. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Just found your blog, so glad I did!

  9. It's nice to know there is still interest in Pinehurst. As the godson of the current owner, this old plantation house and grounds have astounded me since I was a child. I am house-sitting here for Bette and would like to find more information. There were three pictures that she took to the College of Charleston's special collection area in the library, but I haven't found much online. Any ideas?
    102 West Walker Drive, 29483


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