Situated on 16,000 acres between Winyah Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, South Carolina’s Hobcaw Barony is now a research reserve. But its history of human occupation stretches back centuries, with indigenous settlements, rice plantations, antebellum slave cabins, and a 20th-century winter hunting retreat, all nestled among its forests of hardwood and pine. To bring the public into this past, and show how this web of narratives relates to broader issues of American culture, an interactive documentary was created by the public television network SCETV with Hobcaw Barony.
Called Between the Waters, the project invites digital exploration through non-linear storytelling. Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the online site was launched last year, with a 30-minute documentary component released this fall. After scrolling over a view of a rice canal, where movement activates a timeline, users can wander anywhere on the map. Each location involves archival images, research, oral histories, and video interviews with former residents and historians. Visit the Strawberry School, for instance, and you can listen to historian Valinda Littlefield discuss how the young African American women who taught there had to travel by boat daily from Georgetown before a bridge was erected in 1937. You can examine a notebook used by several students in the 1940s that was discovered in a nearby attic in the 1990s.
Virtually walk the streets of Friendfield Village, and enter buildings like the Friendfield Church to witness its weathered walls in 360 degrees. Constructed between 1890 and 1900, it was the center of worship for African Americans in Hobcaw Barony; hovering over a photograph of a Bible recalls how it was found in an antique store in 2014 and returned to its congregation. Clicking on graves in Marietta Cemetery reveals photographs of grave goods, including seashells and broken vases, while navigating the floor plan of Hobcaw House, offers views into the family retreat of financier Bernard Baruch, who hosted such guests as Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt
Much of Between the Waters is about finding overlooked perspectives on history through the land of Hobcaw Barony. Viewers can scroll through a rice canal — a landscape feature built by enslaved people — or soar over King’s Highway, an old road traveled by 18th-century naturalist William Bartram during his studies of North America. Due to its status as a research facility, visits to Hobcaw Barony are limited to guided tours. Between the Waters allows anyone to enter at any time, and engage with this microcosm of American history.
Between the Waters is available online from SCETV.