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Although very little concrete is known about Turkey Hill Plantation's remote past, the surrounding area is practically a greatest hits of American history. The earliest inhabitants were the Yemassee. Arrowheads found at Turkey Hill attest to their presence. Depending on circumstance, the Yemassee were both allies and enemies of the European settlers, who eventually seized their lands, driving them south to Florida. Planters, some from the more fertile and far more heavily populated coastal areas, expanded operations to the Lowcountry for cultivation of large single crops like indigo (first developed as a viable crop by a South Carolina planter's daughter, Eliza Lucas Pinckney and thus a part of feminist history) and rice, both crops heavily dependant on extensive use of African-American slaves.

 

The area saw a fair amount of Revolutionary War action, with the English marching along highway 17 (The King's Highway) to Charles Town, and during the Civil War when Coosawhatchie was a crucial transportation and communications hub where Robert E. Lee and his corps of engineers were headquartered during 1861. The Harriet Tubman bridge (where highway 17 crosses the Combahee river) commemorates the former slave's heroic achievements in the underground railroad. In 1864, General Sherman burned all the plantation buildings in the area and during the decades following farms of various sizes were often consolidated to form private or semi-private shooting clubs. Towards the end of the Depression, the area now known as Turkey Hill Plantation was sold off by the bankrupt Savannah River Lumber Company. During World War II food rationing, Turkey Hill played a small role by supplying turkeys to establishments as far away as the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

 

In 1939, Jeremiah Milbank, a New York based investment banker, purchased just over 19,000 acres of Jasper County sand hills, swamp and pine flatwoods from the Savannah River Lumber Company in a deal brokered by businessman Lee Stevens. Stevens used his commission to acquire nearby Auldbrass Plantation, today admired globally for its brilliant Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. What Milbank originally intended merely as a strategic investment in timber land quickly became a beloved home and an energetic experiment in improving farming methodology. In his philanthropic ventures, Milbank had the pioneering approach of isolating an area of concern (such as the challenges faced by disabled veterans returning from World War I, various specific diseases, disadvantaged kids) then putting together the minds and money that could create an effective solution. His achievements included wiping out diphtheria, funding the first polio vaccine, establishing the International Center for the Disabled (the first rehabilitation organization of its kind), and working with his friend Herbert Hoover to grow the Boys and Girls Clubs of America into one of America's most vital youth-serving organizations.

 

At Turkey Hill, Milbank turned his attentions to developing farming methods that would raise the subsistence level in the area and, as World War II created food shortages, devising the best food-raising use of what began as non-arable land. He and his committee of Clemson University specialists developed a Jasper County Farmers' Service. If Turkey Hill found that certain nutrients helped the soil, carloads were distributed to hundreds of other farms. When raising poultry proved successful, chicks, feed and brooders were distributed to others. Over the course of the next several decades, the Milbank family has experimented with all kinds of large-scale farming operations from vegetables and fruit to cattle. Today, Turkey Hill's most important crop, timber aside, is anything that keeps the birds happy.