The first house most visitors see when they arrive at Historic Brattonsville is Hightower Hall
Located at the northern entrance to the historic site on Brattonsville Road, Hightower Hall is a grand, white frame Italian Villa mansion. The impressive house was built for John Simpson Bratton Jr. and his wife Harriet Rainey Bratton in 1856. Then called “Forrest Hall,” it was the seat of a significant nineteenth and twentieth century plantation.
After John and Harriet died, Forrest Hall became the home of their daughter Sophia and her husband Robert Witherspoon. In 1958, the house was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. R. F. Draper. They in turn sold the house to the York County Historical Commission so that it could become part of Historic Brattonsville. The house became known locally as “Hightower Hall” in the early 1960s.
Hightower Hall has been a well known feature of the York County landscape for years. The house was used as a film location for the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot and has been a popular location for weddings, receptions, parties, and Civil War battle re-enactments. To restore some of the house’s antebellum architectural splendor and to give it a new purpose in life, the Culture & Heritage Museums of York County began an extensive restoration of the house in 2007.
The History of Hightower Hall
The impressive Italian Villa, now known as Hightower Hall, was the home of John Simpson Bratton Jr. and his wife Harriet Rainey Bratton, the daughter of John’s uncle Samuel Rainey Jr. John Bratton Jr. was born in 1819, the second son of Dr. John Simpson Bratton and Harriet Rainey Bratton (sister of Samuel Rainey Jr.). As a young man John Bratton Jr. studied medicine along with two of his brothers, James Rufus and Samuel Edward. In 1843 Dr. Bratton died unexpectedly and John was left to administer his father’s estate and assist his mother in running the plantation. Dr. Bratton’s estate was settled in 1849 and John Jr. inherited the largest share.
In 1850, John Jr. and Harriet were still living on his mother’s plantation, known as the Homestead. They owned nineteen slaves and operated a farm valued at $9,000. About four years later they contracted with a local builder to construct a house of their own three quarters of a mile north of the Homestead.
The house plan they chose was right out of a book—William Ranlett’s two-volume 1851 compendium The Architect, to be exact. Included in the chapter on “Cheap Houses” in the second volume of The Architect, the plan was originally conceived by Ranlett to accommodate two families.
Designed in an Italian-inspired or “Italianate” style, the house featured a prominent central tower and wide, bracketed eaves that gave it the appearance of an Italian country villa. John and Harriet’s Italianate house featured a three-story central tower and a nearly square two-story floor plan with a wide central hall flanked by two rooms on each side, built upon a high brick foundation providing a sub-ground floor. Illustrating the Italianate style, the exterior featured deep eaves, large vertical windows, bracketed mounts and a low pitched hip roof. The house, started in 1854, was completed around 1856. During their occupation, the Brattons called their home Forrest Hall.
By the eve of the Civil War, John and Harriet were moderately wealthy cotton planters. Their plantation consisted of 4,000 acres of land valued at $24,000. They owned thirty-eight slaves who in 1860 produced over 60 bales of cotton, 1,500 bushels of corn, and tended over 130 head of livestock including pigs, sheep, beef and dairy cattle. John and Harriet also owned three horses and twelve mules. Around their house were located a separate kitchen, smoke house, twelve slave dwellings and other plantation outbuildings.
Unlike his father, but like his grandfather Colonel William Bratton, John S. Bratton Jr. was politically active. Prior to and during the war John served as Brattonsville’s postmaster, a position he assumed after the death of his brother Robert. He also assumed proprietorship of the Bratton Store. During the Civil War, John was a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and the Soldier’s Board of Relief and served in the state militia.
Following the end of the war, John attempted to maintain the local pre-war social and racial status quo. Embittered by the South’s loss and likely angered by the demands for equality by local African Americans, John joined the Ku Klux Klan along with his brother Rufus. In 1871 a local black militiaman named Jim Williams was hanged after allegedly threatening to burn Brattonsville to the ground. The Brattons were suspected of involvement, and in 1872 both John and Rufus fled York County to escape prosecution and imprisonment. After several years of exile, both men received pardons, returned home and resumed their lives as best they could. John not only ran his own plantation but assisted his aged mother in managing her agricultural operations until her death in 1874.
John died in 1888 and his wife Harriet died in 1912. Forrest Hall passed to their daughter Sophia and her husband Robert Witherspoon, and the home was referred to locally as the “Witherspoon place.” Following the deaths of Robert (1930) and Sophia (1937), their descendants rented the plantation out to tenant farmers. By the 1960s Forrest Hall had become known as “Hightower Hall,” a name generally attributed to John Gettys Smith, a local businessman, historian and preservationist. In 1958, Mr. and Mrs. R.F. Draper purchased John and Harriet’s old plantation house. Draper was an executive with IBM and it was his intention to reside at the farm once he retired. He continued adding property to the farm and by the time of his death in 1995, he had acquired 1,285 acres. With the help of the Nation Ford Land Trust, the Friends of Historic Brattonsville and the York County Council, Historic Brattonsville was able to acquire John and Harriet’s plantation house and 485 surrounding acres of the Draper estate. The rest of the Draper property was purchased by the state government and became part of the South Carolina Wildlife Management system