Dawn Pate: Bridging the Past and the Future

By Leslie Moore

Dawn Pate: Bridging the Past and the Future

“Growing up on Arcadia was an idyllic childhood,” began Dawn Pate, daughter of Lucille V. Pate, better known as Lulu, an owner of Arcadia Plantation. “My brothers and I could roam all over the grounds and as we got older, all over the plantation. I was quite a tomboy!” Attractive and down to earth, Dawn has lived most of her life on this remarkable property.

Stately, gorgeous and unspoiled, Arcadia is set between Pawleys Island and Georgetown, encompassing all the property on both sides of the highway with the exception of DeBordieu Colony, Prince George and Hobcaw Barony. Dawn and her husband Fen, along with their two daughters, Allston and Emerson, live on the 3500 acre tract along the river in a home they built on the Waccamaw River. Dawn’s brother, Matt, his wife Eve, and their two girls Rhett and Sara also live on Arcadia, along with their mother, Lulu, who lives in the historic plantation house built in 1791. When people think of Arcadia, the first name that comes to mind is Vanderbilt, because Lulu is the daughter of George Vanderbilt. But, what most people overlook is that Arcadia did not come from the Vanderbilt side of the family, but rather from Captain Isaac Emerson, the inventor of Bromo Seltzer. Originally seven rice plantations, totaling 12,000 acres, Captain Emerson began buying the properties in 1906, and his daughter, Margaret, married Alfred Vanderbilt, who died on the Lusitania. They had two sons, Alfred Jr. and George who was Dawn’s grandfather. “Alfred Jr. was famous for his involvement with horse racing – he owned Native Dancer, one the most famous race horses in history. I wish I had been around then,” Dawn told me as we walked the grounds.One of the first stops on our tour was the large, brick stable. Dawn loves to ride and the family’s three friendly horses all began begging her for treats the minute we stepped inside. One room of the stable houses two gorgeous antique carriages that the family is currently renovating and other rooms hold smaller buggies and equipment that has been passed down through the generations, along with a wall of ribbons won by various family members. But, Dawn’s favorite residents are two adorable donkeys, Itsy and Neville, who behave a lot more like pets than livestock! “They are so much fun,” Dawn laughed as they followed us around the stable.

In a little over a century, Arcadia has become a showplace, dotted with neatly manicured gardens filled with a wide variety of plants, along with miles of well maintained roads and fields. Neal Cox, Superintendant of Arcadia for 70 years, led the efforts that transformed the property. Much more than an employee, this man was family to generations of Dawn’s family. “Mr. Cox, and his wife, Mary Alice, were like our grandparents,” she told me with obvious affection. “None of our grandparents lived nearby, and we visited their home several times a day.” This one man left an indelible stamp on Arcadia, and his memory is dear to the entire family. His book, Neal Cox of Arcadia Plantation: Memoirs of a Renaissance Man, is a fascinating account of his life and the history of Arcadia that Mr. Cox began writing before his passing in 1999. Lulu and Alice Cox, his daughter, finished the book, and it is a historical treasure. As Dawn showed us around, we passed a beautiful monument to Mr. Cox, set near a pond he built, and the beautiful gardens he created. “Of course, growing up in such a place also meant we took it for granted,” Dawn told me. “My mom and my half brother, Phil Brady, were always interested in all of the history, but my younger brother Matt and I were not as much until recently. As we have gotten older we have become more aware of how truly special this place is and how important it is to preserve it.” To help preserve this unique property, Dawn and her family have set up a conservation easement on the entire river side through Ducks Unlimited, ensuring the property can never be developed.

“Our family focus for the past 10-15 years has been on how to preserve this property and keep it intact,” Dawn began seriously. “My mother sold two large parcels, which became DeBordieu Colony and Prince George. So much of the property in our area has lost its charm due to development; we all want this place to be here for eternity.”

Dawn’s family moved to Arcadia before she was born, when her grandfather, George Vanderbilt, passed away and left the property to Lulu, his only daughter. “I went to Winyah Academy and graduated from Furman University,” she told me. After she married Fen Pate, her husband of 32 years, the newlyweds moved to Greenville and lived there for about ten years before coming back to Arcadia for good. “Fen and I have two daughter, Allston, 25, and Emerson, 17.”

Dawn’s children are her pride and joy. Allston, who graduated from the College of Charleston, started her own business, Snaffle Bit Bracelet Co., with her friend, Eliza Limehouse, and is very encouraged by its success. Recently, the young women decided on a new venture, a candle company based on the beautiful plantations owned by each of their families. Plantation Candle Company has also taken off, and the wonderfully scented candles are available locally at Eleanor Pitts Fine Gifts, Litchfield Books and Mingo Outfitters, or through the website, www.plantationcandlecompany.com. Each candle’s scent was inspired by one of the plantations that formed Arcadia or one owned by the Limehouse family south of Charleston. “Allston has always cared about how special this plantation is and is very aware of the hardships that are required to maintain it,” Dawn told me with pride. “The idea for Plantation Candles came out of her love of this place.”

Emerson is a senior at Lowcountry Preparatory School, where Dawn spends a lot of her time volunteering. “Emerson is on the tennis and basketball teams, and I help out as much as I can,” Dawn told me. An avid tennis player, she assists the head coach when the girls go to away games.

I had to ask Dawn about her famous relatives, and she laughed telling me about how little she knows. “You know, we never spent much time with the Vanderbilt side when I was growing up. My mother was an only child, so I didn’t have aunts or uncles. I did meet Gloria Vanderbilt once when I was small!”

In the early years of Arcadia, Dawn’s grandfather would host great parties, with guests coming from all over the world, and during its heyday, three presidents visited the property, spending their days hunting and fishing the abundant land and waters. Tennis courts, swimming pools and even a bowling alley are still maintained as part of the historical preservation Dawn and her family are passionate about continuing.

Today, life on Arcadia is much different and decidedly quieter. The great parties hosting hundreds of people are a thing of the past, and Dawn’s days are mostly spent focusing on her family and working to preserve this great estate. “I ride about once a week and play tennis a couple of times also.” Animals are also one of Dawn’s great passions. “I help with dog rescue when I can, and we have two yellow labs and a rescued terrier.” Dawn and Fen do love local restaurants, such as Frank’s and Bistro 217 and, while not a big shopper, she does love browsing through Litchfield Books and her other favorite, Fresh Market. “We take the responsibility for the future of Arcadia very seriously,” Dawn said as we ended the interview. “This is a special place.”

Dawn Pate: Bridging the Past and the Future

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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One Response to “Dawn Pate: Bridging the Past and the Future”

  1. MW James says:

    Enjoyed visiting this home when it was included on the Georgetown Plantation Tours last year. Beautifully maintained. Nice to make a connection with someone who has lived there.

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