Belle Baruch: Champion of Hobcaw

          I am Corrie Jolly, a media management intern for SCETV’s Between the Waters project, graduating from Columbia College this spring with a Bachelor’s degree in Leadership and Professional Communication and a minor in writing. I am excited to contribute to the Between the Waters blog in order to help tell the story of the Baruchs, an affluent and influential family that is often overlooked despite their considerable contributions to their home state of South Carolina. In particular, Bernard Baruch achieved worldwide recognition as a Wall Street financier and “Park Bench Statesman”. While he never ran for public office, Bernard Baruch served as a presidential advisor to presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman and was the first U.S. representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission under President Harry Truman.

        The story of Bernard’s eldest daughter, Belle, is not as well known. At a staggering 6’2”, Belle Baruch was a powerful woman with an athletic talent unmatched in early 1900s South Carolina. Deemed the “Southern Diana” by the Georgetown Times, Belle was an exceptional hunter and equestrian, winning competitions around the world with her beloved horse, Toto. Upon graduating from high school, Belle’s classmates recounted her preference for equestrianism over academics with a stanza in the graduation yearbook:


Belle Baruch with sailing trophy c. 1917


                    There is a young lady named Belle 

                   Who can ride a fine horse very well;

                    If studies were horses

She’d lead in all courses

                    This much-liked maiden, our Belle!


       Belle’s time at Hobcaw Barony was usually spent riding horseback, sailing, and hunting. She much preferred the marshlands, teeming with wildlife, to her parents’ formal dinner parties. In fact, many of Belle’s preferences defied cultural expectations for women at the time. In addition to her exceptional athleticism, Belle was a suffragist and a lesbian, much to her namesake grandmother’s dismay. Belle’s grandmother, Isabelle Baruch, was opposed to woman’s suffrage and preached of women’s subservience to men, stating in a New York Times article that, “Men have always guided and protected us” (Undated clipping in scrapbook, BWB papers). While Belle’s mother was more supportive of her daughter’s activism, she refused to acknowledge her sexuality, dismissing some of the most important romantic relationships in her life as mere friendships.

        Her mother’s disapproval of her love life undoubtedly left her heartbroken, but Belle Baruch did not let this deter her from living a full and rewarding life. After inheriting $1 million on her 21st birthday, Belle seized the opportunity to experience the world. Belle left for Paris in 1926, and she later travelled with Edith Wilson, Woodrow Wilson’s widow, across Europe. During one of her hunting excursions in Europe, Belle met Paul Larregain, a renowned horse breeder and trainer. Larregain recognized Belle’s talent as a rider almost immediately, and they began to train for show jumping competitions. By 1928, Belle was ready and eager to compete in international competitions. However, in order to compete, Belle needed a license, which the United States embassy refused to issue to a woman. Furious, Belle was forced to obtain a man’s license from the French government. Despite her frustration with the U.S. embassy, Belle represented the United States in all of her competitions, earning an impressive reputation for herself and her country in a sport usually dominated by European men.

Belle and Souriant

Belle Baruch and Souriant III in France c. 1928-1931

       In 1935, Belle became interested in the future of Hobcaw Barony, particularly with the construction of U.S. Highway 17 underway. The completion of the Lafayette Bridge in July of 1935 crossing Winyah Bay created an accessible gateway into Belle’s beloved home. No longer would tourists have to brave the treacherous waters of the bay to gain access to the idyllic barony. A conservationist well before her time, Belle realized the fate that awaited Hobcaw Barony if she did not take action. Belle had asked her father many times for a share of Hobcaw to no avail. Finally, in December of 1935, Bernard Baruch agreed to sell her Hobcaw Barony under the condition that Belle become the manager. Belle’s parents were concerned for their eldest daughter, a young woman of Jewish descent living in Europe on the Eve of World War II. Appointing Belle as the manager of Hobcaw was Bernard Baruch’s best effort at convincing his daughter to return the United States, and it was certainly effective. In 1936, Belle left Europe and commissioned the construction of her new home in Hobcaw from her New York City apartment.


Lois Massey, Belle Baruch and Dickie Leyland at Bellefield c. 1943

       Belle’s years as manager of Hobcaw Barony were spent hunting, fishing, and exploring the vast property- much like the days of her youth. Even after her death to cancer in 1964, Belle’s devotion to Hobcaw Barony was immortalized through the Belle W. Baruch Foundation, established in her will. Thanks to Belle’s keen sense of conservation, Bellefield and Hobcaw Barony remain undeveloped to this day.
Clemson University and the University of South Carolina  both have close partnerships with The Belle W. Baruch foundation, ensuring that South Carolina scholars have access to the ecosystems of Hobcaw Barony for scientific research. The North Inlet estuary at Hobcaw Barony was named a National Estuarine Research Reserve by the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a long-term ecological research site by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Thanks to the foresight and generosity of Belle Baruch, the beauty and historical significance of Hobcaw Baronyare accessible to future generations of Americans.




Joseph McGill, Founder of The Slave Dwelling Project, Visits Hobcaw Barony

Last month, the Between the Waters team was joined by Joseph McGill, founding director of The Slave Dwelling Project, for a week-long series of events at Hobcaw Barony.  Following our “Voices of the Village” panel discussion, Patrick Hayes joined McGill (and Hobcaw volunteer Alec Tuten) during his overnight stay in the former home of Laura Carr, a formerly enslaved woman who worked as a  field hand and midwife.  

 Joseph McGill relaxes in front of the hearth in Laura Carr's home before participating in an interview for our forthcoming Between the Waters virtual tour.

Joseph McGill relaxes in front of the hearth in Laura Carr’s home before participating in an interview for our forthcoming Between the Waters virtual tour.

Brief but inspiring, our overnight stay in the dwelling sometimes called the “Carr Cabin” or “Laura’s House” began somewhat late in the evening with arrival and setup for a videotaped interview. The plan for our interview set with Mr. McGill was to keep shadows and dark corners of the interior intact to approximate the light, most likely that of a candle or hearth, that Ms. Carr and others who lived there might have experienced. The irony of how easily this dwelling could be lit, if not overly lit, by a battery powered LED light kit purchased on the internet was not lost on us.

Our extended interview with Joseph McGill covered a range of topics, some familiar to those who have spent time with Mr. McGill, others unique to our visit and this particular dwelling. We discussed Ms. Laura Carr’s role as Friendfield’s root doctor and midwife and how that layer added to his experience and interpretation of the space. We also discussed Robert McClary, a former resident of Friendfield Village, and how his ongoing visit provided a rare opportunity for Mr. McGill and the public to interact with someone who had lived in a dwelling relatively unchanged since the antebellum era. This videotaped discussion with Mr. McGill will be part of the Between the Waters web documentary and virtual tour in 2016.

The Between the Waters team shared this tiny room in Laura Carr's dwelling. The "living room" was not much larger than this space.

The Between the Waters team shared this tiny room in Laura Carr’s dwelling. The “living room” is not much larger than this space.

We took to our bedrolls almost immediately after the interview. Though the spring weather was particularly kind that night, I imagined how extremes easily changed the situation during Ms. Carr’s time. Rest, while not fitful, was full of strange, vivid dreams certainly influenced or suggested by the history of the space. One dream in particular, that of a hand placing a smooth river stone on my head as I slept, continues to be a topic of discussion between me and my colleagues.

I awoke to my colleague sitting on his bedroll using his phone to take a photo of a shuttered, barndoor-style window through which a thin square seam of sunlight leaked into the room. Perhaps it was this same seam of light that Ms. Carr, or those who lived here before her, woke to every morning as well. Clearly, as I later learned, her day would have already begun.


To learn more about The Slave Dwelling Project, visit their website: