Framed by three massive live oak trees, this grassy knoll was a home site on Laurel Hill Plantation before the Civil War. Savannah National Wildlife Refuge includes portions of 13 former rice plantations. Ten including Laurel Hill, were located in South Carolina. Laurel Hill was nearly 400 acres in size and belongs to several owners during the years of rice cultivation in the Savannah area (1750-1860). The most prominent owner was Daniel Heyward (1810-1888). He was a nephew of Thomas Heyward Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and of Nathaniel Heyward, the greatest rice planter of his day, who once owned 10 South Carolina plantations and 2,000 slaves.
Laurel Hill is bordered by the Little Back River, which is a channel of the Savannah River. Rice was grown in fields that were flooded with fresh water from the river. In, 1825, the plantation had a house, rice mill, winnowing house, barns, and dwellings for 150 slaves. Facing three life oaks on this knoll, the two-story clapboard house probably was home for the plantation overseers. A rice mill operated by tidal power was once located on Little Back River. It was replaced by a steam-powered facility built near this location.
The Laurel Hill steam-powered mill operated from 1833 until 1880. Later the mill was converted into a tavern, rumored to have been a hotbed of drunken and disorderly activity. The infamous Rice Mill Tavern was abandoned by 1934, when the Laurel Hill tract was added to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.