By Paula Loehr
There’s no doubt about it. South Carolina is so full of fun that you’ll have a tough time choosing what to see first. Will it be gardens or grist mills, grand opera singers or Catawba’s celebrated potters? How about winning race horses or ‘50s-style drive-in movies? In South Carolina, there are lots of inviting choices, and they’re located all over the state.
In the northern region of the Palmetto State, South Carolina Botanical Garden is on Clemson University’s campus in the town of Clemson. The garden, which had its beginnings back in the 1950s, is readily accessible via Interstate 85 and Highway 76. The 295-acre green space includes a wildflower meadow, camellias, butterflies, nature trails and meandering streams. And the grounds contain a 1700’s house, an 1800’s cabin, a Discovery Center with art galleries and a geology museum.
You can take a tour and stock you rig’s galley with stone-ground cornmeal and grits at Hagood Mill, a working water-powered gristmill right out of the 1800s. The mill is located in Pickens on Highway 178. Once a month, the Hagood staff presents corn-grinding demonstrations that give visitors a realistic visual sense of the rigors of farm life in times gone by.
In 1865, Jefferson Davis and his war council formally dismissed the Confederate Armies at the Burt-Stark Mansion in Abbeville off U.S. Highway 72. Years earlier, the prominent 1830’s estate was also the site where the cause of the Confederacy was officially launched. Antique furnishings and accessories, including those used by high-ranking members of the Confederacy, remain at the Greek Revival-style house today.
The lifestyles and cultural patterns of another group of South Carolinians, the Catawba Indian people, are exhibited and explained at the Catawba Cultural Center in Rock Hill off U.S. Highway 77. The Catawbas, who identify themselves as the “People of the River,” once lived, planted corn, hunted and fished on the banks of the Catawba River in roundhouses covered with tree bark. The tribe is best known for its distinctive traditional pottery which has reportedly been produced for more than 4,000 years and is now sold at the cultural center. Traditionally, Catawba pottery was crafted by women from clay dug up from riverside pits by Catawba men and children. Pots and other works of art were and still are formed from lumps or coils of clay shaped by special potters’ tools carved from shells, wood, metal or bone fragments. The highly prized tools are passed down by family members from generation to generation, and Catawba potters follow a carefully prescribed series of drying and finishing techniques that concludes with outdoor firing in a pit or fireplace. The process results in remarkable pottery with a unique mottled surface that’s tinted with earthen shades of black, brown, tan and orange.
Down in central South Carolina, the restored Newberry Opera House hosts all sorts of musical programs, ranging from slick Broadway productions to restrained classical performances to knee-slappin’ country concerts. The 1881 Opera House may be reached from Interstate 26.
The Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame is located on the grounds of Hopelands Gardens in Aiken off Interstate 20. Opened nearly three decades ago in 1977, the hall honors Aiken’s trainers, jockeys and polo players as well as the many horses who trained there and later gained national prominence. The Gardens’ 1902 Carriage House encompasses the Hall of Fame where trophies, photos and silks of honored horses are displayed.
Art lovers should be sure to take a peek at the paintings in the equine-themed gallery on the grounds.
In Monetta (north of Interstate 20 up SC Route 39 on U.S. 1), Big Mo is the nickname of the town’s revamped ‘50s-era drive-in movie theatre. The entire drive-in experience at the Mo is a genuine piece of American nostalgia, from the nightly opening rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” to butter-slathered popcorn and sizzling hot dogs at the snack bar. There are even double and triple features for hard-core drive-in buffs who just don’t want their movie date (in the car or RV) to end.
Do you ever have trouble keeping track of the time? That’s a challenge that never baffles the Vertical Sundial at the Barnwell County Courthouse Circle off U.S. Highway 278. The sundial has consistently displayed accurate time for an amazing 150 years! Situated just off U.S. Highway 278 in downtown Barnwell, it’s said to be the last such sundial left in the entire U.S.A.
The Lone Star Barbecue & Mercantile is set in a restored century-old country store in Santee a few miles northwest of Interstate 95. Fortunately, in addition to dishing up tasty old-fashioned meals, many other appealing aspects of the original old mercantile grace the Lone Star of 2011. Antique showcases and vintage photos cozy up the interior of the popular buffet-style restaurant. Check the online events calendar for holiday dinners, community yard sales, and a lineup of the country and bluegrass musicians who perform there on Saturday nights.
In the southeastern coastal area of South Carolina, the Serpentarium is on Edisto Island close to U.S. Highway 17. Brothers Ted and Hayward Champ spent more than 50 years hunting for snakes and other creepy crawlers before they were able to formally display their hand-gathered reptile collection at the current Serpentarium. The Champs’ facility includes indoor glass enclosures plus complex outdoor habitats with trees, streams, foliage, fallen logs and such that provide resident reptiles with shelters resembling their original homes in the wild.
Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston off U.S. Highway 17 preserves the infamous site where the Civil War broke out in April 1861. Fort Sumter, a powerful symbol to both the North and South during the War Between the States, is in Charleston Harbor and accessible only by tour boat. Passenger ferries depart from two convenient locations—the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center in Charleston and Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in nearby Mount Pleasant—also off Highway 17.
At Harborwalk in historic downtown Georgetown on Highway 17, you can take a scenic stroll on the old dockyard along the waterfront. The docks have been renovated as antique stores, restaurants and a nice assortment of seaside shops. Stop for a delicious bite of just-caught seafood or, if you’d like to venture out on the water, board a sightseeing cruise on one of the tall ships moored at Georgetown.
Myrtle Beach’s Pavilion Nostalgia Park and Carousel Park, also on Highway 17, is another oceanfront attraction that’s worth the trip. With its wild-riding rollercoaster, fascinating circa 1900 European pipe organ and splendid antique carousel, the 11-acre amusement park is tops for vintage-style family entertainment. For an old-fashioned ice cream delight, try Kirk’s 1890 Ice Cream Parlor, where the house favorite is a giant-sized banana split. Kirk’s runs two shop locations on Highway 17 in Myrtle Beach.