Exploring South Carolina Old 96 District
While South Carolina’s Old 96 District may seem like a small area, don’t be fooled because it’s big on charm. Located in the western part of the state, with three counties bordering Georgia, you can discover everything from main streets and town square to historical sites to outdoor opportunities within Greenwood, Abbeville, McCormick and Edgefield counties.
And the best part is, everything is within an easy, short drive of one another.
Greenwood...Where the Past and Present Merge (and Merge Quite Nicely)
Although no one really knows how Greenwood developed its nickname of Emerald City, the town is filled with all types of “gems” worth discovering.
Greenwood’s main street was once the widest in the world. While it may sound strange, there is a reason behind it. Because of the town’s central location, five different rail lines once traveled through the town. While the rails are no more, you can learn about the history at the Railroad Historical Center.
Head downtown for the Emerald Triangle to discover The Museum, The Arts Center of Greenwood County and Greenwood Community Theatre.
The Museum offers three floors of exhibits. Their permanent exhibits include regional history gallery and 1900s Main Street on the first level. On the second level, you can explore the M.J. "Doc"Rhodes' Gems and Minerals Gallery and the Epic Journeys: Animal Migration in North America and Africa. The lower floor houses the interactive Discovery lab.
Take in an art exhibit over at the Arts Center, and you may notice balcony overlooking the main floor. The former federal building once housed the post office and the balcony was used by the supervisor as they watched over the mail sorting.
Time your visit right so that you’re able to enjoy a performance at the community theatre. Whether you visit one or all three, Emerald Triangle needs to be on your “must-visit/see” list.
It isn’t unusual to see a tiger, gamecock, Lander University Bearcat and Fuji camera topiary in Greenwood during the month of June. These custom topiaries, along with others are a part of the Safari Topiary Display Uptown, which is connected to the much larger South Carolina Festival of Flowers. About six years ago, a decision was made to incorporate topiaries into the festival, thus a group was sent to EPCOT in Florida to learn how to make them. Currently with 39 in total, the city tries to make them a little different each year.
The month-long festival features tours, walks, live entertainment and much more. Greenwood is the natural choice to host this event since it is home to Park Seed Company. And as for the reason behind the Fuji camera topiary - the corporation is also based in Greenwood.
Make an appointment to tour Dr. Benjamin Mays Historic Site. Mays was one of the influential Civil Rights leader. The site features his birth home brought in from the nearby community of Epworth, and a museum and theater inside a barn-like building. The museum houses photos, writings, speeches, personal items and more from Mays’ life. There is also the Burns Spring one-room African American school, also sourced from Epworth.
Not too far from town is Emerald Farm. Owners Kathryn and Paul Zahn welcome visitors to come out and explore the 75-acre working dairy farm that is much more than your typical farm. Not only do they feature Saanen goats, but also other farm animals as well as an antique train, herb garden, antique/gift/hobby ship and model railroad displays. Allow plenty of time meander around and relax. Of course, you can’t leave without purchasing some bars of the all-natural soap made from the goat milk.
Also, located outside of Greenwood is Ninety Six National Historic Site. Its storied history includes being the site of two Revolutionary War battles; one being the first land battle south of New England and the other being the longest field siege of the American Revolution.
Got to eat...Dine with locals at Kicker’s. Small in size, but big in character and flavor, the plates have an international twist to them. Of course, you can’t go wrong with barbecue, either. Grab a bite to eat at Little Pigs BBQ. The restaurant is one of many spots highlighted along Discover South Carolina’s BBQ Trail.
Abbeville...Rich in History
When you are standing in Abbeville’s town square, you just know that you are in a historical town.
Abbeville played integral role in the Civil War. The city is known as where the “Confederacy was born and died.”
Secession Hill is where over 3,000 spectators gathered on November 22, 1860, to listen to secession speeches. Five years later, on May 2, Confederate President Jefferson Davis met with most of his official cabinet and commanders of five brigades at the Burt Stark Mansion to end the war. Today, on the tour of the mansion, you can see that room.
While tooling around the town square, be sure to stop in the inside at the Welcome Center/The Greater Abbeville Chamber of Commerce to view the five paintings by Wilber G. Kurtz. Each one depicts different scenes from Abbeville’s history, and includes one featuring Davis’ meeting to end the war.
While it may be called an opera house, no operas have ever been performed at Abbeville Opera House. It is referred to one because its stage and theater are the same size. In the late 1800s, Vaudeville tours traveled by train from New York City to Richmond, Va., to Atlanta, Ga., and stopped overnight in Abbeville, S.C. Wanting to take advantage the opportunity, citizens approached one of the more popular traveling companies - Keith Circuit - to help design a building to hold shows.
Listed on National Register of Historic Places, the Abbeville Opera House opened in 1908 to performers. One of its more unique features is that its architecture is based on theaters from the turn-of-the-century Manhattan. Another distinction it has one of the largest free standing brick walls in the world.
In 2002, the opera house was deemed the "Official Rural Drama State Theatre." Everything is done on site - from rehearsals to sets and more. Offering year round performances, they go through about a dozen scripts a year, looking for something new and different.
Visit the Trinity Episcopal Church (open to guests every day, except on Wednesdays and Sundays), located off the square. As oldest standing church in the town, the French Gothic Revival style edifice was built in 1859 and dedicated on November 4, 1860, less than three weeks before the meeting at what would later become known as Secession Hill.
Got to eat and rest...Enjoy a meal at either The Village Grill or the restaurant at The Belmont Inn. You can also reserve a room at The Belmont Inn, which is on the square, or choose to stay at bed and breakfast, like Bernibrooks Inn, one block from the square.
McCormick...Quaint with a Dose of Outdoors
Best plan of action when visiting McCormick it to explore their Main Street. Here you’ll find the headquarters of McCormick County Quilt Trail at the Red Rooster Emporium and Art Gallery. What how the blocks are created from photos and designed. The self-guided tour features 11 quilts of various designs and styles.
Take a break and enjoy an ice cream or float from the old-fashioned soda fountain inside Strom’s Drugstore.
Over the track is McCormick Arts Council at the Keturah, or better known as MACK. There are exhibits to view and a nice gift shop to swing through for that “must-have” piece.
Did you know you can pan for gold (or gemstones) in McCormick? From May through October, the Heritage Gold Mine opens for tours of the mine (guided or self-guided) and panning opportunities. You never know, you just might find some gold or other treasures.
You can’t leave the area without spending some time at Hickory Knob State Park Resort. Situated on the wooded shoreline of the 71,000-acre Lake Thurmond, the secluded park has a little of everything. For starters, you can enjoy a meal at the restaurant, play a round of gold, hike or rest - the choice is up to you. Even though you are tucked away, you won’t feel like you are missing out on anything. The park offers 18 cabins and 70 motel-style rooms at the lodge.
Edgefield...Southern Town with Not-So-Typical History
Not every town can claim to be the home of 10 state governors like Edgefield, but that is just one thing that sets the town apart from others in the region and the state. The town is home to the National Wildlife Turkey Federation (NWTF), and it’s here you’ll find the NWTF Winchester Museum. Definitely a one-of-a-kind museum, not only does it provide history about wild turkeys and turkey hunting, but also has the world's largest turkey caller, display of elaborately made turkey callers, a retired USDA Forest Service helicopter and much more. Even if you don’t have any interest in turkeys, you still should stop in and take a tour. Pick up a souvenir or two at The Turkey Shoppe.
Dave the Slave Potter’s spirit lives on since the town is known for its pottery. At Old Edgefield Pottery, Justin Guy uses traditional images and images that are familiar to him to decorate his pieces. He throws everything from mugs to dishes and more. He has even thrown an urn. As far as how much he can get done, he says it depends on what he is throwing. Bigger pieces take more time, but items like pitchers and mugs can be completed within one day.
Jane Bess of Jane Bess Pottery says it began as a hobby for her, and eventually grew into a career. As far her popular pieces go, she says that it is all popular. However, crosses, mugs and coastal items top the list.
Sample some ‘shine at Carolina Moon Distillery. The artisan distillery’s tasting room is open on Saturdays or by appointment.
Got to eat...Dine among the movers and shakers of Edgefield at Old Edgefield Grill. Don’t miss viewing the Strom Thurmond room and the Wild Turkey Federation room.
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