We love exploring America’s back roads and small towns and finding overlooked gems that the tourist brochures never cover. In a series of weekly blog posts we will be sharing some of America’s lesser-known small town museums, historic sites, and oddball attractions, on a state-by-state basis. We don’t have room to cover each and every attraction in every state, but hope to give you some ideas for places to see in your travels.
Beaufort: The Beaufort History Museum exhibits everything from Native American artifacts to the earliest Spanish settlement on Parris Island during 1566-1587, European settlement, antebellum development, Union occupation during the Civil War, and the early 20th century industries of phosphate mining, truck farming, fishing, shrimping, and oystering.
Blacksburg: On October 7, 1780, a group of Patriot militia from what is now Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia defeated British Major Patrick Ferguson and his band of Loyalist forces here. Historians consider the Battle of Kings Mountain the turning point of the Revolutionary War in the South. Kings Mountain National Military Park features a 27-minute film, exhibits, and a self-guided battlefield tour.
Blackstock: The Burrel Hemphill Monument at Hopewell Church honors Burrel Hemphill, a slave in the household of Robert Hemphill during the Civil War. He was reportedly tortured to death by Union troops for refusing to disclose the location of the family’s silverware and other valuables. A monument erected in his honor reads: “In memory of Burrel Hemphill, killed by Union soldiers February, 1865. Although a slave, he gave his life rather than betray a trust. He was a member of Hopewell.”
Camden: After the siege of Charleston, Lord Cornwallis and 2,500 British soldiers marched to Camden and set up their main backcountry supply post. For the next 11 months the town was occupied. Guided and self-guided tours are available and focus on Camden’s Colonial and Revolutionary eras. Today the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site is a 107-acre outdoor museum complex that includes the 18th-century town site, the furnished 1785 Craven House, two restored log cabins with exhibits, partial reconstruction of British military fortifications, and the reconstructed and furnished Joseph Kershaw House, headquarters for Lord Cornwallis.
Charleston: The Civil War began here on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter. Today visitors can tour Fort Sumter National Monument and learn about the fort’s place in our history.
Charleston: Fort Moultrie served the nation from the Revolutionary War through the end of World War II. Visitors can take a self-guided tour and enjoy great views of Charleston and Fort Sumter.
Charleston: Born into slavery in the Virgin Islands, Denmark Vesey purchased his freedom from his Charleston slave holder and settled into life as a carpenter on Bull Street. In 1821, Vesey’s home was the meeting place to organize what is considered the most extensive black insurrection in American history, involving thousands of free and enslaved blacks in the Charleston area. Set for July 12, 1822, word of the plot leaked out and Vesey and 36 others were hanged for their roles. Vesey’s home, at 56 Bull Street, is a National Historic Landmark.
Charleston: The Macaulay Museum of Dental History houses an impressive collection of dental memorabilia, including a 1900 dental office, a series of dental chairs spanning many years, an instrument made by Paul Revere for Dr. Josiah Flagg, and an itinerate dentist’s chest from the Civil War era.
Charleston: The Confederate Museum was established by the Daughters of Confederacy in 1898. The museum is decorated with Confederate memorabilia items such as uniforms, weaponry, flags and more, and is a must for any military fan.
Charleston: Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum has a fleet of World War II naval ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, which took part in a number of battles in the Pacific, a destroyer, submarine, and Coast Guard cutter.
Charleston: The only known building used as a slave auction gallery in South Carolina still in existence, the Old Slave Mart Museum was once part of a complex of buildings known as Ryan’s Mart. The complex had a brick wall enclosed yard, a four-story building that contained a “barracoon” or slave jail, a kitchen, and a dead house or morgue. Slave auctions ended here in November, 1863. The museum recounts the story of Charleston’s role in the slave trade, focusing on the history of the building and site and the slave sales that took place here.
Charleston: The American Military Museum displays artifacts from the Revolutionary War through the war in Iraq. Exhibits include uniforms, flags, medals, and hundreds of military artifacts from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Among the highlights are General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s original star rank insignia; an 1820 bell crown shako infantry hat, an 1872 9th Cavalry dress blue uniform from the famed Buffalo Soldiers, thought to be the only one in the country; several one-of-a-kind Air Force band uniforms designed by Cecil B. DeMille and rejected by the Air Force; 400 different pieces of military headgear, 600 military miniature and toy soldiers, and more.
Charleston: Built between 1738 and 1742, Drayton Hall is the oldest preserved plantation house in America that is open to the public. Visitors can enjoy a guided house tour, self-guided walks of the marsh and river, and the African-American cemetery. A National Trust Historic Site, Drayton Hall has served seven generations of the Drayton family including William Henry Drayton, Revolutionary War hero, member of the Continental Congress, and chief justice of South Carolina. Drayton Hall is considered one of the finest examples of Georgian Palladian architecture in America. It retains its original interiors and has never been wired for electricity or had plumbing or heating and air conditioning installed.
Charleston: The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon was built between 1767 and 1771. South Carolina delegates to the First Continental Congress were elected here in 1774. The Provost Dungeon was used as a prison by the British during the Revolution. Animatronic characters enhance the tour of this historic landmark.
Charleston: Since 1773, the Charleston Museum has collected and preserved artifacts pertaining to the cultural and natural history of the Lowcountry. Visitors of all ages will be transported back through time, viewing everything from ancient fossils and an enormous whale skeleton, to elegant costumes and Charleston silver. The museum also is noted for its exhibits on African-American history, crafts, and slavery.
Charleston: At Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site, archaeologists continue to trace the footprint of the initial Charles Towne settlement, the first successful English settlement in the Carolinas, established in 1670. The “birthplace of South Carolina,” the settlement strongly influenced Southern culture and American history. The park features an interpretive trail; Adventure, the rebuilt replica of a 17th century trading ship; and an expanded Animal Forest, a habitat featuring animals the first permanent European settlers in the Carolinas would have encountered when they arrived in 1670.
Cheraw: The Dizzy Gillespie Birthplace Park marks the site of jazz great Dizzy Gillespie’s birthplace in Cheraw. The park includes a historical marker on his life and features sculpture and park benches that symbolize his life. There is also a statue of Gillespie on the Cheraw Town Green on Market Street. Born here in 1917 as John Birks Gillespie, Dizzy attended public schools, graduating from Robert Smalls in 1933. His musical talents earned him a scholarship to the Laurinberg Institute in North Carolina. A guide to the sites connected to his life is available at the Cheraw Chamber of Commerce.
Clinton: Musgrove Mill State Historic Site captures a moment that shows what a true “civil war” the American Revolution was; a bloody struggle that in that particular encounter may have included only one British-born soldier among hundreds of combatants from across the Carolinas upcountry. The August 19, 1780 battle pitted about 200 Patriot militiamen against a force of 500 Tories and provincial regulars. The victory marked one of the few times that Patriot militia bested a larger force of provincial regulars and Tory militia. It also exemplified the hit-and-run tactics that marked the struggle in the upcountry.
Columbia: Housed in the historic 1893 Columbia Mill textile building, the South Carolina State Museum tells the story of South Carolina through exhibits of art, cultural history, natural history, science, and technology. Displays include prehistoric stone axe heads, earthenware for food and liquid, pottery shards, and a burial urn; African American exhibits from slave days to the present; exhibits on the Colonial period and Revolutionary War; and Civil War artifacts, including a reproduction of the Confederate submarine Hunley.
Columbia: Our 28th President, Woodrow Wilson, lived at a home at 1705 Hampton Street during his teenage years. The home is open for tours and includes items owned by the Wilson family, including the bed the future president was born in.
Dillon: If you like roadside kitsch, be sure to stop at South of the Border, a combination tourist trap, hotel, campground, amusement park, restaurant complex that is just tacky enough to be loads of fun.
Easley: A landmark since the early 1800s and one of the state’s most photographed objects, Golden Creek Mill is completely restored, and the water wheel still powers the millstones to produce cornmeal and grits.
Edgefield: The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Wild Turkey Center’s Winchester Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to the restoration, management, and hunting of the wild turkey.
Georgetown: The story of the rice culture in Georgetown County is remembered at the Rice Museum here. Exhibits give visitors a view of a society based on one crop. The museum is located in the Old Market Building, erected in 1842. In the adjacent Maritime History Gallery is Brown’s Ferry Vessel, a 50′ river freighter built in 1710, sunk around 1730, and the oldest boat in North America. Other exhibits include the history of the Kaminski Hardware Company; Miss Ruby Forsythe, one of South Carolina’s great educators; and Joseph Hayne Rainey, the first African American elected to the U.S. Congress.
Hilton Head Island: The Coastal Discovery Museum combines hands-on exhibits in coastal history and nature at its main location, with 15 different tours and cruises at various locations. In addition to indoor exhibits, the museum property includes a short nature trail with native plants and trees, a butterfly garden, and other garden areas.
Jacksonboro: The Isaac Hayne Tomb and House Site is the ancestral home and burial ground of Colonel Isaac Hayne (1745-1781), a wealthy rice planter who fought for independence during the American Revolution. Hayne was forced to sign an oath of allegiance to the British after the fall of Charleston in order to avoid being separated from his sick wife. When the British ordered him to bear arms for the King, he again joined the American forces, and was subsequently captured by the enemy. His execution on the gallows by the British in Charleston aroused indignation in both America and Europe.
McClellanville: Hampton Plantation State Historic Site preserves the antebellum plantation’s Georgian-style mansion and well-kept grounds as an interpretive site for the system of slavery that helped build such plantations into the greatest generators of wealth in early American history. Exhibits also tell the story of the freed people who made their homes there for generations after emancipation.
McConnells: A site for the filming of the Revolutionary War film The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Historic Brattonsville has flourished to become one of the largest restoration and living history sites in the Southeast. The 775-acre living history village and Revolutionary War battlefield site features 29 historic structures and programs chronicling Carolina Piedmont development from the 1750s through the 1840s. An award-winning heritage farm program includes the preservation of rare breeds of farm animals. Living history programs are scheduled each month during the regular tour season. Also included at the site are the Walt Schrader trails, with eight miles of hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding trials.
Moncks Corner: Old Santee Canal Park commemorates South Carolina’s beautiful natural resources and emphasizes the tremendous historical significance of the Santee Canal. Located within the park is the Berkeley County Museum and Heritage Center, which tells the story of 12,000 years of the region’s history. Exhibits and artifacts focus on General Francis Marion (the Swamp Fox), American Indians, Colonial life, the Civil War, early medicine, rural electrification, early education, and the Francis Marion National Forest.
Murrells Inlet: Brookgreen Gardens, founded in 1931, was America’s first public sculpture garden. The Gardens’ collection contains over 900 works spanning the entire period of American sculpture from the early 1800s to the present. The Gardens’ location on more than 50 beautifully landscaped acres creates an extraordinary blending of art and nature. In addition to the sculpture collection in the gardens there are two indoor sculpture exhibition galleries.
Ninety Six: Ninety Six National Historic Site preserves the site of the Revolutionary War Battle for Star Fort between Patriots and British loyalists. Visitors will see the original 1781 Star Fort, historic roads like the Cherokee Path and Charleston Road, the original town sites of Ninety Six and Cambridge, the reconstructed stockade, and siege trenches.
North Charleston: The North Charleston Fire Museum and Educational Center displays a beautiful collection of antique fire fighting apparatus, including an 1858 Button and Blake hand pumper, along with fascinating hands-on safety displays for children that are both educational and entertaining.
Pickens: Hagood Mill, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a functioning 19th century water powered gristmill. Benjamin Hagood, an early settler of the Carolina Upcountry, built the original mill in 1825. His son, James Hagood, moved the mill to its present location in 1845, and it continued operations until the 1960s. The mill is open for tours and corn-grinding demonstrations.
Ravenel: Caw Caw Interpretive Center is a 650-acre park rich in natural, cultural, and historical resources. Once part of a 5,500-acre 1700s rice plantation, enslaved Africans applied their technology and skills in agriculture to carve a highly successful series of rice fields out of this vast cypress swamp. The site features seven miles of historical and interpretive trails, an Interpretive Center with displays and exhibits on rice cultivation, and a wildlife sanctuary with seven distinct habitats.
St. Helena: The York W. Bailey Museum offers a unique blend of history, education, and culture and showcases some of the oldest professional photographs of African American people, an original 1863 school bell, and artifacts related to Sea Island and African American history and culture. The museum is located at Penn Center, the site of one of the country’s first schools for freed slaves and one of the most significant African American historical and cultural institutions in existence today.
Summerville: Visitors to Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site are walking into a rare look at a remarkably preserved past. An archaeological treasure, the park rests on the site of Dorchester, a trading town that flourished on the Ashley River from 1697 through the Revolutionary War. Intact remains of the old town include the brick bell tower of St. George’s Anglican Church, a fort made of the oyster-shell concrete called tabby, and part of a log wharf visible at low tide. When the town was abandoned after the Revolution, the forest, and later a community park, protected the site, leaving remarkably undisturbed evidence of village life just beneath the surface. Today, visitors to Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site can watch as archaeologists unearth the settlement’s history.
Union: Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site offers a look at antebellum South Carolina in a serene, rural setting. It’s also the historic home of South Carolina’s “Secession Governor,” William H. Gist.
Wadmalaw Island: The Carolina Lowcountry provides just the right mix of heat, rain, and sun for tiny, tender tea leaves to thrive. At Charleston Tea Plantation, visitors can observe the process of making tea and learn all about the world of tea on a narrated bus tour through the farm.
Walhalla: In the late 18th and early 19th century, a small plot of land along South Carolina’s western frontier served both as a military compound against attack from the Cherokees. and later a trading post. Today, that plot of land is Oconee Station State Historic Site. The park contains two structures: Oconee Station, a stone blockhouse used as an outpost by the U.S. military from about 1792 to 1799, and the William Richards House, named for the Irish immigrant who built it as a trading post in 1805. There is also a three mile nature trail that leads into Sumter National Forest and ends at Station Cove Falls, a 60-foot waterfall that’s considered one of the prettiest in the state.
Walterboro: The Slave Relics Historical Museum is dedicated to documenting, preserving, interpreting, and celebrating the history and culture of peoples of African descent. The museum’s exhibits artifacts that were made and used by enslaved Africans from 1750 to the mid 1800’s.
Wellford: Hollywild Animal Park is home to many exotic animals, including white rhinoceros, orangutans, chimpanzees, baboons, spider monkeys, ring-tail lemurs, Siberian tigers, African lions, black panthers, leopards, jaguars, cougars, hyena, wolves, black bears, Syrian bears, badgers, llamas, antelope, zebras, bison, camels, and more. Many of the animals have appeared in countless commercials and over 60 Hollywood movie productions including The Big Chill, Prince of Tides, Prancer, Days of Thunder, Reversal of Fortune, Last of the Mohicans, The Stand, and as models for The Lion King.
Winnsboro: The South Carolina Railroad Museum has a large collection of equipment, including steam and diesel locomotives, passenger and baggage cars, and other rolling stock.
Thought For The Day – I think my guardian angel drinks.