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September 2, 2003
You will never find people more gracious than folks in South Carolina. They are a “first you get the handshake then you get the hug” kind of people who are genuinely happy to see you, and who do all that they can to make your visit pleasurable. Towns and villages in the state’s heartland are no exception especially those mid-state, in an area known as the Olde English District which encompasses the Counties of Chesterfield, Kershaw, Fairfield, Lancaster, Chester, Union and York. The Town of Camden, hub of this unique area, sits along Highway #1, a little north-east of the state capital, Columbia and south-west of the pretty town Cheraw which is also in the Olde English District.
Previous to white settlement, the area was home to the Catawba Indian Nation, a fact that is celebrated each year during the last weekend in November when “YAP YA ISWA” - Day of the River People - is held at Rock Hill. There are still vestiges of burial mounds, middens and Indian villages along the Wateree River in the Camden area when occasionally shards of their unique coiled pottery are unearthed. A life-sized weather vane atop the tower on the c1886 Opera House at 950 Broad Street in Camden’s downtown area is that of “Haigler”, a highly respected noble Catawba Indian Chief. White settlement began mid-eighteenth century with the arrival of Irish Quakers, followed by the English and Scots.
Camden is the sort of place that lures visitors to stay awhile. The town’s main thoroughfare, Broad Street is aptly named. The street is lined with interesting shops including the Ten Eleven Galleria with a selection of wine, gourmet foods, books, antiques and coffee shops. Next door, Burns Hardware prides itself on service with its slogan - “service from the time you buy to the day you die”. Mulberry Market Bake Shop is just a step away on DeKelb Street as is The Pearl - a gem of a restaurant - home of African American soul food. One never hurries a meal at The Pearl where collard greens, speckled butter beans, fried Eggplant, Vidalia dressing, corn bread, fired catfish and chicken are on the menu. The Pearl is aptly housed in the c1920's former home of Camden’s first African American doctor.
The Olde English District boasts more than 80 antique shops and Camden is well known as the antique capital of the Sandhills. Last count, visitors could browse through more than 30 antiques shops, including the Granary Antiques & Accessories and Camden Antique Mall. Camden’s architecture embraces many styles and centuries. Some buildings are the work of architect Robert Mills who designed Washington Monument. The result as one local said, is a number of “pretty fine looking” late 1790's buildings. Streets are lined with excellent examples of eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century residential and commercial architecture.
Like Aiken in Thoroughbred Country, Camden has a number of streets that remain unpaved for the benefit of equine traffic. The town is one of the few that has signs stating “Horses Forbidden on Sidewalk”. Springdale Race Course, home to the National Steeplechase Museum, hosts two Grade One races per year, the Carolina Cup in the spring and the Colonial Cup in the fall. Springdale is a fitting location for horse-related events such as equine shows and polo games as races have been held here since 1927.
Olde English District history is entwined around both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Its counties were the scenes of a number of battles and skirmishes. For war afficionados, an excellent pamphlet, “Revolutionary War”, lists 22 sites - parks, museums, towns, heritage buildings that played a prominent role in the war for independence from England. Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site, located on Highway #521 just south of Camden, a recreation-in-progress, includes the reconstructed Kershaw-Cornwallis house, the 1789 Craven House, log cabins with exhibits, fortifications, walking paths and picnic area. Lord Charles Cornwallis used the original Kershaw house as his headquarters when he spent eleven months in the area c1780 along with 2,500 British soldiers.
Set several days aside to explore the villages and towns surrounding Camden. Boykin was named after William Boykin who settled the area in 1755. The village exists today because of the vision of the heirs of Lemuel Whitaker Boykin who now operate it as a visitor attraction. Boykin was never a large community but did have a mill and pond, store, church and tavern which were located beside two major highways - #261 and #521. Until 1960 when the highways were rerouted, transport trucks, busses and cars crossed the narrow wooden bridge that still forms a focal point for the heritage village. The mill pond is now a bird sanctuary where Great and Cattle egrets and ibis nest, bobcats and fox prowl and an alligator by the name of “Olde George” resides.
Buildings house artisans like Susan Simpson, broom-maker par excellence who plies her trade in a c1740 house. The mill still operates. The original General Store is just that. You can enjoy lighter fare at the Boykin Company Grill or partake in fine dining at the Mill Pond Restaurant, housed in two former slave cabins. Fried oysters and fried green tomatoes, crab cakes and Over-the-Top fillet come highly recommended. Swift Creek Baptist Church is popular for weddings and concerts. In April 1865, Union and Confederate troops clashed at Boykin Mill as the Union army moved south along the Kings Highway. Today, a c1995 monument commemorating both sides, sits by the mill. If the name Boykin sounds familiar - the village is famous for a breed of dog - the Boykin Spaniel. Boykin is most famous for its Christmas parade, held each year on the Saturday before December 25. Best to call for particulars. More than 10,000 people attend each year. Part of the celebration is Boykin’s famous Road Kill Cook-Off.
Cheraw north -east of Camden is centrally located at the junction of a number of major highways - #9 , #52, # 1 and #171. Both Camden and Cheraw are located on a sandhill ridge that runs from Richmond Virginia to Georgia. One of the most interesting features of the ridge are long leaf pine whose needles are much prized for mulch. Cheraw with a population of approx. 6,000 people, was designed with double avenues that provide room for leafy canopies over quiet thoroughfares. The town has more than fifty heritage homes, the oldest at #21 Third Street, dating to the 1770's. Some of the buildings that are of historical significance sport plaques. During April, the town blooms with azaleas, dogwood, wisteria, climbing jessamine, Lady Banks Roses, Cherokee Roses.
A jazz fan? Dizzy Gillespie was born in Cheraw. A park, featuring a number of innovative sculptures is named in his honour. Dizzy, in bronze, blows his famous bent horn in the square in front of the Visitor Information Centre on the Town Green. Visitors should stop at the Information Centre first for directions to local attractions. The Green is lined with heritage buildings including the c1858 Town Hall, c1837 Market Hall, c1820 Inglis-McIver Law Office, c1820's Lyceum building, c1835 Merchant’s Bank Building.
The Great Pee Dee River, which begins its journey to the Atlantic in Blowing Rock, N.C., flows past Cheraw. Close by its bank, c1774 Olde St. David’s Church was used as a hospital by both sides during the Civil War. Soldiers from all the wars are buried in its cemetery including members of the c1780, 71st Scottish Regiment. One of the most interesting graves is that of Captain Mose Rogers, commander of the S.S. Savannah, the first steam ship to cross the Atlantic, that crossing made in 1819.
When you’re hungry, check out Country Kitchen Buffet, where for a reasonable price, you can enjoy soul food like fatback. fried chicken and country biscuits which share the buffet with mustard greens, corn bread, pickled beets, squash & onions, black-eyed beans, banana pudding and strawberry pie.
Cheraw has a variety of accommodation but in such an historic place, a bed & breakfast makes sense. 314 Market St. Bed & Breakfast has all the amenities that one could ask for including a great host who will bend over backwards to please his guests. The area is surrounded by state parks, natural and recreational areas. Cheraw State Recreation Area has rustic cabins, camping area, equestrian Trails with their own camping area, lake and 18 hole golf course. It is home to a number of species of animals, birds and reptiles, including the Fox squirrel and endangered Red Cockaded woodpecker.
West of Camden, on Highway #34, the main street in Ridgeway is lined with interesting shops and pretty homes. Ruff & Co., an old fashioned hardware store is right across the street from the smallest police station in the U.S.A. Hungry? Drop in at the Olde Towne Hall Restaurant. Ridgeway has several good antique shops and at least one ghost, reputed to live at the Charles Wray house on Highway #34 at Dogwood Street. The South Carolina Railroad Museum, approximately five miles west of Ridgeway is open on the first and third Saturdays each month from June through October.
Another small community, Winnsboro, boasts the oldest clock in continuous operation in the U.S.A., erected in c1833, right beside Thespian Hall built the same year and close by heritage Ketchin Building. A printed walking tour is available from the Chamber of Commerce.
As you travel west and north from Camden, notice , especially along Highways #321 and #34 a number of granite stone buildings, mostly small houses c1900 through 1950. This area, which supported a granite quarry, indicates that the landscape is changing from low to high country. At the same time, the red clay soil of the Carolinas is highly visible in fields, ditches and cuts.
Near Winnsboro, the tiny community of Blair, located a little way off the highway, has a country store cum antique shop, old signage and some great abandoned roadside architecture. It’s well worth a visit! Rose Hill, home of Edward Greer, the governor of the first Sessionist state - South Carolina - was used an the Governor’s official residence before one was established in Columbia. Today the property, with its magnificent 160 year old magnolia trees, is restored and open to visitors.
No visitor to South Carolina can leave without a taste of barbeque. Midway, on Highway #216 in Union, is one of the best places to experience barbeque. The eatery, a non-descript white structure with red trim and always surrounded by vehicles, shares space with a butcher shop that offers such delicacies as smoked sausage, liver mush, souse meat, fat back - regular and thick, fried pork rind, “Chitlin”, Cracklin’ and pimento cheese. In proper tradition, the building’s floor is covered with sawdust to catch the “drippins”. Never had Southern barbeque - pulled meat in a blend of sauce that could be tomato, vinegar or mustard based? You’ve missed something interesting. As one of the local wags likes to tell strangers, the barbeque “looks like its been eaten once before - but it sure tastes good”. End your meal with Midway’s famous sweet potato pie.
People in the town of Union likes to say that it’s in the middle of the state, in the middle of the U.S.A. Union with a population of around 10,000, is located half-way between New York and Miami, and three hours from either the sea or the mountains. The community prides itself on the Boogaloo Broadcasting Company - the BBC - a community sponsored and supported venture that produces folk-life plays each year in June. Union’s “Christmas Downtown” is held on the third Thursday in November each year with appropriate vignettes staged along the restored main thoroughfare.
Union has its share of architect Robert Mills designed buildings and a high percentage of pre1900's homes. Near Union, visitors begin to see the yellow flowers of Scottish Broom; the hills become a little higher; the deciduous forest a little more pronounced and the air “mountain” as the Sandhills area is left behind and the western mountains beckon.
In keeping with the historic nature of the Olde English District, plan to stay at Camden House English B & B, located in a gracious c1830's mansion on Broad Street. Rooms are beautifully decorated. Windows open to wide porches letting in cool night breezes. A delicious breakfast in the British style is served in the restored dining room.
Olde English District offers something to please everyone It is a Mecca for naturalists. Landsford State Park boasts the remnants of a 19th century canal and the world’s largest collection of the very rare, white Rocky Shoal Spider Lily. The park is known also for the number of American Bald Eagles that make the area home. Those who are researching family history won’t be disappointed. Architecture buffs will revel in intact heritage streetscapes. The District plays an important role in African American culture and history as a large number of sites are located throughout the seven counties. These include parks, historic markers, churches, schools, cemeteries, towns, heritage structures and museums, all listed in a pamphlet that is available from the Olde English District Tourism Commission.
Highway #1, the original Route One that connected Maine with Florida still has some vestiges of c1940-60's commercial architecture that make for an interesting drive if you’re into heritage highway structures. Visitors should be aware that highway speeds are strictly enforced. Keep a close eye on signage and a light foot on the gas peddle. As many of the attractions and businesses are not open on Sundays, plan your vacation to take this into account. It’s always a good idea to write for a comprehensive package of area information before you leave home. Always make accommodations reservations in advance of any trip, especially during high tourist and special event seasons.
IF YOU GO:
P.O. Box 1440
Chester, S.C. 29706
222 Broad Street
Camden, S.C. 29020
73 Boykin Mill Road
Boykin, S.C. 29128
724 South Broad Street
Camden, S.C. 29020
P.O. Box 74
Rembert, S.C. 29128
Columbia, S.C. 29202-7246
Winnsboro, S.C. 29180
Camden, S.C. 29020
Cheraw, South Carolina, 29520
For more information on Cheraw, please read "Coastal South Carolina" at www.mestern.net
Cheraw, S.C. 29520
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