WIDE OPEN SPACES

A wooded family retreat: ‘This is where we all play’

dhinshaw@thestate.comJune 24, 2012 

  • Living on the land Subdivisions and malls have crept into the countryside surrounding Columbia, but there are still plenty of areas where people can go to spread out. Cedar Creek, north of Columbia, has an air of the foothills. It has the rolling terrain, clear-water creeks and woods that generate occasional tales of mountain lions and bears. It’s the only place that ever gets really cold in winter. Subdivisions are unheard-of; the land is still held by families unwilling to sell, for the most part. It has history and lore, like tales that people threw gold and silverware into Cedar Creek rather than have it stolen by Sherman’s troops. Gaston, Swansea and Gilbert, communities just a few miles apart in southern Lexington County, have plenty of open and affordable space. It’s an area where people can go either for privacy or to find friendly neighbors. But it’s country living without a lot of nearby conveniences. People in Lower Richland have begun to preserve historic sites and capitalize on the state’s only national park at the Congaree Swamp. The area is characterized by farm land and rivers, old churches and hunt clubs. It’s home to McEntire Air National Guard Base, Cook’s Mountain, Mr. Bunky’s Store and Kensington Mansion. It’s known for political muscle, too.

Not only did Jim and Frankie McLean build a comfortable home in the country, they built a one-room playhouse in the backyard for the kids, filled with pint-sized housewares and fingerpaints.

It’s beside a garden for digging and sprinklers for cooling off.

Near an old magnolia for climbing and a fire pit for roasting marshmallows.

“This is where we all play,” said Frankie McLean, 65, the mother of three and grandmother of five.

Jim McLean, 68, was born and raised in Blythewood.

The McLean name goes back seven generations in Northeast Richland County.

The two-story home the couple built in 1972 on 15 acres of family land is filled with the reminders of ancestors, whether it’s a deep porcelain sink, a colorful quilt or potted ferns nearly a half-century old.

Their property, off a two-lane road at the edge of Blythewood, is wooded.

The honeysuckle is fragrant.

Relatives live in shouting distance, sharing a view of a large pond.

Last summer, the McLeans said, they noticed a barred owl that arrived each evening at 7:45 p.m., swooping into the yard on the hunt for crickets and other critters.

It was such a sight, they invited friends over for a party, to watch.

Dawn Hinshaw writes about people, historic preservation and county government for The State.

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