An intrepid traveler along S.C. 261 in Kershaw and Sumter counties could spend four months of Sundays trying new religious and recreation experiences.
Worship at a new church in the morning, explore a new trail in the afternoon – all in various ways good for the soul.
You only get a taste of those wonders on a one-day trip on the road from Camden to Pinewood, also known in various spots as North Kings Highway, South Kings Highway, Boykin Road and West Fulton Street.
S.C. 261 begins a couple miles south of I-20 in Kershaw County, forking off U.S. 521. The highway keeps going almost to Kingstree, but my exploration ended (or turned around) after about 35 miles in Pinewood.
Soon after you take the fork onto S.C. 261, you pass Broom Hill Baptist Church, the first of 20 houses of worship either on this 35-mile stretch of highway or close enough that signs need only a turn arrow to point the way to the sanctuary. Even on a weekday, some of these buildings prompt the curious to stop and take a look around.
In the community of Boykin, just past the old buildings converted into stores and restaurants, is the Swift Creek Church. Built in 1827, this wooden two-story Greek Revival structure has been lovingly restored. It’s no longer regularly used for church services, but is available for weddings and family reunions.
Near the community of Stateburg, just off the highway along Meeting House Road is High Hills Baptist Church, descended from one of the first religious meeting house in the area established in the 1770s. One of the church’s first ministers, Richard Furman, also spoke out for American independence. You can imagine the church scene at the start of the movie “The Patriot” in this building, a distinctive Greek Revival structure actually built a couple generations after the war in 1803.
Just down Meeting House Road is High Hills AME Church, begun after the Civil War by newly freed black residents. There were so many blacks affiliated with the original High Hills church, they were split into 200 AME and 200 Baptists and formed two churches. The current AME structure dates to 1910.
Keep going down Meeting House Road and follow the signs to check out Thomas Sumter Memorial Park, which includes Revolutionary War general’s grave.
Back on S.C. 261, the Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg draws in the curious with its stunning Gothic Revival towers, arches and red-tiled roof. It’s older than it looks, with a history dating to 1770, with the unusual rammed-earth structure itself built in 1850. Among the famous folks in the cemetery is Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. minister to Mexico who brought back the showy flower named for him.
All of the churches along the road except Swift Creek have Sunday services, and all worshippers are welcome. If you stop by on some day other than Sunday, don’t be surprised if a neighbor or church worker approaches you to say hello. Twice on my trip, people offered to give me tours of the interior of the buildings.
CHANGE OF PACE
South of U.S. 378, the emphasis turns from religion to recreation.
The 28,675-acre Manchester State Forest has miles and miles of trails for a variety of uses. For mountain bikers, the Killer 3 and Hardcore trails are as tough as they sound, the Campbell Pond and Poinsett Connector trails less difficult. You can hike any of those trails, but the tougher trails are designed more for biking. There’s a separate section for off-highway vehicles such as motorcycles and ATVs, and a series of three lengthy equestrian trails.
Poinsett State Park has its own trail system, including a separate equestrian trail and connections to several of the Manchester trails. The Coquina Trail is a classic short hike around the park’s centerpiece lake, where a small swim area offers a chance to cool off in the summer. You can camp or rent cabins at Poinsett.
Portions of the Palmetto Trail’s High Hills of Santee and Wateree passages are just a short hop off S.C. 261. Hop on at the Wateree Passage at the parking area along Campbell Creek Road in Manchester State Forest. The 3.5-mile section up and down the bluff offer spectacular views above the flood plain, and you get down in the swamp for about 3.5 miles following the former rails and trestles of an old railroad line.
When planning recreation in the area, you need to keep in mind the top recreation activity – hunting. Some of the Manchester trails are open only on Sundays during peak hunting season from Sept. 15-Jan. 1.
While there are loads of churches and recreation trails along S.C. 261, there is a dearth of retail businesses. If you need more than a candy bar and a drink for sustenance, you have few – but remarkably varied – choices.
Near the north end of the 35-mile stretch in Boykin, the Mill Pond Steak House is considered one of the finest restaurants in the state, the kind of place with Fried Green Tomato Napoleon on the appetizer menu and a 12-ounce filet mignon for $45.
Just across the street, barbecue contest veterans Al and Brent Barrineau recently reopened a less fancy place now called Big Al’s Pig Pickin’ at the Boykin Grille. In addition to standard grill items and barbecue fare, you can get hog balls, which feature pulled pork mixed in with hush puppy batter and fried. Brent Barrineau noted that when high school students splurged across the street on prom night, their picture-taking parents filled Big Al’s.
In the community of Wedgefield, Batten’s Store has a restaurant with country breakfasts and a meat-and-three lunch special. Photos of big fish and deer grace the walls, and there’s a collection of old outboard motors along one wall.
In Pinewood, locals used to say visitors should eat at The Diner. But The Diner has closed, replaced by Ward’s Barbecue. Now locals say that’s where you should eat.
S.C. 261 SPECIALS
Susan Simpson has been making beautiful brooms for 44 years, the past 30 in the community of Boykin. “Here in the booming metropolis, I never would have dreamed I’d have people from all over the world come to buy my brooms,” Simpson says. She keeps track of the home countries of her customers and recently added Malaysia and El Salvador to her lengthy list.
Millford Plantation, off S.C. 261 near Pinewood, was designed by Nathaniel Potter and built in 1839-41 for John Laurence Manning, son of a governor and later a governor himself. The house was spared at the end of the Civil War because the Union general directing troops in the area, Edward Potter, was a brother of the mansion’s architect. The house recently has been renovated and is open for public tours the first Saturday of each month for $15. Call (803) 452-6194 to reserve a spot.
That huge pine-filled section on the east side of S.C. 261 almost from Wedgefield to Pinewood is the Poinsett Electronic Combat Range, part of Shaw Air Force Base. It’s used for target practice for aircraft as well as survival training. It’s not open to the public for obvious reasons. In case you wonder, the bombs and bullets used in training are dummies. They jets overhead, however, can add some patriotic bombast to your religious or outdoor experience.