Experience it: Get to know Midlands communities

June 25, 2014 

Cayce/West Columbia

Sometimes called the West Metro area, these communities are among the oldest suburbs of Columbia.

Both share some of the same urban characteristics as their bigger municipal neighbor across the Congaree River, but also maintain separate identities while forming the hub of Lexington 2 schools.

The past: Cayce was born out of the coming of the railroads in the 19th century. At that time the area was known as Cayce Crossing, named for Billy Cayce, a prominent citizen. West Columbia originally was known as New Brookland after all the creeks in the area before adopting its current name in 1936. It began as a village mainly for textile mill workers. Both cities struggled with periodic flooding from the Congaree River until the Lake Murray dam upstream was completed 84 years ago. Now the riverfront is one of their most attractive features.

The future: Creation of a riverfront historic area as a park on the south edge of Cayce could produce geotourism. The arrival of online retailer Amazon and Nephron Pharmaceuticals is spurring commercial development along the south end of 12th Street.

Shop here: State Street in both cities is home to an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants.

Eat here: Grecian Gardens, on Sunset Boulevard in West Columbia, draws crowds for both lunch and dinner with Greek specialties in huge portions and friendly service.

Play here: The Riverwalk along the Congaree River is a regional magnet.

Chapin/Dutch Fork/Ballentine

Chapin plays a much larger role than its population of 1,700 suggests, serving as the commercial hub of an area of more than 50,000 residents on the north side of Lake Murray.

Dutch Fork and Ballentine are a mix of suburban neighborhoods set amid farms with scenic views of Lake Murray and the Broad River. The areas are popular with residents who want a quasi-rural lifestyle, yet are close to downtown Columbia.

The past: Chapin, incorporated in 1889, is named after a prominent 19th-century businessman and civic leader. The Dutch Fork area gets its name from early settlers primarily of German descent. Ballentine, named after a one-time prominent family, is an unincorporated community refers to itself as the gateway to Lake Murray.

The future: Creation of an industrial area for technology companies, proximity to Lake Murray, and some of the highest-ranked schools in the state with Lexington-Richland 5 promise steady growth. Dutch Fork and Ballentine are starting to see commercial development.

Shop here: Lots of mom-and-pop places here. Alphabet Soup customizes fashion with personal embroidery, while Second Hand Time repairs vintage clocks.

Eat here: Catch-22, a upscale seafood restaurant, recently move here from Irmo.

Play here: Travel over winding country roads to nearby Dreher Island State Recreation Area to play on Lake Murray. The golf course at the Timberlake area eight miles south of town is the only one overlooking the lake.

Downtown Columbia

Columbia is a mess of contradictions that come from being a blue county in a red state capital.

We love barbecue and Krispy Kreme as much as home-grown tomatoes and fresh-caught fish. We embrace Lindsey Graham and Nikki Finney. We love our zoo and we follow debates over at the State House because — let’s face it — that’s a zoo, too! And Lordamercy don’t get us started on Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks.

But for all the contradictions, Columbia is a great place to call home. So while we may shake our heads over the politics and humidity, we’d appreciate it if outsiders would keep their opinions to themselves.

The past: The central business district extends from the Vista to the west, Main Street in the middle and Five Points to the east. The riverfront Vista, once filled with warehouses overlooking train tracks, has been transformed into a retail and entertainment hub. Main Street has made its own comeback in recent years, energized by new restaurants and shops, a Saturday farmers market and creative endeavors centered around the Columbia Museum of Art and Nickelodeon movie house. Five Points, the city’s first suburb, is a beloved village with shops, bars and restaurants catering to college students. The “five” in Five Points refers to the spokes of its central intersection, where Harden, Devine and Santee meet.

The future: City government is pinning its hopes on the redevelopment of a 165-acre, state-owned tract downtown a private developer is expected to buy soon. The centerpiece will be a minor-league baseball park, surrounded by a hotel and shopping and housing opportunities that have not yet taken shape.

Shop here: Artists have given new life to the historic Equitable Arcade in the 1300 block of Main Street, with its beautiful Italian tile work and second-story balconies. They’ve opened studios behind sliding-glass doors, making it a fun place to window shop even when the artists aren’t at work.

Eat here: Cali’s Cafe, a luncheonette at 1124 Taylor St. near Main, serves up healthful smoothies and vegetarian fare but also offers a delicious chicken salad and popular salmon sandwich. Open Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call (803) 629-7471.

Play here: The State House grounds are beautifully manicured. The property varies from shady to sunny with lots of monuments in-between (almost too many, to be frank). Good people-watching during political protests. And, it’s got a great history. The various buildings that housed the legislature between 1790 and today survived fire, deterioriation, a changing cast of architects and Civil War. The building that now stands bears the marks of shelling by Union Gen. William T. Sherman but was finally completed in 1903.

Forest Acres/Arcadia Lakes

Forest Acres and Arcadia Lakes are an oasis of trees and small lakes, among Columbia’s earliest suburbs and close to downtown. Forest Acres is home to a number of young families, drawn to the strong core of Richland 1 schools in the community and large home lots, while Arcadia Lakes draws young families and retirees alike, who enjoy the nature and views on the water.

The past: Before the Civil War, the area became attractive as a high spot, sandy and “malaria-free,” where the wealthy could build summer homes east of Columbia. At that time, a natural spring bubbled up on Quinine Hill, near what is now the northwest corner of Forest Drive and Beltline Boulevard. People would collect the water, believing it contained quinine to protect their health.

The future: Trenholm Plaza is where it’s happening. Clothiers like Jos. A. Bank and Ann Taylor Loft are here, with two national retailers — J. Crew and Anthropologie — coming soon. The shopping center also is home to popular markets and small eateries like Hooligan’s deli and Rosso trattoria.

Eat here: Pasta Fresca on Forest Drive used to be a quirky hole-in-the-wall eatery where customers dined cheek-to-jowl and chefs tossed together homemade pasta and delectable sauces amid a frenzy of flames and footwork. Now in a new airy space on Forest, near Trenholm Road, it’s more uptown with an expanded menu, fancy drinks and jazz on Tuesdays. But the bruschetta and Pasta Fresca ravioli are still to die for, and to mention the pasta and seafood specialities of the day.

Shop here: MACK Home, in Trenholm Plaza at 4840 Forest Drive, Suite 12, offers a feast for the eye with its showroom of seating, lighting, artwork and accessories. The 5,000-square foot showroom seems intimate with its array of interesting offerings, and owners Marnie Clayton and Anna Kemper offer design services as well.

Play here: Like miniature gems, Forest Acres’ three parks offer respite for walkers and playground equipment for youngsters. Citadel Park is known for its iconic dinosaurs on a spring, while Quinine Hill Park has walking trails. Idalia Park is the tiniest but offers a wonderful chance to swing your troubles away.

Lake Murray

Once a major source of power for the Midlands, the lake is now a major recreation area and home to several sporting tournaments.

This in-town resort mixes pricey waterfront mansions with older and smaller weekend getaways Some areas are remote, making for long commutes over narrow winding roads.

The past: The lake is named for William Murray, an engineer involved in the design and creation of the dam. Lexington Water Power Co., today known as SCE&G, created the 47,500-acre lake to generate electricity. The lake and dam were under construction from 1927-30. About 100,000 acres was purchased in a Saluda River valley to build the dam and the lake from more than 5,000 families, according to the Lake Murray tourism web site. During World War II, military bomber crews from what was Columbia Air Base, now Columbia Metropolitan Airport, used the lake for bombing practice.

The future: Much of the shoreline is likely to remain residential. Limited commercial growth is starting to sprout in some areas a few miles form the waterfront.

Eat here: The Rusty Anchor at Lighthouse Marina is a long-time favorite, while Liberty on the Lake at Lake Murray Marina is trendy.

Shop here: The lakefront is virtually all residential, but many of the marinas that dot the lake are full of character and great places to stock up on items for boating and fishing trips.

Play here: The only public beach is on the south side of the dam. A dozen boat launches with a few swimming areas – free to use – are scattered around its 650-mile shoreline. Tours by boat on the Southern Patriot and Spirit of Lake Murray occur year-round. Trips on each are especially popular to view the purple martins that roost on Dootlittle Island in mid-summer.

Lexington

Once a sleepy small town, it’s become a steadily growing community during the past 30 years.

It’s now Columbia’s largest municipal neighbor, with more development expected because of proximity to Lake Murray and it’s top-rated schools in Lexington 1, among the best in the state.

The past: The town has been a commercial and political center since becoming the Lexington County seat in 1820. It has bounced backed from many disasters — it was virtually destroyed by Union forces in 1865, endured major fires in the early 1900s and recovered from a tornado that skipped through its center in 1994. It’s a rapidly growing suburb with ambitions to become bigger while keeping a small-town atmosphere.

The future: Town leaders expect steady growth that will double the population of 18,000 residents over the next two decades.

Eat here: The Farmer’s Shed is is a family owned produce market and restaurant outside downtown Lexington limits. It’s closed on weekends but is worth the trip for lunch, where Southern specialities are served up.

Shop here: The Shoppes at Flight Deck is a small shopping center with art deco decor and modern offerings, while Consumer Feed and Seed has a general-store feel amid offering an up-to-date selection of garden and pet supplies

Play here: Virginia Hylton and Gibson Pond Parks are oases in the center of town. Pet owners can let their pets romp at the Paw Park.

Northeast Richland

Once a sleepy rural outpost a few miles from the heart of Columbia, Northeast Richland has turned into a sprawling economic engine for the region and a place that many Columbians now call home, thanks to lots of housing options and Richland 2 schools, known for their array of magnet program offerings. There is still bucolic landscape, and two beautiful expanses of green at Sesquicentennial State Park and Clemson's Sandhill Research and Education Center.

History: Development in Northeast Richland — an area once known for agriculture and farming — began in the 1960s, when developer Edwin Cooper paid the U.S. government $100 an acre for the land known today as Spring Valley. Since then, growth has steadily been marching up Two Notch Road, toward the Kershaw County line.

The future: Growth will continue, with more development stretching toward the small town of Blythewood, where residents prize the area’s rural feel.

Eat here: Solstice Kitchen and Wine Bar on Sparkleberry Lane offers up New American cruisine with a focus on the local. Their specialty menus change with the seasons, featuring many locally grown ingredients.

Shop here: The Village at Sandhill, Clemson and Two Notch roads, is at the heart of Northeast Richland. The walking mall includes flagship stores such as Belk and J.C. Penney, as well as more eclectic choices such as Ann Taylor Loft, Palmetto Moon and Wild Birds. Teen choices include American Eagle and Aeropostale. The Plex on site, featuring a trampoline park, is a huge draw for kids and families.

Play here: Sesquicentennial State Park on Two Notch Road is just minutes from the hustle and bustle of malls and restaurants but it offers an oasis of lush forest and greenery and plenty of things to do, including overnight camping. There are playgrounds and picnic shelters, hiking trails and mountain biking trails. Boats are allowed on the 30-acre lake and there are small boats for rent, along with canoe and kayak rentals.

RURAL OUTPOSTS

Outer Lexington County: Batesburg-Leesville is the market center of the largely rural western edge of the county, with some shops still closed for a half-day on Wednesdays and Saturdays. County leaders are promoting development around the State Farmers Market in Dixiana.

Southeast Richland: Two-lane roads pass by pastures and farmhouses on the way to the Congaree National Park, with its boardswalks, towering Cypress trees and synchronized fireflies. Lower Richland is home to Cook’s Mountain, too, one of the area’s most significant natural landmarks, graced with wildlife, unusual plants and spectacular views — all in the process of being preserved by the S.C. Department of Natural Resource.

Elgin: Love your volunteer firefighter by supporting the annual Catfish Stomp the first weekend in December. This year’s is the 40th, which follows a Thursday evening community Christmas tree lighting, a Saturday morning parade and fried catfish and catfish stew. While Elgin is known for its small-town flavor, it’s just a short hop to the Village at Sandhill.

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