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Summer road trips: Explore South Carolina's lesser known historic sites

Homes are African-style stucco huts with cinder-block walls in the Oyotunji African  Village in Sheldon. Many residents try to keep life very simple, the village's king, Oba Adefunmi II, told the Beaufort Gazette in 2009.
Homes are African-style stucco huts with cinder-block walls in the Oyotunji African Village in Sheldon. Many residents try to keep life very simple, the village's king, Oba Adefunmi II, told the Beaufort Gazette in 2009. file photo

When you’ve been a state for 230 years, it’s almost difficult to travel any distance without finding something historical.

You don’t even have to leave Columbia to get your fill of history, with tours of the State House (www.scstatehouse.gov) and house museums (www.historiccolumbia.org) operated by Historic Columbia. There is also the South Carolina State Museum (scmuseum.org)— the building that houses all the history is also historical.

Obviously, Charleston is history personified. You can walk around the Battery, visit the Yorktown, take one of many tours downtown, or visit the H.L. Hunley. Go to www.nps.gov/subjects/travelcharlestonsc for more ways to take in Charleston history.

Beaufort is also a city rich in history. Check out www.eatsleepplaybeaufort.com.

For now, let’s take a look at some of the lesser known historical spots in South Carolina.

Green Book tour

Take a self-guided tour of African-American history in the Palmetto State with "The Green Book of South Carolina." Named for the 1936 Green Book that guided African-American travelers to safe harbors and welcoming establishments across the United States, the South Carolina version guides tourists to locations across the state that are significant to African-American history.

"The Green Book of South Carolina," a creation of the S.C. African American Heritage Commission, debuted last spring as the first mobile travel guide to African-American cultural sites across the state.

The guide includes more than 300 listings, sites on the National Register of Historic Places or designated with a state historic marker. It covers every county in South Carolina and includes churches (including brush arbors and praise houses), schools and cemeteries. Sites include places residents might pass daily without realizing their historic significance — like the former Kress Building (now home to Capital Places apartments and Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse) on Columbia’s Main Street, where Civil Rights sit-ins occurred; the marker designating the site of the former Blossom Street School near the Carolina Coliseum; and the former Florence C. Benson Elementary School at 226 Bull St. in Columbia.

Some places are better known, such as the Mann-Simons Site, maintained by Historic Columbia, and Historic Brattonsville in McConnells.

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Historic Brattonsville in McConnells is one of the stops listed in the "Green Book of South Carolina," a travel guide of significant sites in African-American History. York County Culture & Heritage Museums file photo

Other sites listed in the "Green Book of South Carolina" include:

Bertha Lee Strickland Cultural Museum, Seneca.

Southern African American Heritage Center, Cheraw.

Penn Center, St. Helena Island.

Redcliffe Plantation, Beech Island.

Waverly District, 1400 block of Harden Street in Columbia.

Bethel AME Church, Sumter Street in Columbia.

Locations throughout South Carolina. www.greenbookofsc.com.

Oyotunji African Village

(125 miles; 1 hour, 55 minutes.)

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Homes are African-style stucco huts with cinder-block walls in the Oyotunji African Village in Sheldon. Many residents try to keep life very simple, the village's king, Oba Adefunmi II, told the Beaufort Gazette in 2009. The Beaufort Gazette file photo

Founded in 1970, Oyotunji African Village is the first intentional community based on the culture of the Yoruba people and the Dahomey kingdom of West Africa.

The village is positioned for learning, exploring and celebrating the ancient traditions and culture of the Yoruba people of present day West Africa.

56 Bryant Lane, Seabrook. www.oyotunji.org.

Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site

(104 miles; 1 hour, 46 minutes)

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A model depicts what the 17th-century settlement that is now the Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site may have looked like. AP file photo

From 1697 until the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the trading town of Dorchester flourished along the Ashley River.

Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site’s archaeological remains offers a peek into the early history of colonial South Carolina.

The town of Dorchester was abandoned at the start of the Revolutionary War, leaving only a handful of original structures remaining. Visitors can stand below the towering remains of the brick bell tower of St. George’s Anglican Church, catch a glimpse of a log wharf during low tide or view the fort made of an oyster-shell concrete — called tabby — and watch as archaeologists unearth the settlement’s history.

300 State Park Road, Summerville. www.southcarolinaparks.com/colonial-dorchester.

Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum

(152 miles; 2 hours, 42 minutes.)

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Mary Canty, who died in 2015, attended the Myrtle Beach Colored School as a student. She was one of 20 former students who helped recreate the school near its original location as the Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum. The Sun News (Myrtle Beach) file photo

The Myrtle Beach Colored School served African-American students in the Myrtle Beach area for more than 20 years. Now, a new Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Education Center provides a look at that past.

The original four-room, wood-framed Myrtle Beach Colored School opened in 1932 and closed in 1953 . Years later, an effort to preserve the school failed, but pieces were stored until a new building could be built.

The school was rebuilt less than two blocks from the original site and is now the museum and education center, designed to honor the past and provide a service to the community.

The building is used by the Horry County School System as the site of its adult education programs for the Myrtle Beach area, as well as by Horry-Georgetown Technical College for some of its continuing education classes. Also sharing space in the building is a grass-roots nonprofit group called A Father’s Place, which gives noncustodial fathers access to the resources and tools they need to be good parents.

One of the rooms is a museum for the school and its students. Alumni — now senior citizens — take turns staffing the museum and welcoming visitors. Artifacts from the school and the period are on display, and a reference library of African-American history is available to the public.

900 Dunbar St., Myrtle Beach. www.cityofmyrtlebeach.com.

Rivers Bridge State Historic Site

(77 miles; 1 hour, 40 minutes.)

This Civil War site marks the site of one of the Confederacy’s last stands against General William T. Sherman. A ¾-mile guided trail details the Battle of Rivers Bridge with interpretive panels. The park has 3.5 miles of hiking trails and three of those trails have a variety of natural and cultural resources. Ranger-guided tours are available.

324 State Park Road, Ehrhardt. southcarolinaparks.com/rivers-bridge.

Castle Pinckney

(2 hours, 8 minutes; 115 miles)

You can’t actually walk around the abandoned fort, but you can see it if you take a boat tour in Charleston. Check with Explore Charleston (www.charlestoncvb.com) to find one that includes Castle Pinckney.

Castle Pinckney is typical of the castle-type fortresses which guarded early settlements but lost their effectiveness with the improvement of explosive shells and the development of rifle pieces. The fort is a Charleston Harbor landmark and is historically interesting because it existed for such a long period of time, constructed in 1808-1811.

The fortress is on an island called Shute’s Folly, a mile offshore East Battery. The island is named for an owner, Joseph Shute; the fort was named for Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a Charlestonian and President George Washington’s Ambassador to France. Castle Pinckney was the first ground seized by the Confederate military on Dec. 17, 1860, an act some historians claim as the first overt act of war.

Located in the Charleston Harbor. www.nationalregister.sc.gov.

Rose Hill Plantation

(65 miles; 1 hour, 9 minutes.)

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Tours are available if you want to visit the house at Rose Hill Plantation. Courtesy of Rose Hill Plantation file photo

Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site is an example of plantation homes of the South, and its purpose is to interpret the life and legacy of the man history has come to know as the “Secession Governor.”

The son of a Charleston merchant, William Henry Gist rose from modest beginnings to be elected governor of South Carolina in 1858. By then, he had come to accept the belief that South Carolina could protect slavery only by withdrawing from the Union.

You can tour the plantation home (the house is only accessible through tours), walk the elegant grounds, and see rose gardens — which are thought to contain 100 varieties of heirloom roses — and other original plantation buildings. The site also includes a short hiking trail down to the Tyger River.

2677 Sardis Road, Union. www.southcarolinaparks.com/rose-hill.

Musgrove Mill

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Horseshoe Falls in the Musgrove Mill State Park. The State file photo

(67 miles; 1 hour, 6 minutes.)

This Revoluntionary War site hosted a battle in which the vastly outnumbered Patriot militia outlasted the Loyalists in a surprising victory on Aug. 19, 1780. The battle is detailed through interpretive signage in the visitor center and along 2.5 miles of nature trails.

The park includes Horseshoe Falls and the Enoree River, along which much of the fighting took place. Special events and living history programs are held at the park throughout the year.

398 State Park Road, Clinton. www.southcarolinaparks.com/musgrove-mill.

Ferguson Ghost Town

(81 miles; 1 hour, 27 minutes.)

Ferguson was once an active logging town along the banks of the Santee River. Two Chicago businessmen, Francis Beidler and Benjamin Ferguson, founded the town post-Civil War.

The quickly growing town was one of the first in South Carolina to have indoor plumbing and gas lighting in the streets. A self-contained community, it remained somewhat isolated from the other towns.

Logs were sent by rail over to Eutawville and Cross for transfer to other parts of the state, but residents did not interact much with those villages. Workers were paid in scrip (credit to be exchanged in company stores) rather than cash, forcing them to purchase from the company.

The town didn’t last long. Ferguson’s post office was in operation for only 27 years, from 1890 to 1917. The Santee River Cypress Lumber Company ceased operations in 1915, and shortly thereafter, the town died out.

The town faded into the cypress forest until the Santee Cooper project. Remnants of the old town can still be seen on Ferguson Island in Lake Marion (since the Lake Marion basin wasn’t cleared).

The easiest way to reach these is from Ferguson Landing, near the town of Eutaw Springs. The road to the landing follows the track of the old railroad that carried lumber from Ferguson. Ferguson Island is about a half-mile from the landing.

The remains of the old lumber kiln can be seen above the water, and other brick structures can be found on the island. At low water levels, other foundations and artifacts can be found around the kiln. The trip can be made by kayak as well as motor boat.

If you decide to visit, be aware that the ruins and artifacts are protected by law, and should not be disturbed or removed.

Ferguson isn’t the only remnant of the once thriving communities along the Santee. Five miles southwest of Ferguson Island is Church Island, with the remains of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany and an old cemetery associated with the church. There, you can find the grave of Joseph Simons, who refused to give up his land to the Santee Cooper Project, as well as the graves of many Confederate veterans.

Ferguson Landing on Lake Marion, at the end of Ferguson Landing Way near Eutaw Springs. www.scnhc.org. Visit www.santeecoopercountry.org for boat rental information.

Buddhist Monastery

(96 miles; 1 hour, 48 minutes.)

Vien Quang Buddhist Monastery was founded in July of 2012 in Clover. It’s a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monastery with a large temple, and 22 acres of grounds the public can explore.

Vien Quang is a branch temple of the Vietnamese World Buddhist Order. Its mission is “to spread Buddhist principles of harmlessness & goodness, and support cultural traditions of Vietnamese people in the USA.”

You can walk (quietly) over 22 acres of walkways and steps through the peaceful grounds.

1038-1044 Galway Lane, Clover. www.facebook.com/CloverBuddhist.

Mansfield Plantation

(126 miles; 2 hours, 31 minutes.)

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Live oaks frame former rice fields at Mansfield Plantation in Georgetown. The plantation house is now a bed and breakfast. The Sun News (Myrtle Beach) file photo

In 1718, a 500-acre plot of land was granted to a family on the outskirts of Georgetown on the banks of the Black River. Construction began on the main house 50 years later, and soon after, Mansfield Plantation became one of the largest rice plantations in South Carolina.

Mansfield Plantation covers nearly 1,000 acres and is now a bed and breakfast on the National Register of Historic Places. It is owned and operated by the descendent of the original Parker family owners, John Rutledge Parker, and his wife, Sallie Middleton.

776 Mansfield Road, Georgetown. Reservations, 866-717-1776. www.mansfieldplantation.com.

Andrew Jackson State Park

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A statue of Andrew Jackson sculpted by by Anna Hyatt Huntington and called "Boy of the Waxhaws" is a highlight of the Andrew Jackson State Park in Lancaster. The Charlotte Observer file photo

(70 miles; 1 hour, 19 minutes.)

Andrew Jackson State Park offers living history programs, a museum and interactive exhibits that chroniclesthe childhood of America’s seventh president.

Among the park highlights are a striking statue of the “Boy of the Waxhaws,” sculpted by Anna Hyatt Huntington, and an 18th-century replica schoolhouse.

A museum features artifacts and artifacts from the life of Andrew Jackson.

196 Andrew Jackson Park Road, Lancaster. www.southcarolinaparks.com/andrew-jackson.

Fireproof Building and South Carolina Historic Site

(2 hours, 14 minutes; 117 miles)

Charleston is has an abundance of history and historical buildings. One of those is the Fireproof Building, a National Historic Landmark. It was the most fire-protected building at the time of its construction in 1827.

Originally called the Charleston District Record Building, it is believed to be the oldest building of fireproof construction in the United States. The Fireproof Building was designed by Robert Mills, the first native-born American to be trained as an architect and the designer of the S.C. State House.

The building was constructed in a simple Greek Doric style, with minimal ornamentation. Because the building was designed to store public records safely, no flammable materials were used in its construction. The building consists primarily of solid masonry, with window sashes and shutters of iron. The high columnar porticoes on an arcaded basement and the triple windows are typical of Mills' buildings.

Inside, an oval hall contains a cantilevered stone staircase, lit by a cupola. Of such sound construction, the Fireproof Building survived the 1886 earthquake unharmed, except for the exterior stairs. Currently the building is the headquarters for the South Carolina Historical Society, a private nonprofit organization founded in 1856.

100 Meeting St., Charleston. www.nps.gov/places/fireproof-building.htm.

Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor

Designated by Congress in 2006, the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor extends from Wilmington, North Carolina, in the north to Jacksonville, Florida, with a significant presence in South Carolina.

It is home to one of America's most unique cultures, a tradition first shaped by captive Africans brought to the southern United States from West Africa and continued in later generations by their descendents.

South Carolina stops include:

Plantations and slave sites such as Boone Hall, Drayton Hall, and Magnolia Plantation, all in Charleston; the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in Mount Pleasant; and McLeod Plantation in James Island.

Museums such as the Aiken-Rhett House and the Avery Research Center for Afro-American History and Culture, both in Charleston; the Mitchelville (Fish Haul) archaeological site on Hilton Head Island; the Caw Caw Interpretive Center in Ravenel; the Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island; and the Gullah Museum in Georgetown.

Cultural regions such as Hobcaw Barony in Georgetown and the Pee Dee River Rice Planters Historic District along the Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers.

Churches and cemeteries.

Schoolhouses such as the Penn Center on St. Helena Island.

Homes, halls and lodges such as the Robert Simmons House on St. Helena Island and the Philip Simmons House in Charleston.

Various locations throughout the Lowcountry. www.gullahgeecheecorridor.org

About this series

This is the second in a series abuot road trips within South Carolina. Throughout the summer, GoColumbia will explore some of the state's lesser-known attractions. Travel distances and times are calculated from the S.C. State House. Previous installments include:

Places every South Carolinian should visit at least once.

Scare yourself silly with a ghost tour of South Carolina.

Do you know of some “undiscovered” spots in South Carolina that could make for a fun day trip? Please share! Tweet any suggestions you have to @gocolumbiasc.

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