As the heat index approaches ridiculous in Columbia, sometimes the appeal of remaining in air-conditioned comfort dictates getaway plans.
That can be easily accomplished by visiting any of the abundant museums throughout South Carolina.
There are, of course, plenty of traditional museums: In Columbia, the South Carolina State Museum, EdVenture Children's Museum and the Columbia Museum of Art offer incredible events, as well as their daily exhibits. Greenville has the Greenville County Museum of Art, the Children’s Museum of the Upstate and the Roper Mountain Science Center. Charleston has the Charleston Museum, the Gibbes Museum of Art and the South Carolina Aquarium — which, OK isn’t exactly a museum, but it has exhibits.
In addition, many counties and smaller towns also have museums that may surprise you.
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South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism’s website, www.discoversouthcarolina.com, is a comprehensive and easy-to-use tool for finding a plethora of places to visit in the Palmetto State, including a complete list of museums.
We’re going to share some of the museums that cater to particular interests, a precise piece of history, or things that are purely South Carolina.
Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum
(58 miles; 1 hour, 4 minutes.)
If you like horse racing, this is a must-see.
It’s a celebration of horse racing and Aiken’s role in the sport, which is pretty significant: Forty champion thoroughbreds have trained at the famed Aiken Training Track.
The Hall of Fame, located in the historic Homelands Gardens, features both flat racers and steeplechase horses, from 1942 through the present. Photos, trophies and other memorabilia highlight these outstanding horses.
135 Dupree Place, Aiken. www.aikenracinghalloffame.com. 2-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and Sundays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Free, but donations welcome.
Button King Museum
(48 miles; 48 minutes.)
To appreciate the appeal of this museum, you need to understand how it came to exist.
More than three decades ago, Bishopville’s Dalton Stevens battled insomnia. He began sewing and gluing buttons onto his clothing because… Well, what else are you going to do in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep?
The first suit he worked on has 16,333 buttons sewed onto the material, and it took him two years and 10 months to complete.
Among the other items Stevens has be-buttoned on are an outhouse, a hearse (600,000 buttons), a Chevrolet Chevette (149,000 buttons), a guitar, a piano and two caskets, one of which he'd intended to be his own. He died in 2016 and, according to WIS, was buried in his be-buttoned suit and his button casket.
This hobby got Stevens an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, "The David Letterman Show" and "Nashville Now" with Ralph Emery.
The museum showcases many of his button-adorned items, including the button-covered suit that started it all, the Chevy Chevette, a coffin and hearse.
55 Joe Dority Road, Bishopville. www.scbuttonking.com. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.
Comporium Telephone Museum
(69 miles; 1 hour, 11 minutes.)
What was life like before smartphones? Before cellphones at all?
Find out with a visit to this museum in Rock Hill.
Comporium’s company museum displays telephone usage since Rock Hill Telephone’s inception in 1894, beginning with a brief video of the history of the company.
Exhibits include “Old Mack,” the actual 1927 truck the company used, and interactive displays such as a switchboard where you become the operator.
117 Elk Avenue, Rock Hill. about.comporium.com. Free. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Darlington Raceway and Stock Car Museum
(75 miles; 1 hour, 16 minutes.)
You may make a few left turns in this museum, but you won’t want to go too fast.
According to the museum's website, “a walk through this museum is not only a trip through the history of Darlington Raceway, but of the entire sport. On the end of a line of classic cars, looking like a prop from a 1940s film, sits the 1950 Plymouth Johnny Mantz drove to Victory Lane in the very first Mountain Dew Southern 500. Mantz was the slowest qualifier for the race which he eventually won by 15 laps over second-place finisher Fireball Roberts.”
1301 Harry Byrd Highway, Darlington. www.darlingtonraceway.com/About-Us/Stock-Car-Museum.aspx. $7.50; $5, military; free, kids younger than 12. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.
Kazoobie Kazoo Museum and Factory
(135 miles, 2 hours, 13 minutes)
Chances are, you’ve never really given kazoos much thought. That will change when you step in this Beaufort museum.
The museum boasts one of the largest collections of kazoos and related items.
You can take a tour of the kazoo factory, make your own custom kazoo and visit the gift shop.
12 John Galt Road, Beaufort. www.thekazoofactory.com. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays; the gift shop is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays; and guided tours are offered 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Admission is free; guided tours (including make-your-own kazoos) are $5 for ages 4 and older; tours are free for children 3 and younger.
Macaulay Museum of Dental History
(119 miles; 1 hour, 51 minutes.)
You probably don't want to go to the dentist on your vacation. But visiting a dental museum could be interesting.
This museum holds dental paraphernalia dating as far back as the Civil War era, including historical tools and instruments, a 19th-century dental-office display, a collection of dental chairs and a traveling dentist's chest from the Civil War era.
The museum was established in 1975 by Dr. Neill W. Macaulay, for whom it is named. Dr. Macaulay was an avid historian of dental practice and during his lifetime amassed a large collection of dental memorabilia. The museum reopened in 2017, following a four-year renovation campaign.
177 Ashley Ave., Charleston. (Enter through the Waring Historical Library at MUSC Anesthesia, 175 Ashley Ave.) musc.libguides.com/waring/about/macaulaymuseum. Guided tours are by appointment only; call (843) 792-2288. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.
The Rice Museum
(128 miles; 2 hours, 33 minutes)
Located in the Old Market Building in Georgetown, the museum tells the history of rice cultivation in Georgetown County — which produced nearly half the United States' rice crop by 1840, according to the museum's website.
Rice planters used the tidal-flow method of cultivation, directing water from the Waccamaw, Pee Dee, Black, Sampit and Santee river systems into the fields as nearby ocean tides rose and fell.
In the Kaminski Hardware Building, part of the same complex, visitors will find the museum's Maritime Museum Gallery and gift shop, as well as the Prevost Art Gallery.
The Maritime Museum Gallery is home to the Brown's Ferry Vessel, which was discovered in the 1970s in the Black River. Artifacts on the wreck suggest that it sank between 1730 and 1740. Its discovery established primary evidence for American shipbuilding nearly 50 years earlier than previous discoveries suggested.
Surrounding the museum are Lafayette Park and the Rice Museum Herb Garden.
633 Front St., Georgetown. www.ricemuseum.org. $7, ages 22 and up; $5, ages 60 and older; $3, ages 6-21 ; free, younger than 6 (accompanied by an adult). 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The last tour begins at 3:30 p.m.
South Carolina Cotton Museum
(53 miles; 55 minutes.)
How can you resist seeing the world’s largest boll weevil?
(Boll weevils are the beetles that feed on cotton buds and flowers.)
And, of course, this Bishopville museum is “dedicated to all things cotton.” Along with the giant boll weevil, there are cotton bales, cotton art and other cotton things.
121 W. Cedar Lane, Bishopville. www.sccotton.org. $6; $4, seniors; $3, students; free, children 5 and younger. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
S.C. Railroad Museum
(30 miles; 35 minutes.)
Even if trains blocking traffic in downtown Columbia raise your blood pressure, they are a lot more fun at the South Carolina Railroad Museum.
A group of “dedicated railroad enthusiasts” established the museum in 1973. It operates on five miles of the 11.5-mile line of the former Rockton and Rion Railroad in Winnsboro.
The South Carolina Railroad Museum features a walk-through display train, featuring the 100-year-old Norfolk business car, a Southern Post Office car, a caboose and static display cars.
And how many museums offer an authentic train ride? This one does, a 10-mile round-trip train to Anderson Quarry.
110 Industrial Park Road, Winnsboro. scrm.org. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays from June to September. Trains depart at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Admission to the museum itself is free, but you'll need a ticket to ride the train. The museum recommends buying tickets, which start at $12 for adults, in advance.
World of Energy
(138 miles; 2 hours, 32 minutes.)
Ever want to visit a nuclear station?
This museum at the Oconee Nuclear Station in Seneca has a viewing platform where visitors can look at the three nuclear reactors.
A self-guided tour of educational exhibits addresses how energy is made from water, coal and uranium, as well as the increasing importance of renewable energy from the wind and sun.
After the tour, test your new knowledge in a video game area.
A picnic area overlooks Lake Keowee. How many people can say they picnicked at a nuclear plant?
The education center opened in July 1969, when Oconee Nuclear Station was under construction. Since that time, more than 3 million people have visited.
With three nuclear reactors, Oconee Nuclear Station is one of the nation’s largest nuclear plants. Since beginning operation in 1973, it has generated more than 500 million megawatt-hours of electricity.
7812 Rochester Highway, Seneca. www.duke-energy.com. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Free.
About this series
This is the eighth in a series about 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:
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.