Santee State Park

It was a coolish day when I went to visit this park, perfect for hiking and wandering around My first stop was the visitor center to get my booklet stamped so I can become an Ultimate Outsider. (If you don’t know about the program, go to the SC State Park website or wander into a state park to ask a ranger.) From there I hiked to the gift shop. Next to it is a pier that stretches out into Lake Marion. After partaking in the views of the lake I decided to buy some ice cream. Despite the cool temperature, I thought that would hit the spot. The shop was closed that day. I guess that was a sign I didn’t need ice cream after all and should save my money. Still, I was disappointed.

I’d wanted to take the Sinkhole Pond Trail, but it was closed at the time. I’d never have guessed this area was riddled with sinkholes. They form when the limestone located under the surface erode. Since I couldn’t take that one, I ended up on the Limestone Nature Trail and got a little more adventure than I bargained for.

Santee State Park is located in what’s called Santee Cooper Country and sits along Lake Marion, a popular fishing lake. The park is know for its rondette cabins that sit on piers over the lake. In addition to those ten cabins are 20 more cabins and multiple campsites. I have to say it must be pretty cool to sleep over the water. I made a detour to see them for myself.

The park is packed with activities including swimming, fishing, and picnicing as well as hiking and biking. You can take a pontoon boat tour of the flooded cypress forest created when Lake Marion was formed.

Besides the Sinkhole and the Limestone Trail there is a 7 1/2 half mile hike and bike trail, which starts near the entrance of the campground. The Oak Pinolly Trail is an easy one mile in and out, with a loop, trail.

The Limestone Nature Trail is described as making one feel as is one is at the mountains. The suggested wildlife that may be seen are deer, rabbits, and snakes. I mention these for a reason. After crossing a very nice bridge over a creek, I turned left, on the trail, to walk along the creek, which met with another creek, and the trail turned to follow that. An odd bit of green caught my eye. As my brain processed where I’d seen that green before, the shape flowed into the water. There was another small splash behind me. Alligators. So much for the mountain feel.

I stood there a moment. Part of me went: darn, I missed taking a picture. And another part of me thought: where do I go now? I ended up going straight, knowing I was too early for alligators to be aggressive, but still, it was a little too close for me.

So, word up, there are alligators in the park and be cautious on this trail especially if have little ones.

There is a fee to use the park

 

How To Get There:

Take I-95 to exit #98 and go west on SC #6 for 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles), then turn right onto road #105. Go north on this road to the park entrance.

Links:

https://southcarolinaparks.com/santee

What’s Close By:

Lake Marion

Santee NWR

Fort Watson

Lake Moultrie

Sandy Beach WMA

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Swan Lake and Iris Gardens

 

While I don’t like working in gardens, I do enjoy visiting them, and photographing the flowers. That’s part of what brought me to Swan Lake and Iris Gardens in Sumter. The Iris bloom from around mid-to-late May until early June. Not a large window to partake of them, so timing is crucial. If you miss them, no worries, there are blooms to see throughout the year and there are the swans. If you’re really into irises, the annual Iris festival is every Memorial Day weekend. On my visit, I timed my trip to avoid the crowds.

I went mid-May and wasn’t sure the flowers would be blooming, but some were. It’d probably be better to go later in the month. It’d be nice if it said on the website when they were actively blooming, especially with spring coming early some years. Despite that, I had a good time. It wasn’t just the flowers I wanted to see, but the swans as well. This is the only public park in the entire United States with all eight swan species of the world represented.

And that’s not all to see in these 150 acres. In the playground is a Seagrave Firetruck for kids (little and grown up kids) to climb into. Sculptures dot the dot the grounds. Three of my favorite were the Untitled Boy Sculpture, the Recovery Sculpture, and the Flying Swans in Bland Garden across the street. Besides the Japanese Irises, there’s the Chocolate Garden, Butterfly Garden and a Braille Garden.

The Butterfly Garden is self-explanatory, the flowers attract butterflies, but the Chocolate and Braille Gardens are quite unique. In the former, the plants are brown like chocolate or smell like chocolate. I have to take their word for it because I didn’t smell that, but maybe because not many were blooming. The Braille Garden has signs in Braille and those who are visually impaired can smell and touch the plants. A really cool idea.

It’s interesting note: the garden is the result of a mistake. This was once a private fishing place owned by Hamilton Carr Bland, a local businessman. When the Japanese irises didn’t grow after being planted, Carr told the gardener to dig them up and toss the bulbs into the swamp. The next year, the iris burst into bloom.

Today one can wander around the two gardens, one on either side of West Liberty St. Both have irises and swans. The Heath Garden is the one with the lake and playground. Bland Garden features a boardwalk through cypress trees. An elevated crosswalk connects the two and there’s an elevator for those who can’t utilize the stairs.

The garden is open 7:30 to dusk every day except for during the Iris Festival. There’s a visitor center which is open Monday through Friday 8:30 to 5.

 

How to Get There:

822 West Liberty Street/SC763  in Sumter

Links

http://www.sumtersc.gov/swan-lake-iris-gardens

What’s Close By:

Downtown Sumter with Opera House

Poinsett S.P.

Statesburg

Manchester State Forest

Greenwood State Park

The drive I took from Columbia to Lake Greenwood wove through the counties of Saluda and Greenwood, past peach trees and several interesting buildings. It was a great start of the day to visit Lake Greenwood State Park. The park sits partially on a peninsula on the Greenwood County side of Lake Greenwood. Besides the lake, there’s a campground, nature trail, and picnic area and more.

Even without walking the nature trail, I trekked far in this park. From the parking lot, to the John Drummond and Holly Self Drummon Environmental Education Conference Center (what a mouthful). This building houses the Civilian Conservation Corp Museum, the park being one of sixteen built by the CCC in SC. and down to lake, along it, and back again, meandering all the while.

Make sure to stop near the entrance and read the plaques about the unfinished wall. The men working here with the CCC were building the wall, when war was declared against the Germans and Japanese. They all enlisted to fight. The unfinished wall is a good tribute to those who created this park and their sacrifice in World War II

Below the Drummon Center is a good place to go fishing. I saw several people engaged in that activity as I walked around. I’m afraid I don’t have the patience. I live to move around. It’s also a nice place to gaze at the 114,000 acre lake.

There’s swimming here too, but it’s at your own risk as there’s no lifeguard. Watch the little ones and even the bigger ones if they don’t know how to swim. Or you can go boating since there’s a ramp to put your boat in the water.

The park, which is 914 acres, was built on land donated by Greenwood County in 1938. It’s well worth the visit. I think there’s an ironman competition held here every year. Check the website to find out the date.

How to Get There

Exit 74 from I-26 and head west on SC34. Turn right on SC702. The park is off that road.

Links:

https://southcarolinaparks.com/lake-greenwood

What’s Close By:

Lake Greenwood

Ninety Six NHS

Ninety Six (the town)

Robert Mills District

 

The official Robert Mills tour consists of two parts, but I’ll mash them into one. The district gets its name from the two buildings designed by Mills, The Robert Mills House and SC Asylum. By starting at the Robert Mills House, you should be able to get the brochures at the shop there. When I did the walk, I divided it into two, but took a few side trips such as to the Woodrow Wilson House.

One can take a tour inside the Robert Mills building, go to the website for the hours. Interiors do little for me, except for castles. Bring your comfy shoes. Walking on pavement is harder than hiking on dirt. You can eat at places around here, on Main Street, or you can do what I do, and bring your own sandwich and water bottle.

 

1615 Blanding – Hampton Preston Mansion

Built 1818. During it’s existence it has housed a governor as well as college women. It used to be nationally known for its gardens and they are currently on working on the grounds.

1401 Laurel – Debruhl-Marshall House

Built 1820. The architect is unknown and some say it might be Robert Mills as it’s similar to the Robert Mills House.

1410 Laurel –

Built 1900. It was a single family dwelling until the 1960’s when it was subdivided. It has since been remodeled for commercial use.

1422 Laurel – Shannon Smith Stuckey House

Built in the late 1880’s, this house is house for its distinctive architecture.

1511 Laurel – Sims-Stackhouse Mansion

Built sometime before 1853. It once sat on a raised basement, but in 1909, then owner T.B. Stackhouse removed the top floors and relocated them to this location.

2025 Marion – Modjeska Monteith Simkins House

Built in the 1890s, Civil Rights icon Modjeska Monteith Simkins lived here around 1932 to 1992.

1403 Richland – Mann-Simons Cottage

This is one of the few houses in Columbia owned by an African American in Antebellum times.

1601 Richland – Seibels House

This may be Columbia’s oldest standing house. Part of it is supposed to date back to 1796. It’s current look is from the 1920’s and is one many renovations it’s had.

How to Get There:

The Robert Mills District is in downtown Columbia. The district is on the east and west side of US76/Bull Street. A good starting point is the Robert Mills House. From Bull Street, go east one block on Blanding Street.

Links:

https://www.historiccolumbia.org/tour-locations?neighborhood=Robert%20Mills%20District%20West

What’s Close By:

Historic Main Street

SC State House and Complex

USC

Allen University

Benedict College

Battle of Camden NHL

The Battle of Camden National Historic Landmark is a nice place not only to learn about history, but to take a walk in a pine forest setting.

The place is almost a surprise as one makes their way on RD58/Flat Rock Road, which bisects the battlefield. There are a number of trails to take and I choose the East Battlefield Trail and the Colonial Road. There are markers along the way that explain what happened.

A battle took place here on 16 August 1780 and was a victory for the British. The main players here were General Charles Cornwallis, British, and General Horatio Gates of the Continental army. I won’t go into too much detail as those more knowledgeable of the Revolutionary War and military matters may roll their eyes at my description. Fortunately there is an audio podcast that can explain this better than I can. And the signs along the trail are really helped.

The battle took place over an area of about 2,000 acres and partially in the dark as both forces marched through the night to attack one another. After some fighting, they stopped, starting up again at dawn. The Continental army did not do well at all. Some of the soldiers fled and the others were surrounded and captured. Their commanding officer, Baron Johann de Kalb, was mortally wounded. There’s a marker where he fell.

The scene now, as one walks through these woods and grasslands, is supposed to be pretty much like it was before. It’s peacefulness belies that this was where one of the deadliest battles of the Revolutionary War took place.

How to Get There:

On US521/US601, just north of Shamokin, take Flat Rock Road/RD58 northwest and look for the signs.

Links:

http://scgreatoutdoors.com/park-battleofcamdenlandmark.html

What’s Close By:

Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site

Camden

Goodale State Park

Lake Wateree

Museums in Columbia

When it’s raining or there’s bad weather, museums are a good alternative. Of course, some cost money, but a few are free. Sometimes the fee based museums have specials. You’ll need to check out their website for that information. Columbia, being the capital, is home to several museums. These include:

Columbia fire Dept Museum – 1800 Laurel

Small, but full of interesting exhibits of the history of Columbia’s fire dept with fire engines including a horse drawn steam powered one. Any child who lives fire engines will love this place.

Free.

EdVenture Children’s Museum – 211 Gervais St.

If you have little ones, this is a definite place to go. I enjoyed it myself when I went with my nephew and crawled through the world’s largest child, Eddy. It proved a bit challenging. There are plenty of hands on activities. Check the website for special events. One can spend a whole day here.

Admission charged.

edventure.org

McKissick Museum – USC Horseshoe

At one time it was a library, but now it’s the visitor center and a museum. Some of the exhibits change.

Free

SC Military Museum – 1225 Bluff Rd – you can’t miss the tanks sitting out front.

scmilitarymuseum.com

SC State Museum – 301 Gervais (has SC Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in it)

This offers all sorts of things, special exhibits. There’s a 4-D theater, an observatory, and a planetarium. The permanent collection is great too and I go there for just that. The hands on activities are fun. I love the space section.

Admission charged – check website as they sometimes have specials.

scmuseum.org

Columbia Museum of Art – 1515 Main St.

Contains art from Monet, Botticelli, and Chihuly (he does glass work). Check the website to see what touring exhibit is currently being shown.

Admission charged – They sometimes have specials so check their website

Columbiamuseum.org

South Carolina State House

Columbia was not the first capital of South Carolina. That was Charleston. The first state house was built there in the 1750’s. About thirty years later, it was decided to have the capital more in the center of the state and thus Columbia was born. It was the nation’s first planned capital city. By 1790, the new State House was built. It, like the first State House was built of wood. It, like its predecessor, succumbed to fire.

I’ve been around the State House countless times. I used to stand at the bus stop kitty corner from it’s grounds as I waited to go home after a day at USC. I never went inside the capital building until recently though. It’s cool one can visit for free. Just know there is plenty of security and they will check your bags and that.

That same visit as I stood outside, looking for the stars on the building I saw then Governor Haley emerged from a side door with her entourage. That was a pretty neat experience.

The present State House was completed in 1907. It was under construction during the Civil War and you may have seen the iconic picture of the building with its exterior walls and foundation, looking as if it had been destroyed along with a whole lot of Columbia when General Sherman’s troops swept through. The stars I mentioned earlier, mark where cannon balls hit the structure.

Interesting tidbits of the building include that the columns on the portico are each carved from a single piece of stone. Next time I go by, I’m going to look at them closer. Also, the dome has two parts. The interior one is for looks and fits into the exterior dome which is made of steel and wood and finished with copper. When they renovated the State House in the 1990’s and redid the copper part, it shone like a bright penny. Now it’s dulled again.

The State House grounds are worth a tour too with its park like appearance and all the monuments.

How To Get There:

Address: 1100 Gervais Street, Columbia, SC 29201

Links:

https://www.experiencecolumbiasc.com/listing/south-carolina-state-house/15796/

What’s Close By:

River Front Park

State Museum

USC Campus

Main Street

Visitor Center

Robert Mills In Columbia

To continue from my last post on Robert Mills, there are several structures in Columbia that were designed by Robert Mills. These include a hospital, a memorial, and one of the few residences he ever created. Ironically, it was never used as a home.

Located at 1616 Blanding Street, the now named Robert Mills House was built in 1823 for Ainsley Hall and his wife, Sarah. Before Hall could move in, he died and his widow sold the Classical Revival townhouse to the Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina who started a school, a seminary, in 1831.

The house was saved from demolition in 1961 by a group that would later become Historic Columbia. Six years later, after much restoration, it reopened as a house museum. One can walk around the grounds and gardens for free. There is a fee to tour the house. See the website for times.

Not far away, on Bull Street is the State Asylum. This famous landmark opened in 1828 and was one of the first public hospitals in the U.S. for those suffering with mental illness. It’s design was a marked departure from the earlier insane asylums. Instead of dank cells, dorm room were positioned southward to get sufficient light. It even had a heating system and protected fire stairs.

These two buildings are located in the Robert Mills District. Further south, on the USC campus, on the Horseshoe on, is the Maxcy Monument. Built 1827 it’s Mill’s first use of the obelisk style, the same style as the Washington Monument.

I couldn’t find much documentation on Robert Mill’s association with the Columbia canal, but I did find a notation that he was instrumental in it’s development. It was complete in 1824, when he was working for the state.

Historic Columbia Foundation has two self-guided walking tours of the area: Robert Mills District East and Robert Mills District West.

http://www.historiccolumbia.org/robert-mills-house-and-gardens

 

Robert Mills

Traveling around South Carolina, sooner or later you’ll come across a building designed by Charleston born architect Robert Mills. Born August 12, 1781, he’s been called the first U.S. professionally trained architect. His most famous work is the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. Other well known buildings are the Treasury Building and the Old Patent Office, which is now part of the Smithsonian.

After attending what’s now the College of Charleston, Mills moved to Charleston where he not only studied with the architect who designed the White House, James Hoban, but befriended then President Thomas Jefferson who granted him access to his library of architectural books.

In 1816, Mills moved to Baltimore, but when he found himself with too few projects, he accepted the State Architect and Engineer position in South Carolina in 1820. Thus you can travel the state and find his courthouses, jails, bridges, canals, and other public works.

In 1830, he moved back to Washington, DC and that is where he worked on the public buildings and Washington Monument.

There are numerous works around the state and I have chosen those I’ve visited to highlight.

Perhaps one of my favorites is the Fairfield County Courthouse in Winnsboro. Built in 1823, it’s across from the town clock. You can’t miss it with the sweeping black staircases. Those were added later. I believe they were part of Mill’s design however. Additional funding needed to be appropriated before they could be built.

Landsford Canal is another favorite. It’s a two mile long canal with locks along the Catawba River in the Landsford Canal State Park. A trail goes along and through it. It’s one well worth the hike.

Georgetown County Courthouse was a bit difficult to take a good picture of with all the necessities of modern living, like telephone and electrical wires dangling in front. This was built in 1828 in temple form using a variety of styles such as Greek Revival with Roman Doric columns and a Renaissance style foundation.

Mills designed the Union County Courthouse and Jail, but only the jail remains, now the police station. A pity about the courthouse. Built in 1823 with walls of granite blocks, it survived the Union soldiers who marched through, but didn’t survive the wrecking ball. The jail was built 1822.

Pointsett Bridge may have been designed by Robert Mills. It was built in 1820 when he was state architect. There’s no definite yea or nay if he did or not.

 

He also designed a few structures in Columbia and I’ll highlight them in my next post.

Baker Creek State Park

I didn’t realize Baker Creek State Park is open seasonally from March 1 to September 30 until I started this post. Keep it in mind when you go out in spring in summer and check the website in case the times have changed.

I visited this park two summers ago as I drove along Lake Thurmond, chugging along on my road trip. This was one of several sites I visited. It was a hot day, perfect for a swim and a wade through shallow water. Besides swimming, one can go fishing, boating, hiking and biking, and camping. There are three trails here. The Wild Mint Nature Trail is one mile long and the hike/bike trail is ten miles, but I suppose one can make it shorter as there are three interconnecting loops. This trail takes one along Little River Branch of Lake Thurmond, and into the park interior. The third trail is hiking only and .7 miles long. In the official description it’s described as being both easy and moderately difficult. Sometimes it’s just subjective. I’ve been on trails rated difficult that I found moderate and I’ve been trails rated easy that I found rather difficult.

Whatever trail you take, or don’t take, the views of the lake are quite nice. If the shelter, the Lake Pavilion, hasn’t been reserved, that’s a nice place to partake in lunch, or use the picnic tables right by the lake.

The park is located in the Long Cane District of the Sumter National Forest and consists of 1,305 acres.

How to Get There:

The park is located a mile off US378 and west of McCormick.

Links:

http://southcarolinaparks.com/bakercreek/introduction.aspx

 

What’s Close By:

Hickory Knob State Resort Park

McCormick

Sumter National Forest