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

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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

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

 

Three Rivers Greenway

Three Rivers Greenway is more than what lies in Richland County, which is already quite a bit. There’s also a good chunk in Lexington County in West Columbia and Cayce. But this post will be on the Richland County side.

The three rivers in the title refer to the Broad, Saluda, and Congaree Rivers. The latter is created by the Broad and Saluda. The northernmost point of the greenway can be accessed north of Broad River Road. At the parking lot you can see the lock that starts the Columbia canal. Walk across that and you can see the diversion dam. It’s a nice walk through the woods on the island especially on a hot day. From here you can walk all the way to Riverfront Park in downtown Columbia. Unfortunately due to the 2015 flood, part of the canal on which the walkway ran is gone so it’s not possible to get to the Gervais Street Bridge and the State Museum.

Further South, though, is Granby Park. It’s located at the end of Catawba. Here the trail continues, swooping into the Olympia and Granby Mill area and through Olympia Park before puttering out. While part isn’t along the river, it is still a nice walk through a historic mill village and mills. In Olympia Park I was lucky enough to catch sight of a blue heron.

The walkways on the river are lighted and paved with boardwalks and overlooks. You can walk, run, or ride your bicycle. It is also wheelchair accessible. It is currently twelve and a half miles long and growing. At this time they are working on a segment on the Richland County side of the Saluda River, along the zoo.

 

Link:

http://riveralliance.org/project/three-rivers-greenway/

Historic Columbia Foundation Brochures

I’ve mentioned these brochures before and today I’m going to go a little more in-depth. These are nice, quality, attractive, little booklets put out by the Historic Columbia Foundation. They are 4″ x 9″ closed (8″ x 9″ open) with a fold out map in the back. The number of pages vary. There are also one page pamphlets. Besides giving background information on various historical sites in Columbia, they make excellent souvenirs.

I nabbed most of mine at the visitor center on Lincoln Street. It’s located at the convention center. You can also pick them up at the Robert Mills House gift shop on Blanding Street. One can’t download them from the website (historiccolumbia.org), which is a pity, but the website does have different tours to view.

The brochure contain driving and walking tours, most of which are in the downtown area. Some expand further out such as the African-American Heritage Sites Tour. You’ll need a car for that one. Most of the others are guides for walking.

Each brochure begins with a short introduction. Next are pages with of the stops on the tour complete with a picture or drawing of site mentioned and a description. On the last page is the fold out map. It makes learning about Columbia fun.

If you don’t want to do the tour thing on your own, the foundation offers tours for a fee. Visit the website to find out more.

Columbia Main Street

I picked up the Main Street: Self-Guided Architectural Walking Tour brochure at the visitor center on Lincoln Street. The brochure is written by the Historic Columbia Foundation. You can’t download it (at least not in 2017). As soon as I had my hands on it, I planned my trip. The map inside points out the places of interest and there’s nice information about each building highlighted.

The tour starts at the capital building, but I started at Main and Hampton and worked my way up, then down. It being Saturday, Soda City, the downtown market, was in full swing. If you don’t want to wade through people, you may want to come another day. Sunday should be nice. If you want to do a little bit of shopping and eating, come Saturday.

While most buildings are from the twentieth and twenty-first century, there are a few from the 1800’s. When General Sherman and his troops came through they pretty much burned Columbia down to the ground. Throughout the years older buildings have been updated and rehabilitated. Of one, 1320 Main, only the 1912 façade remains, having been incorporation into the much younger (built 2006) Meridian Building. But even newer structures have character. Here’s a shortened tour.

1200 Main is Columbia’s third skyscraper. It was built in 1914 and updated twice, 1965 and 1980. It’s in the Chicago style of architecture with Tudor Gothic elements. It houses the local ABC station.

1210 – 14 Main – The Brennen Building. This is one of the oldest buildings downtown, built around 1870. It’s a good representation of what buildings looked like after the Civil War. The balcony, half hidden by the tree, was added later.

1230 Main – First Citizens Bank Building. It was built in 2006. The style is post-modern with Art Deco influences.

1320 Main – Former Consolidated Building and now an entrance to the Meridian building. The façade itself is at 1328 Main and was built 1912 in the Spanish Gothic style.

1332 Main – Arcade Mall. Interior. This too is from 1912. I always though it weird they had a mall like this back then. I always though of malls as something in the late twentieth century. It’s L-shaped and was Columbia’s first indoor shopping center.

1339 Main – This is an interesting building in an intriguing style – New Brutalism. I’d never heard of that before.

1400 Main – Palmetto building, now Sheraton Hotel. This was Columbia’s second skyscraper (the first one is the Barringer Building at 1338). It was built in 1913, updated in the 1980’s, and rehabilitated in 2008. The style is the Chicago School and Gothic Revival. It almost succumbed to the wrecking ball, but survived.

1508 Main – Kress Building. Art Deco. It was built in 1934 and rehabilitated in 1999. During the Civil Rights movement, black and white college students held sit-ins at the white’s only lunch counter.

To date myself, I remember once going into Kress some time before it closed. I found it unique in that it was L shaped with an entrance on Hampton as well as Main Street. The façade is terra cotta.

1530 Main – Canal Dime Savings Bank. This Richardsonian Romanesque style building was built in 1895. The Canal Dime Bank closed three years later, but three other banks used this building until 1936. I like it because it’s so different.

1607 – 13 Main – These three buildings are, from left to right:

State Theater (now Nickelodeon), built 1870’s, modified 1936, rehabilitated 2012.

King’s, built 1870’s, modified early 1900’s and 1970s.

Lever Building, 1903, original storefront altered.

Main Street

Main Street. Where all the action is. Or used to be. Or where it’s at again. It all depends on where you are. Driving around, you’ll never know what kind of Main Street you’ll find and how you’ll find it. Maybe there’s not much left, physically, but the memories are still there and there’s always something interesting. If you’re lucky you’ll bump into someone who remembers what it used to be, bad or good.

According to the Municipal Association of South Carolina, there are 270 towns and cities with a population of 50 and higher. 270 main streets, they maybe called something other than ‘Main’ Street. 270 downtowns. Somehow I thought there’d be more.

Big or small, I like to take a walk around Main Street, time willing. Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, etc, all have bustling downtowns. In the smaller places, the sidewalks might roll in after six p.m. leaving you amazed the store’s closed so early. It happened to me. Here are a few downtowns, Main Streets, I’ve taken pictures of. Enjoy.

Sumter with Opera House

North

Newberry with their opera house

Mullins

Georgetown                                                    Cheraw

Great Falls

Chester                                                  Olar

 

Train Depots in Columbia

I began my tour of the capital city’s train attractions at Union Station on Main Street, south of the capital building. Like most all the surviving depots it is a restaurant and they’ve all taken care of the historic structures. The Union Station was built around 1902 and is the most ornate of the Columbia depots. Frank Pierce Milburn, who designed the building also designed the SC Statehouse dome. Service stopped here 1968. A pity, but that’s the way it is.

Union Station

My second stop was the Amtrak Station on Pulaski Street. It’s a block east of Huger Street. It’s not hard to miss with the caboose right by the road. It’s not much of a building, but then there aren’t many trains that come to call. Used to busier train stations, I have to admit this floored me. I guess that explained the near empty, small parking lot and single platform.

Amtrak Station on Pulaski Street

In order to visit the rest of my railroad related sites I walked along Gervais Street. My trip included the bridge over the railroad tracks allowing me a different view of the Amtrak station. Further up, I was walking toward Lincoln from the bridge, at 800 Gervais is what used to be the South Carolina Railroad (at one time the SC Canal and Railroad Company) freight station. The lot east of the buiding, the parking lot area, used to be train tracks. The station was originally built around the 1850’s and was burned during the Civil War in 1865 when Sherman’s troops came through. It was rebuilt in 1867 and functioned as a depot until the train tracks here were removed in the 1980’s to ease traffic congestion. It is also a restaurant as is the Seaboard Air Line Station at 1200 Lincoln just of Gervais and the Seaboard Air Line Freight Station across the street at 902 Gervais. Both were built in 1903.

South Carolina Rail Depot

Seaboard Air Line Station

Another must see was the Lincoln/Seaboard Air Line tunnel. This is now a pedestrian way going underneath an entire block from Washington to Lady Street and parallels Lincoln Street. When I went the last time it was being fixed up as it flooded during the 2015 October flood, but one could still go through. I thought it was pretty neat, definitely a cool spot for the summer.

Harbison State Forest

I’d heard plenty about Harbison State Forest, but never visited until a national hike day, or maybe it was visit a park day. Whatever day it was, I went. Harbison Forest is located in Columbia along the Broad River. It’s not difficult to find being just east of Broad River Road. I pulled in the parking lot, nice and shady, paid my five dollars and studied the trail options.

richland-harbison-sf-05-firebreak-trail-creek

In this 2,177 acre park there are plenty of trails to choose, twenty miles worth! Choose from the easy Discovery trail, 0.5 miles, to the six mile, difficult Lost Creek trail. The 4.4 mile, moderate Firebreak trail which interconnects to other trails. Or you can customize your trip if you wish, like I did. I can’t even tell you which ones I used. 

richland-harbison-sf-07-firebreak-trail-flower

The trails are for use for hikers and off road bicycling except for two which are for hiking only. Listen out for the call from a rider to announce themselves. There’s a canoe ramp that provides access for kayaks and canoes.

Harbison State Forest is one of the largest urban green spaces located within a city limits in the eastern part of the U.S. It’s named after Samuel P. Harbison who is/was from Pennsylvania. He provided much of the funds needed for the land to be purchased. Thank you, Mr. Harbison.

How to get there:

Take I-20 to exit #65 and go northwest on US #176 (Broad River Road) 5.9 kilometers (3.7 miles). The forest will be on the right side of the road.

Links:

https://www.state.sc.us/forest/refharb.htm

What’s Close by:

River Front Park and Historic Columbia Canal

Riverbanks Zoo

Lake Murray