The towns in South Carolina truly defy the idea that the United States of America is a ‘new country’ – some of the settlements here date back well into the 18th century. They are playgrounds for anybody with an eye for architecture and a heart ready for history.
There are Old Deep South plantations, former getaways for the well-to-do of yesteryear. This is the state where the first shots of the Civil War rang out; South Carolina is rich in the beginnings of the New World as well as modern America itself.
York is well known for its heritage buildings. It’s easy to lap it all up at the York Downtown Historic District. Walking around this part of town, you get a feel for the history of York, which dates back to the 1750s. Other buildings around York reflecting its heritage include the brick-built Georgian style Wilson House, built in 1828 – a former jail – and the grand York County Courthouse (1914).
Elsewhere, you can catch a show at the majestic McCelvey Center, or simply take a stroll around the leafy York Recreation Complex. At Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, you may even catch sight of a hummingbird or two.
Truly tiny Cope is a dot roughly in the middle of Orangeburg County. With a population of fewer than 100 people, it’s also one of the smallest towns in America by land area. But don’t let its size fool you; with barely any tourists, you’ll be able to wander around Cope feeling like it’s yours for the taking.
The 1894 Manchester and Augusta Railroad Station is a great place to sense the history of Cope. Every street has an interesting photo opportunity, from the adorably tiny Town Hall to the playful murals that are painted on the sides of some buildings. Several charming churches in town, like the wooden Union United Methodist Church, just about wrap things up at this unique destination.
Set on land purchased by German settlers in 1849, the heritage of Walhalla is made clear in its name: it’s the German form of Valhalla, a heavenly hall of slain warriors in Norse mythology. In its setting at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s clear that the early settlers thought they had found a kingdom worthy of the gods. Walhalla is noted for its many waterfalls nearby, including Issaqueena Falls and Yellow Branch Falls.
History is rife in the area, too; as well as the spooky Stumphouse Tunnel – an incomplete railroad tunnel – you’ll find the 1901 Walhalla Graded School, amongst other historic sites. An annual Oktoberfest also reflects the towns Germanic heritage.
It’s not just the historic buildings that pack a punch in Anderson; it’s the people living here who have helped it gain the nickname “The Friendliest Town in America”. In fact, it even won the All-America City Award in 2010 for its civic-minded citizens. And it isn’t just individual buildings that make their way onto the National Historic Register – whole districts of Anderson are full of architectural heritage. Stroll around Anderson College Historic District or Anderson Downtown Historic District, amongst others, and be awed.
Even the electricity in Anderson is historic; thanks to the construction of a hydroelectric dam nearby, it was one of the first towns in Southeast with electricity – hence its other nickname, “The Electric City”.
Mansions, houses, and even an opera house make up the 528 buildings that comprise the Abbeville Historic District. This is a collection of impressive buildings – most of them dating back to the 19th century. It’s a testament to the long history of Abbeville, which began life as a town founded by French Huguenots and was named after the French town of the same name. When you’ve had enough of looking at all the bricks and mortar, you can head southeast out of town into the Long Cane Scenic Area for a serene hike in some pretty woodlands.
Homesteaders settled the area around Landrum as early as 1760, but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that things took off in this picturesque town. Today, quaint is most definitely the word. Landrum is filled with little eateries, quirky shops, and antique stores – like the Millstone Gallery – that make visiting this town a trip for those who love to browse and wander.
But it isn’t all town-based; head out of Landrum and you’ll be rewarded at the Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve, which features a few challenging hiking trails. There’s also Campbell’s Covered Bridge; built in 1909, this is the sole remaining covered bridge in the state of South Carolina.
This is one of the most affluent communities in South Carolina, thanks to its position as a bedroom community for commuters to nearby Charleston. At the same time, Edisto Beach is also a charming coastal vacation destination.
Settled by Spanish colonists in the late 16th century, Edisto Beach grew from there; today, there’s a lot on offer. For a start, you could head to Edisto Beach State Park for hiking and camping; the area boasts the South Carolina’s longest system of accessible walking and biking trails for differently abled people. You could stroll around Bay Creek Park, home to an arts and crafts fair. Or you could simply head to the long, sandy beach – it is Edisto ‘Beach’ after all!
Since Newberry was founded as early as the 1750s and is the county seat of Newberry County, there are a whole lot of historic buildings to explore in this town. Whole portions of this town are registered as Historic Districts, including handsome old homes on Caldwell Street and Harrington Street.
You’ll also find the early 19th century Frederick Nance House, a plantation which features a rare, surviving example of slave quarters. Even the beautiful little Wells Japanese Garden dates back to 1930. For a spot of nature when buildings just don’t take your fancy anymore, the Lynchs Woods Park offers up well-maintained trails in scenic woodlands.
Hilton Head Island – more simply known as Hilton Head – is an interesting place to visit. From a Disney Vacation Club Resort and gated communities to a stunning array of wildlife – including dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles, and manatees – there’s a lot going on here. Head to Harbour Town Lighthouse, where each level is dedicated to a different point in South Carolina’s history, to get your facts straight on the state.
Elsewhere, the Coastal Discovery Museum is a great place to learn more about the biodiversity of the area. Coligny Beach Park is a good choice if you want to walk, bike or simply sit in the sun on your own slice of sand.
Dating back to 1835, the planned town of Aiken had – by the end of the 19th century – become a popular place for wealth Northeasterners to spend their winters. You can spot this by driving or walking around the roads that wind through Aiken Winter Colony Historic District – but many of the grand 19th-century mansions are behind tall gates and high hedges.
You can also take a walk around Hitchcock Woods, 2000 plus acres of suburban forest. Tree-lined streets, plenty of charm, and well equipped equestrian training facilities make it popular with horse riders, too. The former and current prestige of Aiken results in an authentic South Carolina town through and through.
The third-oldest town in South Carolina, Georgetown began life in 1526 as a Spanish colony. Next up were English colonists in 1670, who founded ‘Charles Town’. And in 1729, plans were drawn up for a city laid out on a grid system – what would become Georgetown.
Today, that most historic part of town is awash with heritage buildings. You can even walk around one of these and get a feel for the past at the 18th century Kaminski House Museum. It’s got gallons of charm too; older neighborhoods feature roads with oaks overarching them like tunnels. Stroll down East Bay Street to experience this magical atmosphere for yourself.
Set on Port Royal Island, Beaufort is known not just for its beautiful coastal scenery, but also for its well preserved early-to-mid 19th and late 18th century buildings. Accordingly, a full 304 acres of Beaufort has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. Included in this area is Beaufort’s downtown, which features the ever-charming Old Point area, its heritage houses boasting upper and lower balconies drenched with greenery.
The Penn Center – a former school for freed slaves – now charts the history and culture of African-Americans. For nature, stroll along the scenic Spanish Moss Trail – a former railroad – or just enjoy the atmosphere at the manicured Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.