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Exploring the Past in South Carolina

Archaeology and History Sites in South Carolina

Burt-Stark Mansion

The Burt-Stark Mansion in Abbeville was built in the 1830s, in accordance with a Greek Revival architectural style, and went through various owners during its early decades. It was in this mansion, on 2 May 1865, that the Confederate President Jefferson Davis held the Confederacy’s last Council of War. Despite Davis’ misgivings, at this meeting the Confederacy agreed to surrender. The Abbeville County Historic Preservation Commission took possession in the 20th century.

Fort Moultrie

Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island started life in the 1770s, when American revolutionaries began building it to defend Charleston. The British Army captured the fort in 1780, remaining there till 1782, when the U.S. Army took control. It was then used largely as a prison, including for captured Native rebels, until being used by the Confederate Army in the Civil War. The U.S. Army continued to use the fort until 1947.

Fort Sumter National Monument

Construction of Fort Sumter began in 1829 and in the 1860s it played an important role in the Civil War. In 1861 Confederate forces attacked the fort, eventually securing the surrender of the Union forces stationed there. Union counter-attacks followed in 1863, with the fort being left heavily damaged at the end of the war. In the 1940s it became a National Monument and has since served as a visitor attraction.

Hopsewee Plantation

Hopsewee Plantation near Georgetown was a rice plantation owned by the wealthy Lynch family. The main house was built in 1735; Thomas Lynch Jr., who was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, was born here. The grounds still retain two of the cabins in which enslaved African American labourers lived. Although Hopsewee remains a private residence, it is open for tours and various special events throughout the year.

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim

The Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in Charleston is one of the oldest Jewish congregations in the United States. Sephardi Jews whose ancestors came from Iberia established the synagogue in 1749. Artistically designed in a Greek Revivalist style, it remains the second oldest synagogue in the U.S. and the oldest to have remained in continuous use since that time. Tours of the building are available; a museum displays objects from the synagogue’s history.

McLeod Plantation Historic Site

The Georgian-style McLeod Plantation manor house on James Island was built in 1858. Although designed as a residence, it became a Confederate Army hospital during the Civil War. While modified by owners in subsequent centuries, the house survives, offering an insight into life for the 19th century European American elite. The grounds contain several cabins where enslaved African Americans lived; the site is designated as part of the Gullah Cultural Heritage Corridor.

Nathaniel Russell House

Named for the wealthy slave trader who ordered it built, the Nathaniel Russell House in Charleston is a neoclassical red-brick home completed in 1808. The house is now open to the public, with its rooms furnished as they would have appeared in the early 19th century. It shines light not only on the elite who lived here, but also the craftspeople who created the structure and the enslaved people who laboured there.

Old Sheldon Church Ruins

The Old Sheldon Church in Beaufort County was built in the 1740s or 1750s. Quite how the church fell into ruins remains an issue of historical debate. It was certainly damaged during the Civil War when Union troops attacked in 1865, although might have already been heavily dilapidated at this point. The picturesque ruins are now surrounded by old oak trees and have become a popular site with photographers.

Poinsett Bridge

Dating from 1820, this picturesque, slightly ruined stone structure in Landrum is believed to be South Carolina’s oldest bridge. It is possible that Robert Mills, designer of the Washington Monument, was responsible for it. A stream, Little Gap Creek, runs through the Neo-Gothic arch. No longer in active use but only a short walk from a nature trail, Poinsett Bridge is now surrounded by beautiful woodland – a perfect scene for keen photographers!

Santee Indian Mound and Fort Watson

Presently located within the Santee National Wildlife Refuge, the Santee Indian Mound near Summerton probably dates from between the 13th and 16th centuries. Comparatively little is known about it, although the community who built it may have used it primarily for ceremonies or for burying the dead. In the 18th century, the British Army build Fort Watson atop of it. During the Revolutionary War, revolutionaries successfully laid siege to the fort in 1781.

Museums in South Carolina

Aiken County Historical Museum

The Aiken County Historical Museum is housed in a Winter Colony cottage dating from the 1930s. It showcases the history of this county, which is located along South Carolina’s western border. Stretching over at least three acres, the museum houses several historic buildings on its premises, notably a log cabin that was built in 1808 and a one-room schoolhouse constructed in the 1890s. Entry to the museum is free.

Charleston Museum

Having been founded in 1773 and then opened to the public in 1824, the Charleston Museum is one of the oldest museums in the United States. It has occupied its current premises since 1980. Like many old museums, that at Charleston hosts an eclectic range of objects, from paleontological fossil specimens through to Ancient Egyptian artefacts, and from 18th century silverware through to a selection of modern American weaponry.

Clemson Area African American Museum

Opened in 2007, the Clemson Area African American Museum showcases the culture and heritage of the African American community living in this north-western part of South Carolina. The museum is part of the Calhoun Bridge Center, housed in what was once a school for African American children during the era of segregation. The museum engages in various forms of public outreach and oversees a range of special events throughout the year.

Florence County Museum

At the Florence County Museum, archaeological and historical objects are used to explain more about the prehistory and early colonial settlement of the area. Various artefacts dating from the Civil War are also on display, many from the Florence Stockade prison camp and Confederate Naval Yard. It also hosts a rich collection of artworks, among them the Wright Collection of Southern Art. These permanent displays are supplemented by a range of temporary exhibitions.

Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site

At this open-air museum, visitors can get a taste of life in the midst of the American Revolutionary War of 1775 to 1783. Stretching over 107 acres, the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site encompasses land where various important events in the conflict took place. Several 18th and 19th century buildings have been conserved at the site. Special events bring re-enactors to the site each November to act out battles from the war.

Lexington County Museum

The Lexington County Museum brings together over 30 historic buildings dating from the late 18th and 19th centuries, spread over seven acres. These are furnished with artefacts and furnishings from the same period, to ensure a more authentic visitor experience. Among the structures in the museum are the Corley Cabin, which is Lexington’s oldest documented building, and the Ernest Hazelius House, where the song “Give Me That Old Time Religion” was written.

Parris Island Museum

The Parris Island Museum in Beaufort is situated inside the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. Many of its displays pertain to the heritage of the Marine Corps, which was founded in 1775. Other displays focus attention on the history of Parris Island itself, including the French and Spanish colonies that were established here in the 16th century, as well as its role in the American Revolutionary and then the Civil War.

Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

The Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum can be found on the Charleston Harbor at Mount Pleasant. Three historic US Navy vessels are preserved here: the USS Yorktown is an aircraft carrier launched in 1943, USS Laffey a destroyer also launched in 1943, and the USS Clamagore a submarine launched in 1945. Visitors can explore these three vessels, each decked out with various displays about life in the US Navy.

South Carolina State Museum

Currently the largest museum in the state, the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia opened in 1988. Now situated within a state-of-the-art glass clad building, the museum houses a broad range of artefacts and dioramas through which visitors can learn more about the history of South Carolina. Displays cover a period stretching from distant prehistory right through to recent historical developments. The museum also houses a planetarium and a 4D interactive theatre.

Upcountry History Museum

Operated by Furman University, the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville focuses attention on the fifteen ‘upcountry’ counties found in the northern part of South Carolina. The museum opened to the public in 2007, since which time it has showcased the heritage of this region. Various life-sized dioramas immerse visitors in various periods from the past; these include a parade of 19th century shops and a military camp.

Popular Tours and Activities in South Carolina from GetYourGuide

The following is a small selection of the wide range of interesting activities that focus on the history of South Carolina.