Cultural Heritage Tourism in the Midlands

By Dr. Audrey Dawson-Croft

It’s summertime! And, if you are like me, summertime means that the kids are out of school and you are constantly trying to find fun, engaging, and educational activities to keep them entertained. As an archaeologist, I love introducing my children to South Carolina’s history and prehistory while also getting them outdoors. Below, I have compiled a list of places, in no particular order, from around the Midlands to explore the cultural heritage of South Carolina.

1. South Carolina State Museum

The South Carolina State Museum (SCSM) is a great place to visit regardless of age. The museum’s four floors house exhibits highlighting South Carolina’s prehistoric human occupations, major historic periods, natural history (including dinosaurs and mega-fauna), science, and technology. In addition, the SCSM has a planetarium, a 4D movie theatre, and an observatory. My favorite part of the SCSM is the Native American exhibit and its prehistoric archaeology display. It is located near the elevator on the fourth floor. My children enjoy the hands-on science exhibit on the third floor and the Stringer Discovery Center on the first floor. The fact that the SCSM is air conditioned is a bonus for visiting during the summer months!

2. Lexington County Museum

Located in the downtown Lexington, South Carolina, the Lexington County Museum provides 36 historic structures where guests can see living history demonstrations and touch material culture from the 1770s through the Civil War. Check their website or their Facebook page for upcoming events such as their Hands-On History days, Family Day, and their annual Halloween events.

3. South Carolina State House

The South Carolina State House is open daily for tours. Constructed over a period of more than 50 years (circa 1855-1907), the South Carolina State House provides an educational opportunity in terms of both history, civics, and architecture. Visit the website before you take the tour to print out a free scavenger hunt.

4. Historic Columbia’s House Museums

The Historic Columbia Foundation operates numerous historic house museums in downtown Columbia. Daily house museum tours, walking tours, guided bus tours, and special events, such as the annual Jubilee: Festival of Black History and Culture, The Palladium Society’s Bluegrass, Bidding, and BBQ and Annual Chili Cook-Off, holiday events, and summer camps are offered; check their website for schedules and events. My favorite house museums are the Mann-Simons site, Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens, and the Seibels House and Gardens. These three properties have been the focus of recent archaeological excavations. Some of these excavations led to the creation of the Mann-Simons Outdoor Museum.

5. Saluda River Factory Ruins at Riverbanks Zoo

If you are planning a trip to the Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens or Waterfall Junction, then I suggest you take the walking trail to the Saluda River Factory ruins. Starting adjacent to the tram stop at the zoo, a paved, stroller-friendly trail takes you through the woods, around huge granite boulders, and along the river to the ruins and interpretive center. The stone ruins of the mill, picking house and millrace are the only visible remains of the Saluda Factory Historic District which consisted of the mill, boarding houses, a general store, a gristmill, and a tavern. The interpretive center provides information on why this location was selected for the mill, how the mill was constructed, and the Saluda Factory’s role during the Civil War. This water- powered, textile mill was constructed around 1830. Known by a number of names, the Saluda Factory, Saluda River Factory, or the Saluda Manufacturing Company was constructed of granite cut from the large boulders surrounding the site—like the ones you pass on the trail to the mill. This cotton mill was burned during Sherman’s Carolina Campaign on February 17, 1865. After the Civil war, the mill was rebuilt as a wood structure on the original granite foundation and destroyed by fire again in August 1884. Pack a snack to enjoy overlooking the ruins and the Saluda River. Please remember to stay on the trail. Climbing or playing on or in the ruins could result in injuries.

6. University of South Carolina Horseshoe/McKissick Museum at USC

Another location to visit in downtown Columbia is the Horseshoe at the University of South Carolina. Enjoy a walk around the oldest section of campus. Take a blanket and have a picnic on the grass. At the top of the Horseshoe is McKissick Museum. The official museum of the University of South Carolina, McKissick Museum houses various exhibits on Southern culture and environment with a special focus on Southern folkways and traditions, such as sweet grass baskets, face jugs, and collections from South Carolinian artists, in addition to collections and objects from the various departments on campus. Check the museum’s website for upcoming events and special exhibits.

7. West Columbia Riverwalk

Take a walk on the West Columbia Riverwalk. Overlooking the west side of the Congaree River, the Riverwalk passes by the Guignard Brick Works. This National Historic Register Property is located just north of Knox Abbot Boulevard. The standing structures include four brick beehive kilns and a brick office. The Guignard Brick Works produced bricks used in the construction of many of the buildings in downtown Columbia and throughout the state during the first half of the 20th century.

8. Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve

Located in Cayce, Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve offers a 2.5 mile trail through an area utilized by people for thousands of years. The pedestrian-only hiking trail is unpaved and crosses over seven bridges as it winds its way through the woods. Clay pits—dip depressions resulting from extracting clay in the early 20th century—are teeming with water and wildlife. The clay from this area was taken to the Guignard Brick Works and made into bricks. The trail offers at least one bench and some interpretative signage. Make sure you take water because there is no water fountains or public restrooms.

9. The 12,000 Year History Park on Congaree Creek

The 12,000 Year History Park is located to the south of the Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve. Prior to the 2015 flood, the paved trails at the History Park were connected to the Cayce Riverwalk. The park’s location holds 12,000 years of history which includes the site of Fort Congaree, earthworks from the Civil War, and various prehistoric Native American sites. Plans are in the works to create an archaeological park at this location. Currently, the park offers paved trails for pedestrians and cyclists. Guided tours are offered throughout the year to share the park's 12,000 years of history with visitors. Check their Facebook page for upcoming events.

10. Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve

Located near Red Bank in Lexington County, South Carolina, Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve is a great place for a family hike. Peachtree Rock is the location of the only waterfall in the Coastal Plain as well as some unique sandstone outcrops. Not only is Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve known for its unique geology, it has also be utilized by groups for thousands of years! Be sure to bring water because there are no water fountains or public restrooms. Pack a lunch and enjoy a picnic near the waterfall.

This list provides a few destinations in the Midlands where you can learn about our shared cultural heritage. Have you been to any of these destinations? Would you add anything to the list? Connect with us on social media and let us know!