Drive into Adventure in Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina
From outdoor fun, to unique art, a road trip through this part of the Palmetto State has surprises for everyone aboard
THOROUGHBRED COUNTRY, SOUTH CAROLINA–JANUARY 2020–Grab the snacks, fill up the tank and set the GPS to Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina, for a road trip to remember. This charming stretch of the Palmetto State rests between Atlanta and Charleston—just east of Augusta, Georgia, near I-20, making it the ideal weekend getaway. In between diverse attractions like a minor league baseball stadium and a sobering Civil War site with intact trenches, roll down the windows and breathe in the fresh country air. View the luxe rolling hills connecting the charming towns that make up Thoroughbred Country.
Hit the brakes in North Augusta and step back in time at Living History Park (299 West Spring Grove Avenue, North Augusta, South Carolina 29841). The park represents North Augusta and the surrounding areas between 1716–1785 when the area played a vital role in the development of South Carolina and Georgia through Indian Trade. This 7.5-acre park is set amidst beautiful natural springs and during scheduled events provides hands-on educational experiences. Buildings include a Colonial Barn, New Windsor Cabinet Shop, Village Mercantile, Willow Springs Meeting House, backwoods cabin and blacksmith’s forge. Before you go, check the calendar as the park hosts period events throughout the year with a Colonial Militia encampment and other period artisan demonstrations, (803) 979-9776.
While in North Augusta, hit a home run for the crew with America’s favorite pastime at SRP Park. This complex (187 Railroad Avenue, North Augusta, South Carolina 29841) holds 36 food stands, offers guests a Biergarten experience and boasts a riverfront view. Watch the Augusta GreenJackets square off on the diamond, April through September. If it’s the off-season, no worries! This stunning stadium plays host to concerts and events throughout the year. Be sure to explore the surrounding Riverside Village at Hammond’s Ferry. This adorable waterfront area is home to the lush North Augusta Greenway and several parks. End the evening by walking to one of the area’s delicious restaurants, such as Manuel’s Bread Café and DiVino Ristorante Italiano.
Pile in the care and cruise the back roads to Redcliffe Plantation, a State Historic Site (181 Redcliffe Road, Beech Island, South Carolina 29842). This Green Book destination was listed as one of the “Top 10 Sites to Visit in South Carolina” by the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission. Redcliffe Plantation was once the home of James Henry Hammond and was built by slaves in 1859. The site symbolizes the ambition, wealth and power of James Henry Hammond, a successful cotton planter, congressman and governor, who spent his life defending the Southern plantation system and his status within it. This sprawling property features a large wrap-around porch for savoring the breeze and offers an ideal vantage point for gazing at the surrounding magnolia trees. The house museum has over 4,000 artifacts spanning four generations of the Hammond family, dating from 1859-1975. House tours are available for a fee, (803) 827-1473.
Get ready to stretch legs, wallets and waistlines in the quaint and festive Downtown Aiken. Enveloped in live oaks and dotted with gardens and fountains, this equestrian town is as swoon-worthy as it is fun. Stroll down Laurens Street and peruse a variety of art and antique galleries. Pop in trendy boutiques like 3 Monkeys, Epona and Caroline’s. Enjoy eclectic eateries like Malia’s, The Whitney and the Aiken Brewing Company.
Take it slow and settle in along the South Edisto River within Aiken State Park (1145 State Park Road, Windsor, South Carolina 29856). This scenic setting is a haven for fishing and paddling. Rent canoes or kayaks and glide along the 1.7-mile glistening trail that winds its way down the south fork of the Edisto River. Explore the park’s 1,067 acres covered in pines and filled with South Carolina’s unique wildlife. Drop a line and reel in a large-mouth bass in one of the four lakes inside this natural treasure, then set up a tent and snuggle under the star-filled sky at one of the 25 campsites, (803) 649-2857.
Shift back in gear and make your way to Blackville to immerse the crew in Mennonite culture. Come hungry and pull into Miller’s Bread Basket (483 Main Street, Blackville, South Carolina 29817) to fuel up with yummy meat and threes. Then, take a sip from God’s Acre Healing Springs (Springs Court, Blackville, South Carolina 29817). During the Revolutionary War, a group of Native Americans took wounded soldiers here to drink water from the springs because of its healing properties. People still venture to this sacred spot to drink from the artesian well and learn about its rich history. Visit nearby Mennonite-operated Wisteria Cottage (2136 Jones Bridge Road, Blackville, South Carolina 29817), a rustic two-bedroom and one-bath 1940s cottage ideal for a quiet get away. A Mennonite breakfast can be provided by request. Don’t leave town without stopping at the Healing Springs Country Store (2563 Healing Springs Road, Blackville, South Carolina 29817). Peruse Mennonite jams and jellies and be sure to grab a fresh sandwich or tasty hot dog for the road.
Put the car back in drive and head to nearby Denmark, the home of Jim Harrison Gallery (4716 Carolina Highway, Denmark, South Carolina 29042). Jim Harrison’s career began with his large painting of a Coca-Cola sign. He was then commissioned by the company to create hundreds of similar ads over the next few years. It was that work that shaped the renowned artist’s career. An established artist and writer, Harrison has more than 100 limited edition reproductions to his name. Harrison was best known for his farm landscapes and artwork featuring country stores and small-town architecture. His masterpieces placed him among the nation’s most important chroniclers of earlier 20th-century rural life. Come and see the simpler times at Jim Harrison Gallery, (803) 793-5796.
What time is it? Time to check out the Vertical Sundial on the Circle in Barnwell (141 Main Street, Barnwell, South Carolina 29812). Some say the unique structure is the only freestanding vertical sundial left in the country. State senator Joseph D. Allen gave the sundial to the county as a gift. Despite the nearby courthouse burning down in 1865, the sundial remained. This city treasure keeps accurate standard time, even though that wasn’t established until 1884, and quite literally stands the test of time.
Next up in Barnwell, step into Little Red Barn Pottery and Art Gallery (12080 U.S. Hwy. 278, Barnwell, South Carolina 29812). Liz Ringus is a nationally known Master Potter who specializes in South Carolina traditional face jugs, as well as functional stoneware pottery and limited-edition Raku-fired pottery. Visitors may even see the artists working on pottery. The gallery also features the work of many local artists, including quilts, handmade soaps and herbal products by African American artists, natural stone jewelry, paintings, bat and birdhouses, cotton rugs, woven shawls and lap robes, knitted baby layettes and unusual South Carolina mementos.
Finally, head to Ehrhardt where you’ll find the Rivers Bridge State Historic Site (325 State Park Road, Ehrhardt, South Carolina 29801), the only Civil War site in the South Carolina State Parks system—and one which also includes a preserved battlefield. A ¾-mile guided trail details the Battle of Rivers Bridge by way of interpretive panels. Ranger-guided tours give impeccable detail of the most well-preserved Civil War site in South Carolina, which includes still-intact earthen fortifications. The grounds also include historic cemeteries and Civil War monuments. Park admission is free, Saturday tours are available for a fee, (803) 267-3675.
With each turn on a country highway, with every hill peak and valley, something from the past or a modern attraction delights visitors during a road trip through Thoroughbred Country. Skip the predictable and drive into the unexpected that awaits in Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina.
Check the Calendar
Planning your trip in March? Don’t miss out on Joye!—Joye! in Aiken that is. For 11 years this nonprofit organization has brought 450 musicians, actors and dancers at the top of their disciplines (primarily from The Juilliard School) to participate in the week-long performing arts festival held each spring. Joye! include a wide variety of events made available to the public at low or no cost. From jazz concerts, string quartets, a Louisiana style funeral parade and swing dance lessons, Joye! has it all.