According to 800zipcodes, halfway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Blue Ridge Mountains is the state capital. Columbia, named after Christopher Columbus, replaced Charleston as the capital in 1786. The city with around 130,000 inhabitants forms the end point for shipping on the Congaree River. From here, inland, the river is no longer navigable. Although General William T Sherman, who was fighting for the Union, had largely destroyed the city, the State House on Gervais St in the quiet downtown area survived. The places where the cannon hit the building and the copper dome are still marked by bronze stars. (State House, 1100 Gervais St, Columbia, SC 29201, www.scstatehouse.gov )
A little further is the South Carolina State Museum, housed in an old, abandoned textile factory and expanded with a modern glass-and-steel building. The building, erected in 1894, provides information in exhibitions about the state’s natural, cultural and industrial history. (South Carolina State Museum, 301 Gervais St, Columbia, SC 29201, scmuseum.org ).
For more information about Columbia, visit www.experiencecolumbiasc.com or visit the Experience Columbia office at 1010 Lincoln Street, Columbia, SC 29201
Only about 20 minutes by car south of Columbia (just off the SC-48) is South Carolina’s only national park – the Congaree Swamp National Park. It was not until 2003 that the almost 107 square kilometer swamp area was declared a national park. The park, which was also designated an international biosphere reserve in 1983, has the highest concentration of hardwood forests in the entire United States. These lush trees – like the true bald cypress, which grows exclusively in wetlands – are considered one of the largest “natural roof areas” in the world. The park is named after the Congaree Indians who once lived here and who succumbed to a smallpox epidemic that was introduced to them in the 17th century. The swamp area was threatened by deforestation several times, but this failed due to the difficult conditions such as a lack of transport infrastructure and extremely high humidity. Hurricane Hugo severely damaged the tallest trees in 1989.
In the national park there are 40 km of hiking trails and almost 4 km of boardwalks across the swamp. The park can also be explored with kayaks and canoes. There is the possibility to rent them. More information about the organizers can be found on the park’s website. (Congaree Swamp National Park, 100 National Park Rd, Hopkins, SC 29061, www.nps.gov/cong )
Also in Camden – in the Olde English District – which is proven to be the oldest town in the heart of the country, one is surrounded by “history” at every turn. The place was the scene of two battles in which the independence of the colonies from the English crown was at stake. Beautiful antebellum homes remain and there is a long tradition of equestrian events (City of Camden, 1000 Lyttleton St, Camden, SC 29020, www.cityofcamden.org )
In the town of Aiken, with a population of 30,000, everything revolves around horses. Originally the town was a retreat for wealthy Charleston planters and later a wintering place for Northern Americans. They brought their racehorses with them and Aiken developed into a center for racehorses as well as for polo and steeplechase racing. The tradition of holding a polo match every Sunday afternoon has been unbroken since 1882. (Aiken Tourism Division, PO Box 1177, Aiken, SC 29802, www.visitaikensc.com )
French Huguenots gave the name to the town of Abbeville, 45 miles (72 km) south of Greenville. The most famous sight is the Opera House, built in 1904, which owes its existence to the fact that showmen and artists stopped here on their way between Atlanta and New York at the turn of the century. (Abbeville Opera House, 100 Court Square, Abbeville, SC 29620, www.abbevillecitysc.com ). Momentous history was made at the Burt Stark House, which can be visited on guided tours. This is where the dark chapter of the Civil War began and where it ended with the dissolution of the Confederate forces. The Burt-Stark Mansion is Abbeville’s architectural gem. The Burt Stark Mansion ( www.burtstark.com)
The town, named after the Cheraw Indians, has some historical buildings. However, it is known as the birthplace of jazz innovator Dizzy Gillespie, for whom the city fathers erected a monument. Cheraw’s strategic location on the Great Pee Dee River once made it an important trading post and later prospered with the introduction of steamboats and cotton gins, which allowed cotton to be grown and transported in large quantities. (200 Market Street, Cheraw, SC 29520, www.cheraw.com
Near Rock Hill in the Olde English District is a historic property that’s now a popular open-air museum: Historic Brattonsville gives you a glimpse of what life was like here from the 1750s to the 1840s. Guided tours of the plantation grounds are offered. The open-air museum served as a film set for the Roland Emmerich film “The Patriot” (2000) with Mel Gibson. (1444 Brattonsville Rd., McConnells, SC 29726, chmuseums.org/brattonsville )