Named after King Charles I of England, South Carolina is a quintessential southern state in the south-eastern region of United States of America. Along with North Carolina, the two are historically known as The Carolinas.
The 23rd most populous state in the country, South Carolina comprises 46 counties, and, is divided into seven geographical regions, namely the Atlantic Coastal Plain, the Grand Strand, the Santee River Delta, the Sea Islands, the Sandhills, the Fall Line, and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Here is a fun fact – Columbia, the state capital, was named after Christopher Columbus, and is a state that is a century older than the country itself!
With over 187 miles of shoreline, the Palmetto State is known for its lush greenery, significant history, and fascinating culture. Reportedly, it is the only producer of tea in the entire Nation!
One of the original colonies that formed the United States, the subtropical climate and the opulent coastline of South Carolina attracts several short-term and long-term visitors (around 28.5 million) annually.
Though the state’s mesmerizing beachline is no secret to anybody, let us explore some of the hidden gems in South Carolina that most have not heard of or known about.
1. The Button Museum, Bishopville
Dalton Stevens, a man suffering from acute insomnia, reached the peak of his sleeping disorder in 1983. Tired of ‘not sleeping’, Stevens decided to find a hobby – he began sowing various colorful buttons to one of his suits. Before he could gather his senses, two years had passed, and, his suit was covered in over 16,000 bright buttons!
A simple hobby, that started as a way to kill time while Stevens lay awake, turned into a full-time passion. There was no stopping him after he had discovered what he could do with all that time. Shoes and guitars covered in multi-colored buttons of all shapes and sizes followed, and so did several photo frames, a few caskets, and a button-covered hearse.
The self-proclaimed “Button King” continues to add to his collection, and, can be often found roaming around his proud collection, wearing one of the suits from his ‘private’ wardrobe.
Stevens has appeared on a few TV shows, and, he also records music about you-know-what.
2. Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden, Bishopville
On a mission to defy the popular notion that African American’s weren’t so good at keeping up their gardens, Pearl Fryer began creating his Topiary Garden after acquiring his first yard in 1961.
With no professional training in gardening, Pearl taught himself the basics of the business, and, against all advice, continues to grow his beloved garden without pesticides and other chemicals. Over the years, his once-simple garden grew to be home to over 300 skillfully crafted topiaries.
Till date, you can find him trimming and caring for his plants, and, he loves educating visitors, especially children, on what he does and his positive attitude towards life.
3. Old Sheldon Church Ruins, Yemassee
Constructed around the 1700s, what now stands as the Old Sheldon Church Ruins was once a part of Prince Williams’ Parish Church. Soon after the Church was built, it was damaged by the British who were fighting the Revolutionary War at the time. But, as fate would have it, the story of misery didn’t end there.
The destroyed remnants stayed deserted until 1826 when it was ultimately rebuilt. However, yet again, the Church’s glory was short-lived.
General Sherman and his troops, during their march through South Carolina, thought it best for the Old Sheldon Church to go back to its previous state of abandonment and destruction, and, hence, they torched it!
After running out on its second chance, the Church ruins were left as is, and, today, they are covered in beautiful oaks and ancient graves.
4. Mars Bluff Crater, Florence
Could you possibly imagine a Mark 6 bomb dropped on your head from nowhere? Well, if the bomb went off, unfortunately, there won’t be much left to your imagination. However, if you are as lucky as Walter Gregg of Horry County, Florence, you will live to talk about it!
It may not be a widely known fact, but, Americans had a hard time keeping their nuclear bombs in the air during transportation. While some were misplaced and some never found, two of the bombs were unintentionally dropped on the American soil.
Sometime during the spring of 1958, amidst the Cold War, a B-47 was carrying the said “package” to the UK’s “Operation Snow Flurry,” when the unexpected event took place – lack of safety measures combined with carelessness resulted in the pressing of the ‘emergency release pin’, and, thus, the Mark 6 made its way to Gregg’s garden. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured.
Eventually, Gregg received $54,000 to rebuild his garden and made friends with the pilots of the B-47.
5. Stumphouse Tunnel, Walhalla
In the 1800’s, digging a tunnel through a mountain seemed to be a better, easier way of diverting railroad traffic. However, what the Stumphouse Tunnel project planners didn’t know is that it cost a fortune!
Initially planned by the residents of Charleston, the Stumphouse Tunnel was to serve as an alternative passage to divert trains that couldn’t pass the Ohio River. But, after spending over a million dollars, the South Carolina Government realized that they couldn’t spend anymore, and thus, put a stop to the construction.
The tunnel stood stranded for most of the 20th century, however, thanks to its stable temperature, Clemson University decided to use the passageway for blue cheese farming.
At present, approximately 1,700 of the remaining tunnel has been retained as a public park, and, is open to visitors – if you don’t mind the “bat communities” living in them, that is.
6. Poinsett Bridge, Travelers Rest
An aging, bucolic beauty, the Poinsett Bridge was built in 1820 and is named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, a notable SC resident. Not only is it regarded as the oldest of its kind in the state, but, some claim that the bridge may even be the first to have been built in the entire southeastern part of the United States.
The Bridge was constructed as a section of a street from Columbia to Saluda Mountains and was meant to provide easy access to the nearby states of North Carolina and Tennessee. Constructed out of stone, Poinsett Bridge stretches 130 feet across Little Gap Creek, and, features a 14-foot-high Gothic archway.
All things aside, the most interesting factor about the Bridge is that no one really knows who built it (though claims have been made about the possible creator of this brilliant piece of architecture – some say it’s Robert Mills who created the Washington Monument).
7. God’s Acre Healing Springs, Blackville
The world is God’s divine creation, and, all human beings are his beloved children. But, in the town of Blackville, South Carolina, God owns a specific piece of land, which, presumably, produces water that has unbelievable healing properties!
Despite the name being a euphemism for a graveyard, God’s Acre Healing Springs is a natural spring that dates back to the Revolutionary War (or before).
As the legend goes, some Native Americans, living in the area during the war, found a bunch of gravely wounded British soldiers wandering in the forests, and, took them to the Springs. The soldiers were made to drink from the Healing Springs, and, as the story concludes, they walked back into their camps six months later, healthy and alive.
All the previous owners of the land have capitalized on the story, but, it was in 1944, that the land was finally deeded to God by the last owner.
8. Oyotunji African Village, Seabrook
Established in the 1970s by King Oba I (born in Michigan and named Walter Eugene King at the time of his birth), an African American who gained priesthood of the Yoruba religion, Oyotunji African Village is the oldest of its kind in North America.
Built over 27 acres of land, the village is named after the Oyo empire, and, has a traditional Yoruba Temple which was transported here from New York in 1960.
Oyotunji residents live a humble life, and, follow customs and practices of the Yoruba and Fon religion. The village comprises Afin, the royal palace where King Oba II lives with his family, many sanctuaries, courtyards, and a traditional African bazaar that sells conventional African handicrafts.
9. UFO Welcome Center, Bowman
It is a known fact that we, the earthlings, are a bunch of warm and welcoming species. To take this hospitable attitude to a whole new level, Jody Pendarvis has created a homemade welcome center for – ALIENS!
Constructed out of metal, scrap wood, and other junk materials, the two silver UFO Welcome Centres sit behind a metal fence and are equipped with amenities such as air conditioning, television, restrooms, and shower facility. The smaller “room” sits atop the lower, larger saucer without any connecting bolts.
While our E.T friends haven’t visited the home yet, Pendarvis happily welcomes human visitors inside his masterpiece (chargeable to humans, free for aliens).
10. Tunnelvision, Columbia
A masterpiece as psychedelic as its’ creator’s name, Tunnelvision, by Blue Sky, is a mural that represents a road to the other side of the world. Inspired by the artist’s random dream of a giant portal to ‘Lord knows where’, the enormous wall painting, at the size of 50 X 75 feet, is located in a parking lot at Columbia’s Marian Street.
The life-like painting creates an optical illusion of depth (the tromp l’oeil effect), and, has a moon which is large enough for a car to drive through it. Sky, also known for his equally astonishing artworks such as Neverbust Chain and Busted Plug Plaza, still maintains and repaints the wall periodically.
Thankfully, the almost-real tunnel hasn’t claimed any car crashes yet, but, there have been many close calls.
11. Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve, Kershaw
Perhaps one of the only places in South Carolina which aren’t tourist-friendly, the Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve is named after a massive chunk of granite rock which is technically FOURTEEN acres in size!
Nonetheless, the Forty Acre Rock is a distinguished example of a granite outcropping in the Piedmont. While this particular rock is preserved by the park officials and the state, several others are mined for their supreme-quality granite, South Carolina’s official rock.
The enormous standing granite is home to several uncommon plant species such as diminutive amphianthus and Puck’s orpine. It is due to this fragile ecosystem which exists on the rock that the state does not promote tourism in this part of the Preserve.
While you could explore the area during the day, carry your own food and water supplies, and, bear in mind that there are absolutely no facilities available in the area.
12. St. Helena Parish Chapel of Ease Ruins, Saint Helena Island
Not as imposing as the Old Sheldon Church Ruins, the Chapel of Ease was constructed to provide ‘ease’ of accessibility to the residents of the area, who found it difficult to attend the Sunday services at the St. Helena Parish (apparently, it was too far).
Constructed using the ‘tabby method’ that combined oyster shells, lime, and sand to create a concrete mixture, the Chapel of Ease was, ironically, built by whites and their ‘workers’, using a building technique from Spain, when the country was ruled by the Africans!
Though the structure was majorly destroyed in a forest fire during the late 19th century, singing and whispering prayers have been reported from the Chapel ruins and the encompassing woods.
13. Landsford Canal, Fort Lawn
Amidst the dramatic beauty of Landsford Canal State Park is the Landscape Canal, opened in 1823, intended to serve as a parallel navigation channel for commercial and personal travel away from the rapids along the Catawba River.
Named after the early settler who owned the property, Thomas Land, the ‘canal with three locks’ and the lock keeper’s house are the primary attractions within the State Park.
Several years since then, Landsford Canal may not serve as a channel anymore, however, the ruins of this iconic landmark are very well-conserved, and, have many designated walking trails around it.
Come mid-May to early June, a huge population of one of the rarest kind of lilies, the Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies, bloom surrounding the rocks on the shallow sections of the river.
14. Gullah Heritage Trail, Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island, on the Atlantic Coast of South Carolina, is home to a language and culture that may have been forgotten in the American history, but, continues to thrive in this small part of the “Gullah Geechee Corridor” that runs along Charleston, South Carolina, to Savannah, Georgia.
Descendants of the West African slaves that once lived on the remote islands, Gullahs have their own language which is a combination of English language with phrases from various West African dialects.
Fortunately for the Gullahs, their remoteness from mainland America has helped them preserve their culture and language, though some from the new generations may have adapted to the country’s culture.
Despite the history and distance, the community happily accepts tourists, and, are glad to share their stories with anyone interested.
15. Folly Boat, Folly Beach
What Hugo brought in, Irma took away. Well! Almost.
No one knows where it came from and anybody is yet to claim ownership, nonetheless, Folly Boat, once a forgotten wreck, is a beloved landmark of the surrounding beach town.
Washed ashore by hurricane Hugo in 1989, Folly is not only the beach’s pioneer but also a favorite pastime. Although vandalism is illegal, Folly Boat has witnessed baseless doodles, wedding proposals, testaments of young love, and even business advertisements, and, no one seems to object. Painting Folly has become a ritual.
After several unsuccessful attempts at finding the vessel’s owner, Folly Beach has warm-heartedly accepted Folly Boat into their lives, and, continue to show their love for the aging structure. So much so, that when hurricane Irma tried to claim the boat in 2017, locals fought her and brought Folly back to where it belonged – amidst the love and care of the residents of Folly Beach.
16. Dorchester, Summerville
Dorchester, in Summerville, SC, was the state’s third settlement, and, by 1770, it boasted forty residential properties, a Church, a fort, a school, and a library. But, today, all that remains are the relics of an abandoned township that once prospered with life.
The town was named after the city in England, and, the Church was its first established structure; the rest of the constructions followed after.
The number of inhabitants in the village reduced before the Revolutionary War, and, by the early 1800s, there was barely anything substantial left in the town. A fort, built by local slaves to store gunpowder, still stands.
Now a part of a state park, Dorchester has an unremarkable building that stores a few displays from the flourishing town that it once was.
17. HL Hunley Submarine, North Charleston
Almost everyone is familiar with the treacherous history of American Civil War aka the Union War. However, what many of us didn’t know (and are still unclear about) is how did H.L. Hunley, the first ever submarine to have actually destroyed an enemy ship, the USS Housatonic, sink and disappear from the face of the earth!
While her whereabouts have been identified, and, she has been recovered from underneath Charleston Harbor, the reason for Hunley’s disappearance still remains unidentified.
Strangely, Hunley is known to have drowned twice during her test trials, killing thirteen of her passengers between the two accidents, including her maker Horace Hunley.
Her discovery in 1995 (she disappeared in 1863) within proximity of where USS Housatonic was hit, along with subsequent research and observation, point towards a possible explanation that Hunley may have been too close to the enemy ship during the attack, and, the counter effects of her extended torpedo may have resulted in her own damage.
18. Tiny Town, Easley
A token of love and affection at first, the Tiny Town of Easley is now a full-fledged, if not somewhat altered, tourist attraction which is managed by children of the original makers, Perry and Ollie Jennings.
Ollie always dreamt of living in a log cabin, but, she knew it was highly unlikely to come true. So, to cheer her up and give her something similar, Perry built her a small replica that resembled the log cabin she often talked about. The structure made the couple so happy that the construction continued, eventually resulting in both Jennings to work on it together.
By 1977, Christmas lights were added and more buildings were erected within the miniature township.
When the Jennings passed away in 2009 (after 35 years of when the project first started), there were a total of 80 edifices which made up the Tiny Town of Easley.
All but 25 of the original structures are gone, some have been altered, and a few larger, brighter displays have been added by the Jennings children.
19. Old Charleston City Jail, Charleston
The City Jail was first constructed in 1802, and, served Charleston from 1803 till 1939. While the original front interiors still stand as a memory to the times gone by, the arched façade and the Octagon were added during its renovation in 1855.
The prison officials and the “nicest” of the convicts occupied the ground floor, minor offenders stayed at the second, and, murderers and thieves remained on the top floor. While some of the serious offenders were hanged to death here, most inmates perished due to natural causes.
The prison also served several offenders during the Union War.
An earthquake in 1886 damaged many sections of the City Jail. Eventually, in 1939, after over a century of operation, the Charleston City Jail was shut down.
It now belongs to the American College of the Building Arts and serves as a learning tool for America’s future architects.
20. Kazoo Museum, Beaufort
Kazoo, a small, underrated musical instrument, was first developed in the 1840s by Alabama Vest, an African American, and, Thaddeus Von Clegg, an American-German clockmaker, who presented their discovery in 1852 at the Georgia State Fair. They liked to call it the “Down South Submarine.”
Although known as the Kazoo Museum, and named so as a commemoration to the instrument, some of the submissive kazoos rest at the very bottom of a demonstration that isn’t even a part of the main exhibition.
The Museum was established by Rick Hubbard and Gale Andrus in 2007, and, houses over 200 exclusive kazoo-related items on display. There are cartoon kazoos, electric kazoos, and grandpa kazoos (over a century old).
21. Sassafras Mountain, Sunset
The peak of Sassafras Mountain, the highest point in the state, was once owned by an energy company who didn’t have any significant plans for the area and left it unattended for visitors to stroll around. The abandoned site, at a height of 3,533 feet above sea level, had no pathways or signposts, and, was extremely difficult to navigate.
Ultimately, in 2004, the company owners decided to sell the land to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, who started an improvement project on this otherwise picturesque and extremely scenic summit.
The land now has a paved trail, a plaque, proper signage, and even a segment that looks over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Donations are needed and welcomed for Department’s upcoming project of building an observation tower which would overlook four surrounding states at once. You could oblige and get a custom engraved brick that will be added to the tower’s base.
22. Busted Plug Plaza, Columbia
Blue Sky, born as Warren Edward Johnson, isn’t unknown to the South Carolina’s quirky art installations. In fact, he majorly contributes to keeping the streets of his town, Columbia, eccentric and fascinating.
Busted Plug Plaza, an installation by the artist, shares the same parking lot as the Tunnelvision (another masterpiece by Blue Sky) and is regarded as the largest fire hydrant in the world. That’s not all though. Blue Sky also claims that his ‘fire hydrant’ is hurricane-proof!
While the latter hasn’t been tested yet, the former definitely makes sense. Where else in the world could you find a fire hydrant 40-feet tall and 675,000-pound heavy?
Adding humor to the piece, the artist has made the hydrant look like it has been knocked lop-sided by an equally huge, imaginary vehicle. A gentle spout of water sprays from the bottom of the fire hydrant at all times.
23. King Neptune Sundial, Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island, located slightly off the coast of South Carolina, seems to be home to quite a few exclusive attractions, first of which is the Gullah community, and, second, one of the largest figurative sundials in the world.
Home to many hotels, beach resorts, and golf courses, the Island is a part of South Carolina’s Lowcountry. It is also where King Neptune, at 12-feet high, stands with his trident over a timepiece that has a 26-foot diameter base.
Reportedly, the King and his faithful trident have been telling time to the state’s residents since 1983. Cast and established by Wayne Edwards, a sculptor and a local artist, Neptune assures to stay alert at his job for as long as the sun shines in South Carolina.
24. Peachoid, Gaffney
South Carolina may be the ‘peach capital of the world,’ but, the tiny town of Gaffney is undeniably the state’s peach capital. If not for its abundance of the namesake fruit, then for the giant Peachoid that, at a height of 135 feet, stands alongside Interstate 85.
Ideally, just another water tower, the Peachoid is perhaps the town’s crown jewel for it not only attracts several passersby to halt but has also made an appearance in a popular TV series, House of Cards (chapter 3 – just in case you wondered).
The gigantic peach was constructed in 1981, and, needed ten million pounds of concrete and fifty gallons of paint to be completed. Today, the mammoth sphere contains one million gallons of water.
25. Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum, Myrtle Beach
Despite its controversial name, Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum has a history that is noble and historic. A product of the 1900’s segregation between the whites and the African Americans, the School was established to provide an actual educational environment to the African American children in the area.
Operational from 1923 to 1958, the Myrtle Beach Colored School was equipped with the basic necessities and space that the students needed to flourish. The four-room school only held classes till 8th standard.
The abolition of the discrimination in the 50s eventually left the school abandoned, and, it wasn’t until plans were made to tear down the construction that a group of actual former students prohibited the demolition, and, transformed the deserted school into a museum depicting the significance that it once held.
Visitors can see one of the original classrooms along with old photographs and news clippings on the schoolhouses’ short-lived yet honorable past.
26. Unitarian Church Cemetery, Charleston
Where there is a spark, there is fire. And, where there is a Cemetery, there are hauntings – especially, if it’s on the grounds of a Church which was originally built over two centuries ago!
Located in Charleston, South Carolina, Unitary Church is regarded as the second oldest of its kind (St. Michael’s Episcopal Church is the first), and, was initially constructed in 1772. While the pathways leading to the church (it was rebuilt in 1854) remain well-maintained, the churchyard, however, has been claimed by the ever-growing population of trees, shrubs, and vines around the area.
Reportedly, the Church Cemetery appears in one of Edgar Allen Poe’s poems, Annabel Lee. Annabel, along with her father, lived in the town before the Civil War. When her father found out about her love affair with a sailor, he locked Annabel in her room for many months, and, the sailor eventually moved to Virginia. Sometime later, poor Annabel died of yellow fever (though most claim she died of a broken heart). The sailor returned to Charleston, only to never find the final resting place of his beloved, who had been buried under an unmarked site by the heartless father.