Less Traveled 2012

Ernie Wiggins



Go hiking, canoeing and see S.C.'s tallest beech tree at Kalmia Gardens

Posted 1/23/2012 2:56:00 PM

Kalmia Gardens of Coker College boasts the tallest recorded American Beech in South Carolina. Recognized in 2004, the champion tree -- which at the time was about 15 feet around and 80 feet tall -- is a silent sentry near the entrance to the house and gardens, 35-acres of botanical splendor on a former 19th-century plantation in Hartsville. The Gardens are on the National Register of Historic Places and were first opened to the public in 1935. They can be toured from dusk to dawn year-round.

Once a private residence, the house -- which was built in 1820 by Thomas E. Hart after whom the town was named -- was given to Coker College in 1965 by the Coker family. The Cokers had acquired the property in 1932, and Miss May Coker created the trails that course through the property. Once completed, the gates were opened and the public invited in.

Rhododendrons, azaleas, dogwoods are abundant in the gardens, along with camellias and mountain laurel, the kalmia after which the gardens are named. Hikers are welcome to explore the six miles of trails that run along Black Creek and connect with neighboring Segars-McKinnon Heritage Preserve. Canoes are available for visitors wishing to explore the creek.

Kalmia Gardens is located at 1624 W.Carolina Ave. and is part of the South Carolina Cotton Trail, a 90-mile area between Interstates 95 and 20. Hartsville is one of seven highlighted sites along the historic trail, which recounts South Carolina’s rich and complex relationship with King Cotton. In addition to Hartsville, the Cotton Trail tour includes Bishopville, Bennettsville, Cheraw, Clio, Darlington and Society Hill.

Indian Field campground has storied history

Posted 12/17/2011 10:14:00 AM

Indian Field Methodist Campground outside St. George in Dorchester County is the state’s largest Methodist campground, and its history stretches back to the evangelical revival movement that swept cross America in the early 1800s. Historians describe those early camp meetings as filled with stirring preaching, rousing congregational singing and emotional testimonials. It isn’t difficult to imagine all of that while standing in middle of the pavilion.

The campground was built in 1848 (restored in 1970) and features 99 wooden two-story cabins (called tents) in a circle around a large wooden, open-air pavilion (tabernacle) where people gathered to hear the preaching from circuit evangelists. Though the camp is now wired with electricity, historians say it is basically just as it was when first built. The tents are all similarly designed with two 8 x 10 rooms on the first floor connected by an open passageway running from the front to the rear. On the first floor, the bare ground is covered with straw. In the larger tents, additional sleeping quarters are on the second floor. Privies, one for each cabin, are set a little distance from the tents, across a paved road that encircles the camp. Large wood-burning stoves at the rear of the cabins are used to prepare meals.

According to the J. Gavin Appleby’s “History of Indian Field Campground,” the design of the campground was taken from the Book of Leviticus in the Bible. In there, dwellings were called tents, though made of wood, and the meeting house was called the tabernacle. A horn was blown to summon members to service.

Annual camp meetings have been held at Indian Field since 1848 except during the Civil War, when abbreviated meetings were held. Indian Field is located about 3 miles north of St. George off of U.S. 78.

Small Town Spotlight: St. George

Posted 12/17/2011 9:53:00 AM

The good folks in St. George believe in the old real estate phrase: “Location, location, location.” They are positioning their quiet little town as the perfect stopover for weary travelers.

“Reflect, Relax, Recharge and Return” is the message being sent to visitors to the Dorchester County city that lies just a short distance from busy roadways carrying motorists to Beaufort and Charleston and other major S.C. vacation spots.

As the city’s website declares: “We Welcome You to St. George, South Carolina, the Best Place to Rest, right off of I-95 and I-26. Rest, Relax and Get Refreshed. … You're going to enjoy your stay with us!”

The city’s Visitor and Information Center is housed in the beautifully restored Klauber Building, 225 Parler Ave., which also is home to the town museum and the regional chamber of commerce.

St. George might be best known as the site of the annual Grits Festival held in April, but it also is richly historical. The Klauber Building itself dates back to the 1890s and was built by Judge Leopold Klauber as a mercantile store. Other significant historical structures include the late 18th-century Appleby Congregationalist Church building on U.S. 78, the Koger House on Wire Road, which is the oldest private residence in Dorchester County, and the Indian Field Campground, a rustic Methodist camp meeting site built in 1848.

Back at the Klauber Building, visitors will find answers to their rest and recreation questions at the center’s new Heritage Corridor kiosk. The interactive touch screen kiosk provides information on the state’s varied landscape, rich cultural and historical offerings, and restaurants and accommodations along the Heritage Corridor.

Colonial Dorchester steeped in history

Posted 12/1/2011 4:50:00 PM

A brisk fall day is an especially good time to walk the historical grounds of Colonial Dorchester in Summerville.

Though the park’s treasured ruins of old churches and a colonial fort date back to the 17th century, bright sunshine and cool temperatures seem to bring them and the surrounding woods to life.

The open fields of the 325-acre park stretching out from the entrance to the Ashley River are a bit greener; the majestic trees, though shedding their leaves, are more welcoming, and the cool air carries the call of songbirds a bit further. It’s easy to imagine the village bustling with life during market days in October.

Colonial Dorchester was founded as a market village 20 miles up the Ashley River from Charleston. It never became very big, but Dorchester merchants sold the produce and wares of area farmers and craftsmen as well as items imported from abroad. That made it vitally important to the social and economic development of that part of the lowcountry, historians say.

The settlement was abuzz weekly on market day, and four-day fairs were held in the village green each April and October. The town prospered for nearly 100 years (1697 through the Revolutionary War). An Anglican Church was built in 1720, and the remains of the parish’s brick bell tower, which was added in 1751, are still standing. During the Revolutionary War, the town was an outpost for both American and British troops, though not at the same time.

Archaeologists continue to find remnants of the early settlement, and visitors are
welcome to observe and participate in digs when the excavations are under way. The park has interpretive trails and a picnic area.

The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The park’s office is open from 11 to noon. Admission is $2 for adults, $1.25 for South Carolina seniors, and free fro visitors 15 and younger.

Small Town Spotlight: Chester

Posted 11/26/2011 12:27:00 PM

It’s been nearly 30 years since Holllywood came calling on the Olde English District town of Chester, originally the village of Chesterville.

Television producers brought lights, cameras and lots of action to Chester -- along with big name actors like Charlton Heston and Billy Dee Williams -- in 1983 to film the TV miniseries Chiefs.

Historian Ron Chepesiuk wrote in The South Carolina Encyclopedia that the motion picture production boosted the local economy, which like many communities in the South was going through some tough times. The program, which centered on three generations of police chiefs investigating a series of murders in a southern town, was broadcast in November of that year and was later nominated for a few awards.

All of that TV limelight did not spoil Chester’s considerable charm, however. The quiet town is still a history buff’s dream -- from Monument Square, “the heart of the city,” at the top of the Hill to the business district down in the Valley. The Chester County Historical Society dates most of the structures downtown to between 1870 and 1900, description of which are included in the society’s walking tour booklet.

One of the city’s more interesting, or peculiar items in the Monument Square courtyard is the Aaron Burr Rock, the monument for which was erected in 1938. “After Aaron Burr’s arrest on the charge of treason for trying to found a Republic West of the Mississippi, he was brought as a prisoner through Chesterville in 1806. He briefly escaped his captors and here on the town hill and made a plea for help to the citizens of Chester as he stood on the rock,” according to the walking tour booklet.

The former vice president of the United States was returned to his horse and led out of town and eventually acquitted of the treason charges.