Every town has its story. Every state has its roots. One of the best parts about travel is the window we get into the destinations we visit. The places we experience, the people we meet and the food we eat give us a glimpse into that destination. My quick visit to the Olde English District in South Carolina opened my eyes to history and showed me how destinations are transforming to meet the demands of new visitors.
Where is the Olde English District of SC?
The Olde English District spans 7 counties in the North-Central area of South Carolina. I-77 cuts directly through the center of the district, but to see the heart of this area you’ll need to use the state highways and backroads. You will be treated to the landscape of the agricultural south and find small town gems along the way as you do. If you’re wondering why it’s called the Olde English District, consider the early settlement population of the mid 1770’s. There was a strong English contingency at the time, but as all things do; much has changed.
What to expect in the Olde English District
The diversity of the area lends itself to a number of ways to spend your visit, so if you camp or hike, there is plenty to keep you busy. There are some incredible dining options to keep your culinary interests alert and the brewery scene is spot on. There are places to stop to learn about and experience the history of the area including Revolutionary War history and Civil War history. Special events take place throughout the year as well and are a draw for many types of visitors.
When should you visit?
There is always something to do! This is the South, so summers are hot and winters are mild. But don’t let weather dictate your visit. I suspect the special events and the region’s offerings will give you an idea of when to travel. You may find yourself passing through with extra time. I highly recommend jumping off the interstate to grab a bite to eat and soak up some history.
My Recent Discovery of the Olde English District
In my most recent South Carolina travels, I spent several days in York County. It was December and the spotlight was on Christmas festivities. It never ceases to amaze me how little of my state I have seen. Even though South Carolina is small, she is mighty. Every time I’m given the opportunity to see more, the more I realize there is to experience. If you haven’t yet taken the time to Discover South Carolina, let this be the nudge you need.
Living History in York County
My first stop was to Historic Brattonsville where I had the pleasure of a private tour from site manager, Kevin Lynch. Kevin gave me a living history view of early South Carolina settlement and insight into the backcountry living of the 18th and 19th century. This historic site shows and teaches history from early settlement into the antebellum plantation era through the lens of one family. It was absolutely fascinating! The grounds are beautiful and offer nature trails beyond the historic buildings so give yourself a little extra time to stay outside longer.
Historic Rock Hill
In conjunction with the holiday festivities, Historic Rock Hill ran trolley tours throughout my stay. It was the perfect way to get my bearings and the story of the town. I learned the roots of Rock Hill came from the railroad that was awarded to the site in 1852. The town got its name from the rock hill that needed to be blasted out of the way for the railroad to be built.
As the trolley made its way through town I saw the transformations Rock Hill has taken over the years. There are special landmarks from when the 1961 Freedom Writers held a sit in at a local lunch counter mixed in with new developments of apartments in the urban center of town. These new developments are situated on top of original economic spots like Coca-Cola and Anderson cars that put Rock Hill on the map. I’m thoroughly impressed with the way Rock Hill has preserved history and paved the way for the future.
The Rock Hill of the Present and Future
Rock Hill is booming with growth and development. I enjoyed excellent culinary experiences and had fun checking out the local brewery scene and coffee shop spots. I have no doubt that if you have a child who plays year-round sports, you will find yourself in Rock Hill. Local developer Skip Tuttle has taken over the Bleachery property and installed an indoor sports arena that is supported by 13 other buildings that will house restaurants and shops.
Notable places not to miss include Kounter, located on Main Street, where the historic civil rights sit in occurred. They offer incredible fare and featured cocktails. The Flipside also located in the heart of downtown is a great option for finer dining that will flip your tastebuds. Old Town, located at the Bleachery property, is perfect for classic American food for lunch or dinner. Try the Farmer’s Salad! Three local breweries worth a pint are: SlowPlay, Rock Hill Brewing Company, and Dust Off Brewing Co.
Christmas in the Olde English District at ChristmasVille
Rock Hill sure does Christmas right! I filled most of my visit in December celebrating the Christmas season. I attended the opening ceremonies of ChristmasVille, a local annual tradition inspired by children’s illustrator Vernon Grant. Grant is most known for his Snap, Crackle and Pop illustrations on the Rice Krispies box. He is Rock Hill’s adopted son and that is evident especially during the holiday season. The entire town comes alive with charm and excitement. I also visited the craft market, I watched the lighting of the tree at Winthrop University, I marveled at the Christmas parade, and I even learned how to make a scented candle.
What else is happening in the Olde English District?
Chester County Highlights
Chester County has several water access points and state park activities for those who love the outdoors. Hike, fish, take a nature walk, shoot sporting clays and just relax outside! I don’t know about you, but my family is always looking for spots to step away from the daily life grind. Head to downtown Chester for antique shopping and lunch. You will find treasures of all kinds and fill your belly with bbq, burgers, or country cookin’.
Chesterfield County Highlights
When you find yourself on the way to Myrtle Beach, add a pin to your google maps for downtown Cheraw. Not only will you find this quaint town great for a bite to eat and some southern shopping-this is the hometown of the famous jazz artist Dizzy Gillespie! The cypress wetlands of Cheraw State Park are a refuge for outdoors lovers and if you have time for a round, check out the Tom Jackson designed 18 hole course along Juniper Lake.
Fairfield County Highlights
For the train lovers in your family, head to Winnsboro to the South Carolina Railroad Museum. Lake Wateree is the perfect summer destination where you can camp, boat, and fish to your heart’s content. Thrill seekers will love Carolina Adventure World for ATV and dirt bike experiences. For the more refined, make a reservation at Laura’s Tea Room in Ridgeway for an unforgettable afternoon. This area in the Olde English District is a hidden gem and unknown to even most South Carolina residents.
Kershaw County Highlights
I’ve covered this area in a previous post and still can’t say enough about it. I live quite close and so traveling to this part of the Olde English District is easy. The dining and shopping alone in the town of Camden make it worthwhile. When you add in the unbelievable tennis and pickleball complex with the stunning Goodale State Park and the war history, this is a spot not to be missed. It’s located right off I-20 so it’s a great excuse to stretch your legs and explore.
Lancaster County Highlights
Lancaster county is another hidden South Carolina gem well known for its art and nature, and the surprising way they can be combined together. Visit the Lindsay Pettus Greenway for a treat. Go on a hunt for galleries and seek out the collection of Catawba Indian pottery at the Native American Studies Center.
Union County Highlights
Union County is a gateway to the Upstate of South Carolina, known for Civil Rights history and the famous Midway BBQ. Have some fun watching the races at the Union County Dragway, too!
York County Highlights
Located just south of the sprawling metro of Charlotte, NC, York County is chock full of outdoor recreation as well as a vibrant restaurant and brewery scene. An absolute must is the living history site of Historic Brattonsville.
Special Events in the Olde English District of South Carolina
Check out these special events, spaced throughout the calendar year, that will no doubt draw you to travel to the Olde English District. These local festivities and treasures have really opened my eyes to all that South Carolina has to offer.
Many Saturdays from 10 am – 4 pm, Historic Brattonsville offers specialized programs showing daily life in an early settlement. These living history Saturdays focus on certain aspects like meat preservation, making soap, operating a cotton mill, and more. In December you can participate in Christmas candlelight tours with costumed interpreters sharing how the holidays were celebrated on an antebellum plantation. When you visit during the week, ask for a guide around the grounds to give you the history, not just of the time period, but of the family who settled there. It is incredible to be there and learn the history in a living history format.
MLK Blues Festival
For 30 years running, Chester, SC has held an annual blues festival in January to celebrate blues music and to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. For a calendar of several days of events including live music and philanthropy opportunities take a look at this.
Every year in April at the Springdale Racetrack is the annual Carolina Cup horse races in Camden, SC. This longstanding tradition of tailgates and spring fashion debuts is the the place to see and be seen. These nationally renowned steeplechase races are the official start to spring in South Carolina!
South Carolina Jazz Festival
Each October in the birth town of Dizzy Gillespie, Cheraw, SC puts on a jazz music extravaganza where jazz floats through the streets. For 3 days straight you can listen to this incredible music and let the rhythms soak into your soul.
As mentioned above, ChristmasVille is a special way to welcome in the holiday season. Rock Hill does it all right when it comes to Christmas. Each year the town comes alive with horse drawn carriage rides, concerts, a parade, historic tours, gingerbread house contests, and more.
Discover South Carolina and the Olde English District
I just can’t say enough about my visit to the Olde English District. The wide open spaces for outdoor fun, the special events, and the bustling towns throughout give anyone reason to visit. My two days were hardly enough to scratch the surface. I can’t wait to take my family back to experience the outdoor recreation spaces! South Carolina has so much to offer and some of the once sleepy towns are making their way to the horizon. Get out there y’all and visit the Olde English District and discover South Carolina for yourselves.