By Jason Barnette
From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, early railroads and a miniature gold rush, to historic homes and museums, there is a lot of history to explore in the Old 96 District. But, the exploration is more than just artifacts safely tucked away behind a pane of glass in a museum – here, you can walk the trails, tour the rooms, and sit amid history. It’s an exciting reason to visit Old 96 District – and this list will help you plan the best weekend getaway to experience it all.
Note: This itinerary is best explored on Friday and Saturday. Most of these local museums are closed Sunday – Wednesday, and only a few are open on Thursday. So take advantage of a long weekend for the best history experience in the Old 96 District.
Begin the first day exploring the Battle of Musgrove Mill State Historic Site just off Interstate 26, and then continue through the small towns of Clinton and Laurens. Enjoy a scenic drive along U.S. Highway 221 into Greenwood, where you’ll explore a couple of historic sites before calling it a day. Get something to eat, settle down for the night at a comfy boutique hotel, and rest up for the next day.
Battle of Musgrove Mill State Historic Site
On August 18, 1780, a small group of Patriots under the command of Colonel Isaac Shelby and Colonel Elijah Clarke were moving through the South Carolina countryside to attack a nearby British fort. However, they only made it as far as Horseshoe Falls near the Enoree River before being discovered by redcoat sentries.
Outnumbered and outgunned, Shelby and Clarke quickly improvised a plan to lure the British into battle on their terms. Captain Shadrack Inman led 25 men across the Enoree River to fake an attack and then strategically retreat with the full British force closely behind. The resulting battle left nearly half the British soldiers dead, wounded, or captured. In comparison, only four Patriots were killed in action and seven wounded.
Begin at the visitor center, where you’ll learn the battle details and pick up a park map. Go for a hike along the British Trail that winds through the area where the British camped before the battle. Drive across the river to a small parking area and go for a hike to Horseshoe Falls, a small waterfall above the Enoree River. The Battlefield Trail loops through a large field where a portion of the battle took place.
Laurens County Museum
The Laurens County Museum is dedicated to telling the county’s history – formed in 1785 – including the Revolutionary War that played a big part in early local history. Located downtown, the museum has three facilities: the original museum, the Witherspoon Building, and the Library and Museum of Revolutionary War History.
Lunch in Laurens
Get a table at Roma – an Italian restaurant that has operated in downtown Laurens for almost twenty years – and enjoy a delicious meal before leaving town. If you need a caffeine boost, The Coffee Roost brews great coffee to take on the road.
Ninety Six National Historic Site
The only National Park Service site in the Old 96 District – and one of only a few in the state – Ninety Six National Historic Site preserves and interprets the grounds of the Star Fort and pivotal battles during the Revolutionary War.
The visitor center features a small museum and an impressive movie retelling the history of the two battles to happen on the property. The 1-mile Historic Interpretive Trail – paved and easy to walk – leads visitors to the recreated Stockade Fort, the original 1781 Star Fort, and the original site of the town of Ninety Six.
Dr. Benjamin Mays Historic Preservation Site
Dr. Benjamin E. Mays was one of the most pivotal leaders of the Civil Rights movement in South Carolina. At one point, he served as a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2011, the historic preservation site was established in Greenwood on the grounds of the former Brewer Hospital – a segregated hospital in the early 1900s.
Visitors to the historic preservation site can visit the childhood home of Mays, purchased and moved to the site in the early 2000s. Meticulously restored, the log home portrays what life was like for a young Mays growing up in South Carolina. The visitor center contains books, photographs, and artifacts from throughout Mays’ life.
237 North Hospital Street, Greenwood, SC | 864-223-8434 | www.mayshousemuseum.org/menus/dr-benjamin-e-mays-historic-preservation.html
Dinner in Greenwood
You will never go hungry from a lack of options in Greenwood. Get your BBQ fix at The Carolina Tavern, Fat Daddy’s BBQ, or Little Pigs BBQ Restaurant. Order a brick oven-baked pizza at The Mill House and then walk next door to Good Times Brewery to sample their craft beer. Kicker’s Takeout offers savory food in a hole-in-the-wall setting – perfect for lunch – or you could try Polo’s Restaurant for a more charming sit-down atmosphere.
Where to Stay in Greenwood
Inn on the Square is a charming boutique hotel just minutes from downtown Greenwood. The hotel features comfortable rooms with views of downtown or private rooms in an adjacent building. Made-to-order breakfast is served every morning, and their Sunday brunch draws visitors from miles away.
The second day begins with a full exploration of museums and historic sites in Greenwood before hitting the road toward Abbeville. After touring a couple of house museums and getting lunch at a local restaurant, enjoy a long drive along two-lane roads through McCormick to Edgefield.
The Greenwood Museum
Locally called The Museum, this fascinating general history museum expands on the life of Greenwood from early settlement to modern times. The first floor of the museum features a rotating exhibit section, several alcoves resembling the historical businesses of the city, and hundreds of interesting artifacts to explore.
The Railroad Historical Center
Like many towns that flourished in the early 1900s, Greenwood was a railroad town. The Railroad Historic Center, located inside an old train depot, preserves history with a small museum, nearly a dozen railroad cars to explore, and guided tours.
Take a guided tour to explore the railroad cars and learn about early passenger cars, freight service, and what it was like to work aboard those early trains. Visit an engine, dining car, and caboose during the tour with knowledgeable guides.
On May 2, 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis held the last meeting with his cabinet. Facing the men in the historic mansion – built in the 1830s by lawyer and planter David Lesley – Davis admitted the War Between the States had been lost.
This is only one of the stories the historic mansion can tell. Gorgeous architecture, antique furnishings, and intriguing artifacts fill the house. Visitors can freely stroll the grounds or pay an admission fee to join one of the guided tours to learn more about the long history of the home and the moments it played in Southern history.
400 North Main Street, Abbeville, SC | 864-366-0166 | www.burtstark.com
The impressive McGown-Barksdale-Bundy House is the architectural gem of the town and home of the Abbeville County Historical Society. Built in 1888, the Queen Anne-style home features four floors – three of them open to the public.
During a visit, take a guided tour of the house to learn the history of Confederate General Samuel McGowan and General William Barksdale, a WWII veteran. Tours include a lively narration of the history, construction of the home, and local history. Outside, the tour also includes the three servant cabins and Heritage Gardens.
Lunch in Abbeville
The Village Grill is one of the most popular places in town – comfortable booths and fantastic food made with local ingredients are a sure win. At Indigenous Underground, patrons can enjoy savory meals, cocktails, and desserts whipped up by Chef Trudy. The Rough House proudly boasts, “Hot dogs are the reason we’ve been in business for eighty-nine years!” The small hole-in-the-wall eatery on Court Square is a great place for a quick meal.
Dorn’s Grist Mill
Built in the late 1800s as a cottonseed mill, Dorn’s Grist Mill was later converted into a flour and grist mill and operated until the mid-1900s. Located alongside the railroad tracks in McCormick, the gorgeous brick structures are open to the public during special events and some weekends.
Inside, visitors will find many of the original machines completely intact – although they may no longer be functional. In a fascinating walk-through of early textile history, wooden boardwalks cross the brick buildings from one production area to another.
206 North Main Street, McCormick, SC
Joanne T. Rainsford Discovery Center
Located inside an 1840 plantation house moved to the site in the early 2000s, the Joanne T. Rainsford Discovery Center features a comprehensive museum detailing the history of Edgefield County. Owned and operated by the Edgefield County Historical Society, the plantation house is also home to the William Miller Bouknight Theatre, where the Main Street Players perform throughout the year.
Magnolia Dale House Museum
Another site operated by the Edgefield County Historical Society, the Magnolia Dale House Museum, is an impressive place to visit. Built in 1843 as a plantation house, guided tours are offered by appointment and cover most of the house’s interior spaces. In addition, visitors are welcome to explore the grounds of the house on their own time, located at the edge of downtown.
Horn’s Creek Church Museum
The third site operated by the Edgefield County Historical Society, Horn’s Creek Church Museum, is located inside a church built in 1784, one of the oldest churches in South Carolina’s backcountry. Open by appointment only, guided tours of the restored church, caretaker’s cottage, and grounds are given.
Oakley Park Museum
Built by Virginia native Captain Daniel Bird, Jr. shortly after the Revolutionary War, the Oakley Park Museum is a gorgeous example of early American architecture. Owned by a private non-profit organization, guided tours are offered to visitors by appointment. During the tours, visitors will learn the history of the plantation and study the house’s architecture.
Did you know there is more than one type of wild turkey? The Winchester Museum – located at the headquarters of the National Wild Turkey Federation – expands on the knowledge of wild turkeys while also touching on the history of hunting and conservation. The mission of the non-profit plays a big role in the museum that is open to the public during normal business hours.
535 Gary Hill Road, Edgefield, SC | 803-637-7480 | www.nwtf.org/about/hunting-heritage-center/wild-turkey-center
Jason Barnette knew at age 12 when his mother bought him a typewriter he would love writing stories. His first story was about Star Trek and he has been writing ever since then. He enjoys crafting a story with details and intrigue that inspire people to visit a destination. He sprinkles in a bit of history, adds a list of things to do, and gives the reader an amazing experience. Road Trips & Coffee is his main avenue for sharing his thoughts. #GoForaDrive is his handle!