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May 19, 2018

Clare and I enjoy driving along the back roads through the country when we travel. Leaving the four-lane interstate highways and passing through small towns give us an opportunity to slow our pace, talk with each other, and enjoy local lore. We took a pleasant jaunt down South Carolina Highway 261, the oldest route in the Midlands.

The road is named King’s Highway because it spurred off the 1300-mile trek between Boston, Massachusetts, and Charleston, South Carolina. Originally a Catawba Indian trail, the highway is located east of the Wateree River. In 1753 it became a public connector between Charleston and Camden. Also referred to as the Broad Road, the Great Road, or the Charleston Road, Highway 261 is a delight to travel.

Beginning near Boykin in Kershaw County, the old blue line road ends 117 miles south in Georgetown County.  The last Civil War battle in South Carolina, fought April 18, 1865, was waged at Boykin Mill. Located a few miles south of Camden, the unique village was named for William Boykin, who settled the town in 1755.  William’s son, Burwell, dammed Swift Creek in 1792, creating a 400-acre pond, which provided power to a grist and flour mill, as well as a sawmill. The Boykin family is also responsible for the breeding of the Boykin spaniel, the state dog of South Carolina.

Further along Highway 261, travelers pass the ruins of Home House Plantation, the summer home of General Thomas Sumter, a Revolutionary War hero. British General Cornwallis nicknamed Sumter, the Gamecock. General Sumter’s impressive monument marking his grave is nearby in a small public park.

High Hills Baptist Church, founded in 1772, is located near Stateburg. General Sumter granted a plot of land to the congregation. The church became influential under the leadership of Reverend Richard Furman, the pastor from 1774 to 1787.

Stateburg missed being selected the new capital by one vote when the state capital was moved from Charleston in 1786. According to tradition, the United States Military Academy, now at West Point, considered Stateburg for its location.

Just to the south in the High Hills of the Santee stands the historic Church of the Holy Cross, also known as the Holy Cross Episcopal Church. General Sumter donated the land on which the church was built. The remarkable structure is a notable example of Gothic Revival design, featuring a cruciform floor plan, corner towers, and pointed arches. The walls were constructed of pisé de terre or rammed earth.  Inside is the original Erben pipe organ, installed in 1851.

Joel Roberts Poinsett is among the many 19th century South Carolinians buried in its cemetery. A physician, statesman, and botanist, Poinsett served as the first American ambassador to Mexico. He brought us the familiar Christmas flower the poinsettia from that country.

Near Pinewood stands Millford, a two-story Greek revival mansion.  Nathaniel F. Potter of Providence, Rhode Island, built the home for John L. Manning, Governor of South Carolina from 1852 to 1854. It features six carved Corinthian columns and a spectacular circular staircase rising in a domed cylindrical chamber.

Union troops threatened the residence near the end of the Civil War. Their commander’s intervention, however, actually saved the plantation from destruction. The conversation between Brigadier General Edward E. Potter of New York and Governor Manning was recorded.

Potter: “This is a fine structure.”

Manning: “Well, the house was built by a Potter, Nathaniel Potter, and it looks as though it will be destroyed by a Potter.”

Potter: “No, you are protected. Nathaniel Potter was my brother.”

When General Potter spared Millford, he did not know that Manning had a copy of the Articles of Secession in a desk drawer.

Clare and I meandered through the quaint towns of Wedgefield, Pinewood, and Paxville. Along the way we noticed road signs with interesting names: Burnt Gin and Buttermilk.  The highway passes Poinsett State Park, travels through Manchester State Forest, and parallels the Palmetto Trail.

We continued our wanderings by making our way into the picturesque town of Manning, South Carolina. The owner of a hardware store gave me directions to McCabe’s Barbecue. “Look for all the pickup trucks parked outside. You can’t miss it.”

The McCabe family is known for pit-cooked barbecue that uses a simple vinegar-pepper sauce. The restaurant’s ample buffet features other good victuals from which to choose, including fried chicken, downhome vegetables, hash, and dirty rice.

Highway 261 continues to Kingstree, originally named Williamsburg and founded during colonial times. King George claimed as his own an unusually large pine tree found there along the Black River. Since tall pines were ideal for use as ship masts, the monarch’s arrow mark placed upon this tree prevented anyone from felling it. That tree, which was never cut, is the only one claimed by King George in the South.

Over time, the county kept the name Williamsburg, but the county seat became known as the King’s Tree, giving the town its name, Kingstree.

Clare and I usually take US 521 out of Manning, travel south through Greeleyville, a town having fewer than 400 residents, and continue into Salters, located in the middle of cotton country. By late summer and early fall, the cotton is high and the bolls are bursting with white. Two miles away is Cooper’s Country Store, owned by Adalyn and George Cooper.  The store peddles everything from whole country hams to shotguns.

Andrews, South Carolina, is actually the consolidation of two separate towns: Rosemary and Harpers Crossroads.  Those small towns were settled along the Georgetown and Western Railroad line, which started operation in 1886. Almost a decade later came the addition of a Seaboard Air Line Railroad route through the area and the building of a sizable maintenance shop.

In 1909, voters agreed to incorporate the two towns into a single community, which they named after Colonel Walter H. Andrews.  An employee of the Atlantic Coast Lumber Company, Andrews played an important role in the incorporation process and served as the mayor for two decades.  Musician Chubby Checker and comedian Chris Rock call Andrews home.

Our trip ended in Georgetown, the third oldest city in the state.  Located on Winyah Bay at the confluence of the Great Pee Dee, the Black, the Waccamaw, and the Sampit rivers, Georgetown is the second largest seaport in South Carolina. In the colonial period, large rice plantations were established on the rivers around the area. By the time of the Civil War, Georgetown was producing one-half of the total rice crop in the United States. The city was the largest rice-exporting port in the world. Wealth from Carolina Gold rice enabled planters to build stately homes, several of which are now preserved as historic treasures.

If you decide to follow this blue line route through the state, Clare suggests you travel during daylight. At night the road is dark, and the deer run rampant.

Be careful and enjoy the drive!

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