Abbeville, a South Carolina treasure
At the end a narrow brick street in South Carolina, the buildings on either side perfectly frame a tall, pink hued, gothic style, cathedral built just before the Civil War. It looks very much like a church you might find in South Carolina’s “Holy City” of Charleston, but Trinity Episcopal Church sits about 3 ½ hours away in the small town of Abbeville, a region in South Carolina known as the Old 96.
In downtown Abbeville, time seems to stand still. The paved roads leading into town turn to brick streets, slowing you down to enjoy the town’s charm and distinct character. Colorful buildings, many of which date back more than a hundred years, line up around the square including the Abbeville County Courthouse built in the early 1900’s.
In the center of the square, a monument honoring Confederate soldiers rises nearly as high as the trees lining the small park around it. The roots of the Confederacy run deep in Abbeville as the first votes for session happened here at a place now called Secession Hill. Abbeville is also the place the Confederacy is said to have died, as President Jefferson Davis held the final meeting of his War Council here.
Abbeville’s history, architecture, and Southern charm create a perfect environment for exploring. Whether you’re in town for a few hours or a few days, here are things to do during your time in Abbeville, South Carolina.
An Abbeville Welcome
Start a visit to Abbeville with a stop at the Visitors Center. It’s pretty easy to spot. Just look for the bright yellow building with black trim and scalloped shaped designs above the windows and shutters. Built in 1865, the former First Bank of South Carolina is one of the oldest buildings in town. While there aren’t many reminders of its days as a bank, the safe is still intact and remains a prominent feature inside, so be sure and take a peek. Lining the high walls of the main room, paintings from 1922 depict 100 years of Abbeville, SC history. Finally, if you’re in need of some directions or suggestions about what to do in Abbeville, just ask an Abbeville “Ambassador.” He or she will be more than happy to assist you.
One of the most striking buildings on the Abbeville Square hosts large crowds dozens of times throughout the year. The historic Opera House harkens back to the days when New York Stage shows would go on the road and make a stop in Abbeville. Like hundreds of theaters like it across the country, the Opera House was abandoned, but thanks to the dedication and perseverance of people throughout the community, the Opera House was brought back to life. Today theater goers continue performing there in front of packed houses making it one of the most popular attractions in Abbeville.
After a matinee at the Opera House or before an evening performance head over to the Rough House for some of the best hot dogs on the planet. Don’t expect anything fancy at the Rough House, things here are about as simple as it gets. Dark and weathered wooden floors line the eatery where a few tables and small booths make up the seating area. For those looking to pass a little time, there’s a pool hall in the back. Old pictures of baseball line the wall and the rough feel to the place creates a unique atmosphere.
A few bar stools line the counter where you order as you come in the door. Don’t ask for a menu, just look across the room at the giant chalkboard hanging over the entrance to the pool hall. There’s a limited number of items like hot dogs “all the way” with chili and onions or “sad” with nothing but a weenie and a bun.
You can’t get fountain drinks here, just soft drinks from the cooler over next to the booths or order up one of more than a dozen different beers. My first bite of the hot dog instantly transported me back to my childhood when we would order hot dogs while visiting the Carter Fold (music venue) near Hiltons, VA, and that’s really saying something as the hot dogs there were “famous.”
Shop until you drop
Just a block or two from the town square you’ll find Breezy Quarters, Soap and Bath Factory. The owner Paige Bowser started making soap in her home in 2009, eventually selling it in a small booth near a closet in the building that has now become her factory and store. Her all-natural products include bath bombs, bar soap, shampoo and her patented “no melt” lip balm. During my time in Breezy Quarters, several loyal customers came in singing the praises of Paige’s products, some making a special trip from other towns to restock their Breezy Quarters supplies.
Around the Abbeville Square people who love to shop probably won’t leave disappointed (unless you left your wallet at home). Start your browsing at Urban 2 Country near the Opera House. This place has just about everything including antiques, gourmet cooking sauces and even a case full of fudge and other sweet creations. Most likely you’ll be greeted by a friendly boxer named Pendleton, a definite fixture at the store. For one of the best views of the town, head up to the second floor of Urban 2 Country and check out the square through the large windows in the front. While you’re upstairs be sure and check out the vintage freight elevator in the back, too.
My time was limited in Abbeville, but I made a few trips around the square where you’ll find a little bit of everything from upscale boutiques to antique shops, and galleries as well as several other restaurants I’ll have to try on my next visit. When you visit be sure and go beyond the square, check out one of the many historic homes (often open for tours) and soak in the town’s history and charm.
Abbeville is just one of the towns I visited during my visit to the Old 96. Greenwood is about a half hour away and features a thriving arts and dining scene “Uptown”. A little further away (not far from Augusta, GA) is Edgefield, a town that loves its wild turkeys, the ten governors that called Edgefield home and of course its abundance of peach orchards.
(*Businesses in small towns like Abbeville are often closed on Sundays, so keep that in mind when making your plans.)