Small-town charm (and a pinch of Black history) is in abundance in South Carolina’s Old 96 District

Black History sites, cute inns, local shopping, and drive-in movies make up just some of the charm this district offers.
Old 96 District

Day Trippin’ explores travel destinations that are within an easy drive from Charlotte.


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Just over two hours from Charlotte, South Carolina’s Old 96 District offers an abundance of small-town charm and even a few Black-history destinations.

Never heard of Old 96 District? It’s a South Carolina tourism district made up of five counties — Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens and McCormick.

Each county offers something extra — whether it be the boyhood home of civil rights icon Benjamin Mays in Greenwood County, an amazing burger joint in Abbeville County, or a state park with its own golf course and lakefront in McCormick County. But what connects them all is the warm, small-town culture that creates such a relaxing atmosphere.

I visited Old 96 District in mid-November and was joined by my brother, who drove down from the Raleigh-Durham area. (Watch this video to get a taste of the adorable town squares in Greenwood, Abbeville and Edgefield.)

City centers of Greenwood, Abbeville & Edgefield. (http://www.bensound.com)

Navigate this article: 

  • Sections – Learnin’, Eatin’, Stayin’, Shoppin,’ Explorin’
  • Must do – things you must do on a visit to Old 96 District. 
  • Also enjoy – things you should try to squeeze in on a visit to Old 96 District.

Learnin’

Must do: Civil rights leader Benjamin Mays grew up in rural Greenwood County in the early 1900s. His birth home is open to tours at the Benjamin E. Mays Historic Site. The site has been established on the grounds of what was once a hospital for Black residents during the era of racial segregation. The house was moved from a pasture to its current location in 2014 and has undergone extensive repairs.

Christopher B. Thomas, the site’s director, paints a detailed picture of who Mays was and his impact on the Civil Rights Movement. (Mays taught and mentored Martin Luther King Jr. when King was a student at Morehouse College in the 1940s. He also served as a civil rights advisor to President John F. Kennedy.) The tour touches on the harsh racism the Mays family endured in Greenwood and how those events shaped his life’s work.

Old 96 District
Benjamin E. Mays Historic Site

Must do: Ever threw back a shot of undiluted moonshine? You can at Carolina Moon Distillery in Edgefield, where Martha and her staff show the “legit brewing process” for moonshines, gins and whiskeys. But the proof (pun intended) is in the tasting. I arrived as a moonshine newbie, and so it stung a bit going down. In addition to moonshine, the distillery offers a variety of Martha’s mixed drinks. My favorite was the cinnamon moonshine + apple cider — a perfect match for the fall theme of our trip.

Old 96 District
Carolina Moon Distillery

Also enjoy: At Old Edgefield Pottery in Edgefield, master potter Justin Guy walks visitors through some of the pieces on display, including three pieces made by Dave the Potter, an enslaved Black man who created more than 100,000 pottery pieces between 1820-1870. He signed his work “Dave,” which is notable because laws throughout the South made it illegal for enslaved people to learn to read or write. Dave’s pieces are large — about two feet tall and green in color — and were used as food storage before Tupperware was a thing.

Also enjoy: The Arts Center in Greenwood typically has nine to 12 exhibits each year, including one in February that features Black artists. The center also offers art classes. 

Eatin’

Must do: The Iconic Burger in Abbeville was a personal favorite. It offers 30 varieties of hamburgers, each representing a different state. The toppings can get creative — mac & cheese or even hash browns. I got the Connecticut burger, which has grilled mushrooms, onions, Swiss cheese and garlic mayo on top of a patty. All burgers are $11 and come with seasoned fries. Enjoy their large, socially distanced dining room, or you can eat outside at one of the tables in the town square.

Must do: Breakfast at Inn on the Square in Greenwood is free for hotel guests and $10 for all others. A large, Southern breakfast there can include up to four items from their menu like grits, gravy and biscuits, French toast, potatoes and more. The fine dining atmosphere and attentive wait service create a fancy restaurant ambiance, but one step into the lobby and you’ll find that small-town charm that’s all over the city.

Also enjoy: You’ll know you’ve reached the town of Greenwood when the road becomes a bridge and you see the blue waters of Lake Greenwood. Stop and take in the view at Break on the Lake, where you can enjoy seafood and traditional Southern fare like corn nuggets. Heard of those? They’re literally fried balls of corn that are both sweet and savory.

Also enjoy: Grab a slice of brick-oven pizza, a glass of beer and enjoy live music on the weekends at The Mill House & Good Times Brewing in Greenwood. Note the handmade craftsmanship of the countertops, lights, stools and tables. Sectioned off from the dining room is the on-site brewery, where several beer kettles tie in the look.

Old 96 District
upper left: Veggie plate at Break on the Lake; upper right: Burger in Abbeville’s town square; lower right: Breakfast at Inn on the Square; lower left: Dinner at The Mill House

Stayin’

Must do: The Belmont Inn in Abbeville has been around since 1903. Back then, visitors left their horses and carriages in what is now a storage basement. The City of Abbeville is filled with small-town charm, and on the corner of the town square, the Belmont Inn overlooks all of it. At check-in, a clerk hands you a metal key, not a plastic card. Each room has its own look and feel, but all include hardwood floors, antique-style furniture and a flat-screen TV. Enjoy dinner and drinks on the large veranda, where social distancing is easy. Southern hospitality comes naturally to the Belmont’s staff, who gladly recommend things for us to do around the city. Rooms start at $85 and go to $160 for the master suite.

Must do: Hickory Knob State Park Lodging in McCormick offers campgrounds, cabins, villas and lodge rooms. We chose a lodge with a large deck overlooking Lake Savannah. It came with a modern kitchen, living room and a bedroom. The quiet proximity to nature and the view of the lake made our room worth every penny. A room like ours starts at $110 a night.

Also enjoy: Inn on the Square sits just a block away from the shops and restaurants in Uptown Greenwood. It’s an older inn that used to be a grocery store, funeral home and more. The lobby was once an alleyway, until two buildings were conjoined. The rooms are comfy and quiet, and we felt at ease. The lobby is quite large and tastefully decorated with antique furniture and artwork. The lobby also offers pastries and coffee for guests. Rooms average about $100 a night.

Old 96 District
Top: panoramic image of the view from our balcony at Hickory Knob State Park
lower left: decorated lobby of The Belmont Inn; lower right: room at The Belmont Inn

Shoppin’

Must do: Divine Your Space in Abbeville is a plant shop filled to the brim with a variety of flowers and greenery. The staff is knowledgeable about every plant in the store and can walk you through which ones will thrive in your home. They have a variety of pots to choose from and the staff will even help you re-pot your plant once you buy it.

Must do: Everything in Main & Maxwell in Uptown Greenwood is locally handmade — mugs, t-shirts, key chains, coasters, silverware, paintings and more. The store is full of character and one-of-a-kind items. (I was drawn to a set of decorative silverware.) Founded in 2016 by local artist Laura Bachinski, the gallery is said to represent more than 40 South Carolina artists.

Also enjoy: Thayer’s Furniture and Fine Gifts in Greenwood, and Crate & Quill in Abbeville, are the types of stores where you can spend an hour just browsing. Definitely worth a stop-in.

Old 96 District
Divine Your Space in Abbeville

Explorin’

Must do: Hickory Knob State Park & Resort in McCormick sits on 71,100-acre Lake Thurmond and offers an array of outdoor activities. An 18-hole golf course (par 71) provides breathtaking views of rolling hills and stately pines. We rented a canoe ($10 for four hours) and spent some relaxing time on the water. The park also rents kayaks and paddle boards. If land is more your thing, the park has multi-use trails for hiking or biking. It also has a range from skeet shooting and archery.

Must do – The 25 Drive In Movie Theatre in Greenwood is $10 per person. With three screens and seven movies each weekend, you won’t have to worry about long lines, sold-out tickets or overcrowding. Just drive up and enjoy. We saw “The Elf,” which got us into the Christmas spirit. Burgers, fries, jalapeno poppers and more populate the menu to complete this nostalgic, movie-going experience.

Old 96 District
Just one of the many beautiful views at Hickory Knob State Park & Resort

Learn more about South Carolina’s Old 96 District on their website where you’ll find more information about everything the region has to offer.

For other travel ideas, visit our Day Trippin’ Archives.

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1 Comment

This article has 1 comment.

  1. Wow thanks for sharing this rich history. I was actually born in Abbeville, SC and never knew there was such much to offer. My dad is from Abbeville and my mom from Greenwood. This will be a must visit for me, thanks again you for sharing.

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