It’s often the unexpected and quirky things I remember most when traveling and Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina definitely has its share.
I discovered several of these hidden gems on my recent visit and they’re unquestionably worth a road trip. Here’s a list of places to go and things to see. Have fun!
Thoroughbred Country Hidden Gems
Drink from the healing springs.
The cool, clear waters of God’s Acre Healing Springs flow from artesian wells in the small town of Blackville. Native Americans believed the waters were sacred healing waters and brought wounded Revolutionary War soldiers to the springs to drink.
Today, people still believe the water has special curative powers and fill dozens of containers with the “elixir”. There are several spigots at the springs and there’s a steady stream of people coming and going.
The most unusual thing about the springs is that the acre of land on which they’re located was legally deeded to God in 1944 by LP “Lute” Boylston thus ensuring that the public will have free access to the healing waters eternally.
Tip: You’ll find the historical marker sign at the little country store on the corner of Healing Springs Road.
Check the time on Barnwell’s vertical sundial.
They say this is the only vertical sundial in the United States, so it’s a must-see. In spite of the fact the sundial was erected before standard time was a thing, it’s within 2 minutes of it at the summer solstice and just a little faster or slower at other times of the year.
We tested it out and after adjusting for daylight savings time, it was within 5 minutes of the correct time. Pretty impressive and a super fun stop.
Also while in Barnwell, take a look at the gorgeous courthouse building right next to the sundial. It was under renovation when I was there, but it’s a beauty when on full display. The dual staircases…love.
Pick out your very own face jug.
Face jugs go back to an 1800s pottery style in Edgefield, SC and the tradition is carried on in a really unique way by master potter, Liz Ringus of Paw Print Pottery.
Liz makes agateware face jugs and uses broken pieces of china for the teeth. One of them even had antlers. Her works and that of other local artists are on display at the Little Red Barn Pottery and Art Gallery.
Although I didn’t go home with a face mug, I did leave with one of her darling agateware gingerbread mugs.
Take a look at the old Coca-Cola mural.
Make a pit stop in Denmark at the Jim Harrison Gallery to see the vintage mural outside the building and peruse the indoor gallery to find out more about this famous southern artist.
At the age of 14, he worked as an apprentice to a sign painter and began painting Coca-Cola signs on the sides of barns and country stores. This experience fueled his artistic passion and the rest is history. Not only are his originals available in the gallery, but prints, notecards and puzzles featuring his artwork are too.
Explore the remains of an old pottery factory.
Walking along the North Augusta Greenway under the 13th Street Bridge, you’ll find some old South Carolina Pottery mill equipment.
In its later years, the company manufactured terra cotta flower pots and it’s fun to see the molds on the restored factory apparatus. The display serves as a reminder of North Augusta’s early industries.
See Jimmy Stewart’s original watercolor painting.
Did you know Jimmy Stewart was an artist? I mean, he definitely had acting chops, but did you know he could paint?!
While on a fabulous Tailored Tours experience in Aiken, our guide told us about a painting Jimmy Stewart created that’s still on display in what was the Snow winter cottage and is now a funeral home—George Funeral Home.
As the story goes, Jimmy Stewart, the famous actor, was also a decorated V17 Army pilot with over 20 WWII missions in Europe. He would come to the Snow family home, a USO hotel at the time, and during one of his visits in 1943, he created a watercolor painting of one of the home’s sitting rooms.
The painting (most likely a replica) still hangs on the wall of the room he painted, and the fireplace and bookshelves are clearly recognizable.
If the funeral home isn’t busy, they’ll happily take you to see it. I wasn’t expecting the painting to be so, well…good. I love all the detail! Who knew Jimmy Stewart was so versatile – a war hero, an incredible actor, and a painter?!
Dance in the steps of Fred Astaire.
Fred Astaire lived in Aiken for three years and legend has it that when he went to get his mail at the post office, he always danced up and down the steps. Residents swear it’s true, and I love the story.
If you’re so inclined, maybe you can do a little jig on the staircase too.
Indulge in some “Horseplay.”
Many cities have painted fiberglass statues in a particular theme and it only makes sense that equestrian-minded Aiken has painted horses. Originally there were 31 Horseplay statues created as part of a fundraising auction; many of them can still be seen in the area.
Take a walk or drive around Aiken (use my checklist) and see if you can spot some.
Click on the sample image below to print my painted horse scavenger hunt checklist (locations included).
Marvel at an atomic waste sculpture.
It’s the first time I’ve ever thought of nuclear waste as art, but it makes sense considering how important the Savannah River Site is to this area. The signs around the unusual sculpture in downtown Aiken explain that canisters like this one are used to permanently and safely store liquid glass waste.
Take a photo at the Whiskey Road and Easy Street intersection
Ya gotta stop here… ya gotta.
Walk through the archway of the old 1833 police station.
The brick entrance of the old police station is now part of “The Alley”, a popular pedestrian walkway in downtown Aiken, and it makes a great photo op!
Go on a mural hunt in downtown Aiken.
I found all of these murals tucked in little side streets in Aiken, so wander and see which ones you can find.
See the statue that may or may not look like the man it represents.
The city of Aiken was named after William Aiken, but there are no images of him in existence. Sooooo, no one really knows if the statue actually looks like he did. The sculpture’s artists created a likeness based on a compilation of family pictures, so here’s hopin’ they got it close.
Sadly, Mr. Aiken met an early death when a horse pulling his carriage was spooked by a train whistle and he was thrown from the carriage.
Find the sealed arches of Rye Patch.
No nosy neighbors allowed! The original brick wall with open peek-a-boo arches was built in 1928, but the arches were filled and sealed 100 years later for privacy. It’s pretty interesting!
Local lore has it that they were closed up when the Duke and Duchess of Windsor came to stay at Rye Patch for a length of time.
Wind your way along a serpentine wall.
Crinkle crankle walls are always fun finds and this wiggly ribbon wall outside the Aiken County Historical Museum has lots of snakey bends.
There’s also an old schoolhouse on the grounds of the museum (inside the wall) that’s well worth a peek.
See where horses control the traffic.
Aiken is one of the few cities where horses have the right of way. In fact, there’s a stoplight (with its push-button at horseback height) on Whiskey Road to ensure horses are able to cross this extremely busy road safely.
I loved discovering these hidden gems in Thoroughbred Country! If you know of any others, leave a comment and let me know.
Visit the Thoroughbred Country Regional Tourism website to help plan a trip to the area.
Comments & Reviews
Alissa A Apel says
I don’t know if my last comment went through. I lost internet connection. Boo!
What a charming place! I like the sundial. I’ve always heard about them. I have to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real one.
Well, if you’re going to see a sundial, this would be the one to see since it’s the only VERTICAL one in the U.S.! It was really fun to puzzle our way to figuring out the time with it.