Hartsville, South Carolina may not be at the top of your travel list, but it should be. Nestled in the heart of Darlington County, this charming southern town boasts a rich history, unique attractions, delicious food, and comfortable accommodations. Whether you're a history buff, food lover, or just looking for a weekend getaway, Hartsville has something for everyone. In this blog post, we'll dive into why you should plan a visit to this hidden southern gem.
Hartsville was first established as a village in 1760 by a man named Thomas Hart. It was originally called "Hart's Tavern" due to the presence of a popular tavern along the road leading from Society Hill to Camden. The location proved to be strategic, as it was situated on an important trading route between Charleston and Cheraw. Before then Benjamin Davis owned land in the area (near Kamila Gardens). Originally the land was divided and subdivided by King George III of Great Britain.
During the American Revolution, Hartsville played a significant role as a supply depot for the Continental Army. It also served as a base for Francis Marion, known as the "Swamp Fox," and his guerrilla fighters.
During the Civil War, Hartsville played a crucial role as a supply depot for the Confederate Army. It was also home to several prominent Confederate leaders, including Major General William J. Hardee and Colonel Abram M. Cooke.
In the late 19th century, Hartsville experienced a boom in textile manufacturing with the establishment of several cotton mills. This brought an influx of workers and spurred rapid growth in the town's population. One notable figure in Hartsville's industrial history is James Lide Coker, who founded the Sonoco Products Company in 1899. Today, Sonoco is still headquartered in Hartsville and remains a major employer in the area.
As for attractions, Hartsville has no shortage of things to do. But first we will delve deep into the history of my favorite place, and it is historical. The unique attraction is Kalmia Gardens, a 35-acre public garden with a variety of plant species, walking paths, and a serene pond.
This place isn't just a garden, it is the original home of Thomas Edward Hart his wife and 8 kids. He built this house in around 1825 on a 60-foot sloped hillside just outside of town, where down at the bottom of the slope was Black Creek and tons a flowering Laurel bushes. In total the plantation was 1,223 acres growing cotton, and tobacco.
Later in the 1920s Coker family came into possession of it and Mrs. May Coker poured her heart and soul into this place which had been neglected over the years. Renovating the house without destroying the original look, plus starting to build the gardens (during the depression) that reached all the way to Black Creek. People of the area were thought she had lost her mind and called it Mrs. May's Folly, but it turned out to be a beautiful success. Mrs. May Coker gave the house and land to Coker College in 1965 in memory of her late husband.
Since 1935, Kalmia Gardens has been open to the public free of charge from dawn until dusk, every day of the year. The wrought iron gates were crafted around 1935 by Mrs. Frank Tyldesley of Wales to highlight Miss May’s favorite flower, the camellia, and they have beckoned to visitors ever since. A new gate was dedicated to Miss May by her family in 1992 and serves as the main entrance to her great labor of love.
Kalmia Gardens of Coker College is now an outdoor classroom and public garden, hosting many field trips from area schools as well as public programs, tours, symposia, plant sales, festivals and garden parties. This land continues to hold its centuries-old fascination for the next generation, who will surely keep it as a respite from the busy world that hurriedly passes by its gates.
One of the most notable historical attractions is the Hartsville Museum. Here you can learn about the town's rich history and culture through various exhibits and artifacts.
Check out Tales on the Town. I just love this idea, and other cities are doing this similar thing too. This is a cute little game you can play with the family, by taking pictures of 14 little fox statues that are all around the Hartsville Downtown area. They are near notable sites, and you will learn from it to check out the website for the clues.
And let's not forget Coker University, a small, private liberal arts college with a beautiful campus that's worth a stroll.
Neptune Island Waterpark is also a great place for families to visit. With a wave pool, lazy river, several slides and a splash pad, this is the place to be to beat the summer heat. You can even rent a pool side cabana.
Lawton Park is amazing to visit. Located on the shoreline of Prestwood Lake, there is a boardwalk, picnic shelter, boat ramp for kayaking and canoeing. There are also plenty of beautiful Geese. They also have a pavilion built in 1938.
The Coker Experimental Farms and Gardens are also worth checking out, as they have been an integral part of Hartsville's farming community since the early 1900s.
One must-see is the Hartsville Rail Trail, a 3.3-mile trail that winds through the town's business district and historic neighborhoods.
Black Creek Arts Center is a great place to take a class or look at their galleries and events. Check out their website for a list of events.
McCleod Farms is a favorite stop of mine, The best produce and other treats that South Carolina is known for. Every time I am in the area I have to stop by and buy something from their market. Thay have been in operation since 1915.
In recent years, Hartsville's historic downtown area has seen a revitalization with new businesses, restaurants, and events. This would be a great place to take a walk and do some shopping.
Now let's talk food. If there's one thing southerners know how to do, it's cook. Hartsville has a range of dining options to satisfy any craving.
First off, I have to mention the Yogi Bear Honey Fried Chicken Restaurant. This was being developed to be a chain restaurant what children would enjoy visiting because of the Hanna Barbera cartoon character Yogi the Bear. They opened several restaurants, including one in Myrtle Beach South Carolina which did very well, but then Hardees corporation bought the small chain and the decline slowly started as one by one the restaurants started to fail being under a corporation like Hardees whose interest was more for the property not the restaurant. This Yogi Bear Honey chicken is the only one left in the United States. I just love the taste of their honey chicken. and the people of Hartsville love it to. So be sure to stop in for a "Pic-a-nic Basket."
The Rooster one thirty-six is a great little cafe, with fresh food and amazing coffee. Great breakfast and brunch items. I just love their Shrimp and Grits too.
Westwood BBQ is a treasure for Southern BBQ, the buffet is around $10 and is amazing especially the pulled pork.
Ruth Drive Inn has been operating since 1945 and is known for the quick and cheap American food. I just love their hot dogs.
Sam Kendall's that I mentioned in mu Camden blog, also has a restaurant here in Hartsville Couth Carolina, I highly recommend it. Best steaks around and those pancetta-wrapped scallops are to die for.
Lastly, in terms of accommodation, Hartsville offers a range of options to fit any budget and preference.
For a luxurious stay, book a room at The Mantissa, a boutique hotel with contemporary decor and upscale amenities.
Oak Manor Inn is a great Bed and Breakfast. Located in the Historic District you will be close to everything if you stay here.
If you're looking for something more budget-friendly, the Fairfield Inn offers comfortable rooms and a complimentary breakfast.
Try the Hampton Inn & Suites, offering modern accommodations and a prime location.
There are also more options in nearby Darlington and Florence South Carolina.
Join them for our annual festivals, like the Hartsville Christmas Parade and lighting of the Christmas tree by the mayor in downtown. Heart of the Holidays Wine and Art Walk is another holiday event. Also, a favorite of a friend of mine, The Sweetheart City Half Marathon in February.
Perhaps one of the most unique ways to experience Hartsville's history is by attending the annual Civil War reenactment events. Every year, the town comes alive with reenactors dressed in period costumes and engaging in mock battles, giving visitors a glimpse into what life was like for Confederate soldiers. Check out the VisitHartsville.com for a list all events.
Hartsville, South Carolina is a hidden southern gem that's definitely worth a visit. With its rich history, unique attractions, delicious food, and comfortable accommodations, there's something for everyone. From its early days as a supply depot for soldiers fighting for independence to its role as a hub of industry and education, Hartsville continues to evolve and thrive. It's a community that embraces its past while looking towards the future, making it a truly special place to visit. So come experience all that Hartsville has to offer – you won't be disappointed! So, the next time you're planning a southern getaway, consider Hartsville as your destination. You won't be disappointed.