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South Carolina Revolutionary War Road Trip – Part 5: Thoroughbred Country

This 92-mile road trip explores the Revolutionary War in a region known for horse disciplines and railroads.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

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South Carolina Revolutionary War Road Trip
10-Part Series

Did you know more Revolutionary War battles happened in South Carolina than in any other state? Explore the battlefields, historic sites, and museums with this 10-part series of road trips across the state.

Before Aiken was a popular destination for watching horse riding events, before it was a world-renowned “Winter Colony,” and before the world’s longest railroad opened between Charleston and Hamburg, South Carolina’s Thoroughbred Country was the frontier of the colonies. Even at the height of the Revolutionary War, it was a peaceful land of few residents and even fewer battles.

But there are a few great stories to explore, like the legend of the natural healing springs and the Indian trader who died while held captive in his own house.

Go for a road trip along U.S. Highway 78 between I-95 and I-20, following the route of the Charleston to Hamburg Railroad, and learn about the American Revolution along the way. Discover charming small towns with local food, artwork, and hiking trails. Then, spend a night or two in Aiken, where you can learn about one of South Carolina’s most underrated destinations.

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Map

Get all the details at a glance to help plan the road trip. Use the map below to see the route and save it to your smartphone to use on the road trip.
Charleston, SC
start
North Augusta, SC
end
92 miles
total distance
2 nights
suggested duration
3
itinerary stops
6
Destinations

How to use this map | Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the (very faint) star at the end of the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.

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A one-story railroad depot with old fashioned covered area for loading passengers onto trains in Branchville, South Carolina.
The Branchville Railroad Museum and Shrine is open by request so visitors can explore the historic railroad junction.

Destination

Branchville

Between Interstate 95 and Aiken, US Highway 78 is a wonderfully simple two-lane road and a welcome break from the constant onslaught of interstate highway travel. At a leisurely pace, it takes about 15 minutes to arrive in Branchville.

In 1828, a railroad junction was built on the country’s first railroad line between Charleston and Hamburg, a ghost town now consumed by North Augusta. The junction still exists, though passenger trains no longer travel those rails. The town’s only attraction is the Southern Railway Passenger Depot. Built in 1877, it served passengers for decades and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

READ MORE: Road Trip Exploring the Revolutionary War in South Carolina’s Old 96 District (Part 4)

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Destination

Bamberg

In another twenty minutes along US Highway 78, just before arriving in Bamberg, the road parallels the abandoned railroad that once connected Charleston and Hamberg. A portion of the line is a paved multi-use trail. The town developed in the late 1800s as a railroad town with a one-block downtown of local businesses.

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Paintings hang on the wood paneled walls at the Jim Harrison Gallery in Denmark, South Carolina.
Artwork adorns the walls in the Jim Harrison Gallery.

Destination

Denmark

Another ten-minute drive brings travelers to Denmark, a small railroad town that developed in the 1800s. In 1897, Elizabeth Evelyn Wright founded Denmark Industrial School for African Americans, modeled after the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. When New Jersey philanthropist Ralph Voorhees donated funds for the land and buildings, the school was renamed in his honor. Today, Voorhees University is a private, historically black university offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

The Jim Harrison Gallery stands at the intersection in the middle of town. Harrison’s first canvas was the side of a hardware store, where he retouched a Coca-Cola sign, the first of over a hundred in his early career. In the 1970s, he began selling limited edition paintings in a small shop in his hometown – but you’ll need to call ahead to book an appointment.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

Plate of food with fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatos, and baked carrots at Miller's Bread Basket in Blackville, South Carolina.
Octagonal shaped cabin at Barnwell State Park with a comfortable queen bed, giant picture window overlooking a forest, and hardwood floors in Blackville, South Carolina.
TOP: The southern cooking at Miller’s Bread Breakfast is a wonderful lunch midway through this road trip. BOTTOM: Cabin #6 at Barnwell State Park is the perfect place to spend a couple of nights.

Destination

Blackville

Yet another ten-minute jaunt on US Highway 78 leads into Blackville, yet another small town developed in the 1800s as a railroad junction. The abandoned railroad line runs through the middle of town in a small park surrounded by benches and trees. It’s the perfect place to take a break from driving.

Get something to eat at Miller’s Bread Basket, a restaurant featuring Amish-style cooking. The food is served in a buffet setting and includes a meat, sides, and drink. But save room for dessert – they’re freshly baked every day and worth every bite.

About ten minutes from the small town, Barnwell State Park is a hidden oasis of hiking trails, a gorgeous lake, and some of the best cabins in the South Carolina State Parks system. Consider booking a night or two at a cabin and enjoy the great outdoors from the comfort of an Adirondack chair on the front porch.

Itinerary Suggestion

Barnwell State Park requires a two-night minimum stay in the cabins. The park features a few hiking trails, fishing on a secluded lake, and utter peacefulness in the forest. Plan to arrive mid-afternoon after starting this road trip, spend two nights, and continue the road trip after checking out at 10 a.m.

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Water flows from four pipes fixed to an underground natural spring at God's Acre Healing Springs in Blackville, South Carolina.
The water always flows from the pipes at God’s Acre Healing Springs, offering a chance to fill your water bottle with supposedly restorative water.

No. 1

God’s Acre Healing Springs

In 1781, a fierce skirmish took place on Windy Hill, two miles north of Blackville, during the Revolutionary War. The battle resulted in sixteen dead Patriots and several mortally wounded Loyalists, earning the hill the nickname “Slaughter Hill.”

A local legend involves four mortally wounded Loyalists left behind after the battle. Two others were told to stay with the dying soldiers and bury them when they died. But when Native Americans discovered them, they led the soldiers to a natural spring whose waters supposedly had restorative properties.

Six months later, the six Loyalists arrived in Charleston in perfect health.

God’s Acre Healing Springs is a historical site “deeded to God for public use.” The site is open to visitors during daylight hours. The springs are within sight of the small parking area. Pipes allow the water to flow through faucets where locals and travelers fill water bottles and take the healing water home.

READ MORE: 27 National Park Sites to Learn About the American Revolutionary War

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People wander along the sidewalks covered by shady trees in downtown Aiken, South Carolina.
A four-poster queen bed dominates the large room at The Willcox boutique hotel in Aiken, South Carolina.
The Willcox is a boutique hotel with comfortable rooms and an on-site restaurant – everything you need for a weekend getaway.

Destination

Aiken

After leaving Blackville, it is a 45-minute scenic drive into Aiken on US Highway 78. Aiken was founded in 1835 by William Aiken, president of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company. The city developed in the late 1800s as the railroad terminus to Charleston. In the early 1900s, the city earned a reputation as a Winter Colony for wealthy horse owners, leading to the significant construction of grand mansions and hotels.

READ MORE: The 27 Best Road Trip Quotes to Inspire Your Next Adventure

Stay at The Willcox, a boutique hotel built in 1898. Expanded and upgraded until 1928, the hotel features an on-site restaurant and bar, an outdoor swimming pool, and gas fireplaces in many guest rooms.

Although breakfast at The Willcox Restaurant is fantastic – especially their Sunday brunch – you might want to consider La Parisienne, a French-style café five minutes from the hotel. Macarons and pastries are freshly baked daily, and their Farmer’s Breakfast features farm-fresh eggs, savory sausage, crispy bacon, and breakfast potatoes.

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The Aiken Visitor Center and Train Museum is a great place to begin exploring the city. Upstairs, a museum traces the history of the Charleston to Hamburg Railroad that spurred development in small towns like Branchville, Bamberg, and Denmark. Book a two-hour guided tour on the air-conditioned trolley to learn about the city’s history while rolling around town.

Get something to eat at The Alley – a pedestrian-only alleyway and thriving heat of the city at night with live music and plenty of seating. Aiken Brewing Company is a microbrewery with a fantastic food menu. At Whiskey Alley, owners Chad and Katie Jajczyk are also the executive chefs, overseeing a vast menu of exquisite foods. The Alley Downtown Taproom features a whopping 48 beers and ciders on tap along with a menu of wine by the glass and kombucha – and since they don’t have a kitchen, they have an open policy of bringing your food!

Itinerary Suggestion

Aiken is a wonderful destination to explore outside the scope of the Revolutionary War. But it’s like many small towns – it’s better to visit mid-week through Saturday. Spend at least two nights to experience the local restaurants, shopping, and recreation.

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A former winter mansion now serves as the county’s museum with exhibits on local history are the Revolutionary War.

No. 2

Aiken County Historical Museum

In 1931, Richard Howe joined dozens of other wealthy elites in the “Winter Colony” and built a grand mansion, naming it Banksia. After his death, the house served as a college campus and public library before finally becoming the county’s history museum.

The Aiken County Historical Museum is an exhibit all on its own. Explore the foyer, grand dining room, and private study of the mansion. Learn about Aiken’s history as the “Winter Colony,” why horse disciplines are integral to the region, and other moments from the city’s history. The museum also features an exhibit about the Revolutionary War battles in the area.

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Destination

North Augusta

The final leg of this road trip adventure is a 30-minute drive to North Augusta. Founded in 1906, the city consumed the original town of Hamburg. The town was a popular vacation spot for northerners with a warm winter climate and easy railroad access. After the Savannah River Site was completed in the 1950s, the city’s population exploded.

The 7.4-mile Greeneway Trail was initially completed in 2000 and extended in 2011 along an abandoned railroad through the city. The multi-use trail is excellent for walking, jogging, and bicycling in the urban areas around Riverview Park.

The city is also home to the Augusta GreenJackets, a minor-league baseball team affiliated with the Atlanta Braves. Home games are held at SRP Park on the banks of the Savannah River.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

TOP: Colonel LeRoy Hammond’s tombstone at the family cemetery beside the Charles Hammond House. BOTTOM: His son, Captain LeRoy Hammond, is buried next to his father.
TOP: Colonel LeRoy Hammond’s tombstone at the family cemetery beside the Charles Hammond House. BOTTOM: His son, Captain LeRoy Hammond, is buried next to his father.

No. 3

Charles Hammond House

Charles and LeRoy Hammond were successful merchants in Virginia in the mid-1700s. But at the start of the American Revolution, Loyalists demanded their allegiance, forcing the brothers to flee the state for a plantation in South Carolina.

In the 1770s, Charles Hammond built a magnificent home on a bluff overlooking the Savannah River. LeRoy and his son LeRoy Jr. operated a ferry across the river. But the family could not escape the Revolutionary War entirely – by the end of the war, three generations of the family served in the Continental Army or local militias.

Samuel Hammond was one of the most prominent members of the family. He served as a lieutenant colonel during the Revolutionary War, leading men at Hanging Rock, Musgrove’s Mill, Kings Mountain, Cowpens, and Augusta. In 1805, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Hammond as the Colonel Commandant of the St. Louis District in the Louisiana Territory and later as the first governor of the Missouri Territory.

Initially, the Hammonds were buried in separate cemeteries. But when North Augusta began work on Riverview Park, some of their bodies were reinterred in the Hammond Family Cemetery beside the Charles Hammond House. Colonel LeRoy Hammond and his son Captain LeRoy Hammond are buried with other family members.

The Charles Hammond House is undergoing extensive renovation, transforming the historic house into a bed and breakfast. Guests will be able to spend a night in the house of a Revolutionary War Patriot built just before the American Revolution.

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Do you have a question about travel or road trips? Are you a CVB or DMO interested in working with me? I typically respond to emails within 24 hours. Quicker if you include a good riddle.
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