Sumter is named for Revolutionary War hero Thomas Sumter. His fighting spirit was so relentless that one British general said he fought like a gamecock. That nickname stuck and became the mascot of the University of South Carolina and for Sumter High School.
After the war, Thomas Sumter served in both the US House and Senate at various times, ending in 1810, when he retired to his home "South Mount" near Stateburg and lived to be 97. He was buried on his family's plantation. You can visit the family cemetery behind a neighborhood of homes on Acton Road, off Meeting House Road.
There's a lot of natural beauty to enjoy on a visit to modern-day Sumter. Here are some suggestions to make any visit one to remember.
- No trip to Sumter is complete without a visit to Swan Lake Iris Gardens. Legend has it that 1920s businessman Hamilton Bland was trying to grow Japanese irises at his home but failed. He dug up the bulbs and had them dumped in a swamp he owned, where the bulbs bloomed quite well the next spring. The gardens now comprise more than 150 acres, with more than 120 varieties of irises and eight species of swans. The peak of beauty is May and June, and the city holds its annual three-day Iris Festival each May. A boardwalk takes you over the black waters of Swan Lake surrounded by cypress trees. The gardens, at 822 W. Liberty St., Sumter, are free to visit and open daily 7:30-dusk. 803.436.2640.
- Poinsett State Park has plenty of fishing and swimming, but the main activity here is hiking along the Palmetto Trail through the forest. This area sort of marks the transition in topography in the state from sandhills to piedmont, which makes for unique mixes of plant life. The park also has five cabins as well as RV and tent campsites. The park, at 6660 Poinsett Park Road, Wedgefield, is open daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m., and longer on summer weekends. Admission is free. 803.494.8177.
- Right next door to Poinsett is the Manchester State Forest. You can access two sections of the Palmetto Trail here, the High Hills of Santee and the Wateree sections. Activities include hunting, fishing, and ATV and horseback riding. Permits are required for some activities. The forest, at 6740 Headquarters Road, Wedgefield, is open daily from dawn to dusk from January through mid-September each year. From September 15-Dec. 31, the park is open on Sunday only, dawn to dusk. 803.494.8196.
- Mill Creek Park also is an access point for the High Hills of Santee passage of the Palmetto Trail, and it has plenty of biking and horse trails as well. There is a rustic lodge with kitchen facilities, and campsites are available. The park, at 7975 Milford Plantation Road, Pinewood, is open daily during daylight hours. Free admission. 803.436.2248.
- Located on the site of the Civil War Battle for Beech Creek, Beech Creek Golf Club is a 6,805-yard, par-72 course. After playing this course, you will understand what the High Hills of Santee really mean. Rates of $30-35 include a cart, with discounts for seniors, juniors and military. The course is at 1800 Sam Gillespie Blvd., Sumter.803.4994653.