Located in the South Carolina foothills at the southern end of Lake Keowee, Seneca has always drawn outdoor enthusiasts looking to hike, bike, kayak or fish in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Just 15 minutes from Clemson, it’s also a popular place to stay if you’re visiting the university or attending a Tigers football game.
But this small Upstate city offers much more than just a convenient location to access surrounding attractions. In recent years, its historic downtown has become a destination in and of itself with lots of fun bars, trendy restaurants and cool shops.
Ram Cat Alley, its version of Main Street, features fine dining restaurants like Vangeli’s Bistro and Bonaterra, hip watering holes, including Brews on the Alley and The Spot on the Alley, as well as a wide array of independently owned boutiques and antique stores.
In the 1900s, the town’s main corridor was home to pool halls, bars and the Fred Hopkins Meat Market, earning it the nickname Ram Cat Alley by locals for the large number of cats who gathered for scraps. They quipped, “You couldn’t ram another cat into the alley!” In 2000, the street was added to the National Register of Historic Places with 18 historically significant commercial buildings dating between 1887 and 1930.
Today, the pedestrian-friendly block hosts a number of annual community events, including Jazz in the Alley, Cruizin on Main and Seneca Fest.
Other historical treasures in town include the Lunney House Museum, 1925 Historic Ballenger House, 1831 Alexander-Hill House and the Pickens Court House and Old Pickens Presbyterian Church.
Visitors wanting to learn about Seneca’s heritage should start with a visit to the Bell Gallery in City Hall. It features an art collection and 30 historical photographs highlighting Seneca’s history from 1873 to the present day. Be sure to check out the stained-glass windows in the arch at the rear of the gallery, offering another artistic depiction of its history.
Named after Esseneca, a Cherokee Nation village located on the banks of the nearby Seneca River, the city’s modern development began with the introduction of the railroad, which turned the town into a shipping point for cotton grown in area farms. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of textile mills and villages were built in the area, bringing with them a boom in the population.
The construction of nearby Lakes Keowee and Hartwell in 1971 brought more changes to the area, including recreational opportunities for fishing, boating, kayaking and camping. With its small-town charm and outdoor amenities, it was recently ranked No. 1 among the top 10 places to retire in South Carolina and No. 15 in the nation.