Rock Hill got its name from the rock that was cut through to complete the Charlotte-Columbia rail line. One of the area’s biggest attractions is the Carowinds amusement park with its Fury 325 – a 30-story thrill ride that reaches speeds of 95 mph and boasts a nearly vertical – 81 degrees – drop. Although it is the most modern roller coaster in the park and, at the time of completion, was the tallest and fastest of its kind. The coaster’s frenetic movements are designed to mimic a hornet in flight, paying homage to the region’s past when a British general referred to it as a “hornets nest” because of the tenacity of fighters here during the American Revolution.
The city itself is about 30 minutes south of Charlotte and about an hour north of the state capital. Rock Hill anchors what is known as the "Olde English District" in South Carolina. The site of several Revolutionary War battles and home to the state’s only federally recognized Indian tribe, Rock Hill also is home to Winthrop University and the state’s only telephone museum, owned and operated by the independent company that still provides phone service to the city. Our tour of Rock Hill begins here.
Comporium Telephone Museum is a one of a kind museum experience. Comporium is based in Rock Hill and provides communications services in York and Lancaster counties. This museum highlights the changes in communications since Rock Hill Telephone began in 1894. A brief video of the company’s history starts your tour and you can operate an old school switchboard. The free museum is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Just down the street from Comporium is a great lunch stop, McHale’s Irish Pub. McHale’s offers craft brews on draft and better-than-usual pub fare. True to its name, McHale’s serves shepherd’s pie, corned beef and cabbage and a collection of Irish-themed wraps and sandwiches. With a kitchen open until midnight, McHale’s also the perfect place to stop for a late night nosh.
Next up is the Museum of York County, which tells the natural history of the Carolina Piedmont and its place in the world. The Naturalist Center has more than 2,000 natural history specimens. Also here is the Settlemyre Planetarium and the Vernon Grant Gallery, featuring the work the illustrator who gained fame as the creator of the “Snap, Crackle and Pop” cereal characters. Grant’s influence in his second home of Rock Hill can be seen in the Main Street Children's Museum and Rock Hill's "Christmasville" festival.
For dinner, try the White Horse, open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday. Locals love this place, so be prepared for a possible wait. The must-try is the Nitty Gritty Grinder, a roast beef sandwich with onions, tomatoes, green peppers, mayonnaise and cheese, served au jus. Or you can have your meat on a spud instead of in a sandwich.
For an after-dinner drink, try The Vault,. The city’s only basement bar also is a late night music joint and is open until 2 a.m. Wednesday-Saturday.
For places to stay, check out the East Main Guest House, a renovated turn of the century home with bedrooms on the second floor. Two rooms have fireplaces. Breakfast is served 7:30-9:30 each morning and the house is walking distance from all downtown attractions and restaurants. Rates start at $99 a night.
The Park Avenue Inn was built in 1916 and was renovated to include three guestrooms with private baths. The large front porch is filled with collectibles from 20th century America. You can easily walk from here to Glencairn Garden and it’s pet-friendly.
You’ve got to have breakfast at the Five and Dine in the old McCrory’s Five & Dime, where the Friendship Nine gained fame for protesting the store’s refusal to serve African-Americans in 1960. You will want to try the Crab Cake Benedict for breakfast and save room for an old-fashioned egg cream, milkshake or salted caramel crème brulee. Breakfast and lunch items are less than $10, with dinner entrees up to $17.
One great stop on the history tour is the White Home, opening at 10 a.m. Thursday-Saturday. Built in 1839, this home was owned by the White family, which helped get Rock Hill its stop on the railroad line, for five generations. There is a store inside the home that features the work of local artisans. Admission is $6 for adults with discounts for seniors and youth.
For lunch, try, Michael’s Rock Hill Grill. The outdoor patio here is a great place for a cocktail and snack or a full-blown lunch of steak, fish, chicken or pasta.
To work off that big lunch, take a stroll through the magnificent Glencairn Garden. A favorite photography location for locals, this 11-acre garden includes fountains and ponds, boardwalks and a performance area. One area of the garden is dedicated to veterans.
On your way out of town, stop at The Peach Tree Orchard where you can get the best of seasonal produce from peaches and nectarines in the summer to pumpkins and apples in the fall and Christmas trees in December.
For those with more time to spend in Rock Hill, a few places just outside the city are worth investigating.
Historic Brattonsville, with two house museums and other buildings from Colonial, Revolutionary and pre-Civil War eras, was the site of several key Revolutionary War battles and was a major shooting location for the film “The Patriot.” Revolutionary War reenactors and other living history programs provide visitors with a glimpse into the area’s past, including the stories of African-Americans living on the plantation in the mid-1800s.
The Catawba Indian Nation Reservation, is home to South Carolina’s only federally recognized Indian tribe. There are walking trails along the scenic Catawba River, as well as a cultural center and store where you can buy distinctive Catawba pottery and other items.
For those seeking a little more action, Catawba River Expeditions offers kayak and canoe rentals on the Catawba River. You can choose from one-hour to four-hour or all-day floats.
You can ride or watch at the Novant Health BMX Supercross Track. This BMX training facility is open to the general public with both an amateur and an elite supercross start hill as well as a pump track. Programs are offered for all ages and skill levels.
Or, for a gentler adventure, Eagles Wings hot air balloon rides gives you a bird's-eye view of the whole beautiful area. You can see the Charlotte skyline, Kings Mountain and the beautiful landscape of rural York County. Eagles Wings “flies” year-round.
Of course, the ultimate thrill in Rock Hill is Carowinds. Nearly 400 acres of shows and attractions and rides, including 13 major roller coasters like the Fury 325 and the Intimidator. Kids of all ages love Planet Snoopy, dedicated to Charles Schulz’s beloved beagle, and Dinosaurs Alive! is as close as human ever wanted to get to interacting with the prehistoric behemoths who once roamed the Earth. You can get wet at Boomerang Bay – a 20-acre water park – and even stay at the Carowinds Wilderness Resort campground.