Visitors to South Carolina often focus on Charleston and the Lowcountry as the places to go to explore the state’s history. But the Upstate in general and Greenville in particular have their own rich and varied lineup of attractions that bring that area’s heritage to life.
In downtown Greenville, the place to start such an adventure is Heritage Green, home to no fewer than four museums on its grounds. For art lovers, the Greenville County Museum of Art is considered the premier American art museum in the South and is home to the world’s largest public collection of watercolors by artist Andrew Wyeth. Also unique to the museum is its collection of paintings and prints by another art giant, Jasper Johns.
A short walk brings visitors to the Upcountry History Museum, which offers a vast choice of educational tours and exhibits. Regular events include the “History After Dark” and “Time Travels Program, A Student Enrichment Program.” Current or recent exhibits include “The Forgotten War: Korea 1950-1953” and “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow: Living with the Atom Bomb, 1945-1965.” The museum also offers docent-led talks about Upcountry life and 90-minute group museum tours.
Heritage Green’s Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery is a satellite facility of BJU’s on-campus Museum & Gallery, both perfect for lovers of religious art (the main facility has one of the world’s largest collections, second only to the Vatican). The Heritage Green site rotates special exhibits of art selected from the BJU collection and also features interactive displays for all ages. The on-campus location offers European Old Masters paintings, plus some 200 pieces of furniture from Gothic to 19th century, 100 sculpture works, 60 textiles and more than 1,000 ancient artifacts–many on display year-round. (Please note the museum is closed for renovations)
For an easier and comprehensive look at Greenville history, Greenville History Tours offers an array of options, including a chef’s tour of local restaurants, a walking tour of the historic West End, driving tours and more. A favorite for families is the Greenville BBQ Trail Tour, celebrating South Carolina’s love affair with barbecue.
Baseball fans will want to see the "Shoeless" Joe Jackson Museum, located near Greenville’s Fluor Field in the West End. Jackson, a Greenville native infamous for his arguable role in the 1919 “Black Sox” World Series fixing scandal, began his career with the semi-pro Greenville Spinners before a major league career that saw him post the third-best lifetime batting average of .356. Fittingly, the museum–in the house where Jackson lived and died, later moved to its current location–is at 356 Field St.
You’ll have to get out of downtown Greenville to visit other area historical sites. The Hagood Mill Historic Site & Folklife Center in nearby Pickens County is home of the historic Hagood Gristmill, built in 1825 and one of the oldest surviving gristmills still producing grain products in South Carolina. Nearby log cabins, a blacksmith shop and even a moonshine still date from 1791. You'll also want to explore the Hagood Creek Petroglyph Site which features 32 distinct petroglyphs, 18 representing people.
In Oconee County are the Oconee Station State Historic Site and the Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel. The former, established in 1792 as a blockhouse on the South Carolina frontier, also is home to the Williams Richards House; built as a residence and trading post in the early 19th century. The Stumphouse Tunnel is an incomplete, 1,617-foot long railroad tunnel for the Blue Ridge Railroad, started in 1852 to connect Charleston with Knoxville, Tenn. Now located in Sumter National Forest, it is part of a Walhalla park featuring nearby Isaqueena Falls.
An easy 30-minute ride takes visitors to Clemson University, home of the 2015 national runner-up NCAA football team and also a wealth of historic sites. Chief among these is Fort Hill, the home of South Carolina’s famous 19th century statesman, John C. Calhoun, from 1825 until his death in 1850. In 1888 Calhoun’s son-in-law, Thomas Green Clemson, bequeathed the Fort Hill plantation (1,341 acres) to the state of South Carolina for establishment of the scientific and agricultural college that bears his name.
Finally, a user-friendly piece of history is the statue of Joel Poinsett, a life-size bronze located in Court Square on Greenville’s Main Street. The physician, botanist and statesman (1779-1851) was also a U.S. Representative, Secretary of War under Martin Van Buren, and after his tenure as Minister to Mexico brought home a Mexican plant. You know it now as the poinsettia.
Taking in Greenville’s heritage isn’t complete without taking a “selfie” with Poinsett, seated on a black marble block. Don’t worry; he’s always there.