Kalmia Gardens of Coker College boasts the tallest recorded American Beech in South Carolina. Recognized in 2004, the champion tree -- which at the time was about 15 feet around and 80 feet tall -- is a silent sentry near the entrance to the house and gardens, 35-acres of botanical splendor on a former 19th-century plantation in Hartsville. The Gardens are on the National Register of Historic Places and were first opened to the public in 1935. They can be toured from dusk to dawn year-round.
Once a private residence, the house -- which was built in 1820 by Thomas E. Hart after whom the town was named -- was given to Coker College in 1965 by the Coker family. The Cokers had acquired the property in 1932, and Miss May Coker created the trails that course through the property. Once completed, the gates were opened and the public invited in.
Rhododendrons, azaleas, dogwoods are abundant in the gardens, along with camellias and mountain laurel, the kalmia after which the gardens are named. Hikers are welcome to explore the six miles of trails that run along Black Creek and connect with neighboring Segars-McKinnon Heritage Preserve. Canoes are available for visitors wishing to explore the creek.
Kalmia Gardens is located at 1624 W.Carolina Ave. and is part of the South Carolina Cotton Trail, a 90-mile area between Interstates 95 and 20. Hartsville is one of seven highlighted sites along the historic trail, which recounts South Carolina's rich and complex relationship with King Cotton. In addition to Hartsville, the Cotton Trail tour includes Bishopville, Bennettsville, Cheraw, Clio, Darlington and Society Hill.