Wednesday, October 15, 2014

More surprises in Greenwood, SC

NOTE: This should have appeared after the post on Greenwood, SC, but got "lost". If you had ever ridden along with us you'd know we do that a lot - get lost. As when we are directed to "Turn left at the dollar store at the light" only to discover there is a left turn and a dollar store at every light for the next 25 miles.

One of the Saanen "girls" at Emerald Farm.
 Everywhere the Good Girls go we encounter fascinating people and in Greenwood one of them was Kathryn Zhan, owner of Emerald Farm. She's just about an expert on everything. Kathryn raises organic chickens and goats and is a premier breeder of Saanen goats, a Swiss breed. She develops formulas for soaps and lotions, makes them and sells them, too. She uses no chemicals in her line of health and beauty products.

The herb garden
Emerald Farm is located a bit off the beaten path, but once you find it, it offers a full day's worth of activities. Families and seniors are especially happy with the relaxed pace on the farm. Besides visiting and feeding the farm animals, you could try fishing in the lake, explore the herb garden or shop for a large variety of health foods and hobby items.

Add caption
Emerald Forest chapel

 I followed the tracks and took a ride on a miniature railroad constructed by Kathryn's husband. It's really cute. I hopped aboard and rode past ducks on the pond and all around the Emerald Forest. There's a whole village of little structures like a chapel, schoolhouse, general store and more, constructed by members of the family.

The remarkable model train layout.

Finally, I entered the huge Hobby Shop filled with craft items for a variety of enthusiasts: sewing, knitting, model airplanes, miniature car collectors and you name it! Then, I went upstairs and found a model railroad museum.

What a surprise; it's an absolute wonder for anyone interested in trains. The museum contains a vast system of tracks with a number of engines pulling cars. One course is standard gauge, the other H.O. The layout is one of the largest in the southeast and is totally captivating. Members of the Emerald Farm Model Railroad Club may come and run their trains anytime they wish.

I didn't see, but Kathryn told me about an air strip for model airplanes and a model remote control car dirt track. She gives tours to hundreds of school children every year. Emerald Farm is a surprising, delightful place and Kathryn Zahn and her family are truly special.

Childhood home of Dr. Benjamin Mays.
We moved along to another unexpected find; the Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Museum Interpretive Center. Dr. Mays was born in August, 1894, in a Greenwood farmhouse, later moved to this location. The house contained only two bedrooms for the Mays family of ten. An original outhouse and cedar post clothesline were brought along to add authenticity to the site.

Original outhouse and clothes line.

Dr. Mays was an African American minister, educator, sociologist, social activist and the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, from 1940 to 1967. Mays was also a significant mentor to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and he delivered the eulogy for King. Mays was among the most articulate and outspoken critics of segregation before the rise of the modern civil rights movement in the United States.

Open the barn door to a modern museum.
A faux barn is cleverly designed to serve as the Interpretive Center and Museum. It contains photos, books, brochures, speeches, films and personal items belonging to Dr. Mays. Our guide, Loy Sartin, is a passionate expert on Dr. Mays and explained how Dr. Mays became a presidential advisor and man truly ahead of his time. "And to think he came from Greenwood, South Carolina," said Sartin.

That's how we found Greenwood, surprisingly interesting.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tangible history fills South Carolina's Union County

Rose Hill Plantation

The people who tell you about the history of Union County in South Carolina are probably related to the people who made it.

Rose Hill dining room.
Take Rose Hill Plantation, a State Historic Site 8 miles from the county seat of Union, SC. Begun in 1811 by Francis Fincher Gist, whose family laid out the city of Baltimore, MD, it is best known as the home of his illegitimate son, William Henry Gist. William, a lawyer, state representative and governor, remodeled the house, adding front and back two-story porches and covering its bricks with white-painted stucco.

General and Governor William Gist
He was an outspoken advocate of slavery, having turned his 5,000 acres into a working plantation with a slave population that grew from 20 in 1818 to 178 in 1860. Secessionist William even fought a duel with his State's Rights nephew. When elected governor, William became known as the "secessionist governor" and from 1858 to 1860 the three-story home served as the Governor's Mansion. David, one of two sons to survive to old age, fathered 25 children; the last granddaughter died a matter of months ago. Need I say there are a lot of Union county residents, black and white, named Gist?
Graceful bannister at Rose Hill

Cross Keys House
 As we headed into Union, we passed the Cross Keys House, site of an old stagecoach stop and circa 1809 post office at the intersection of the Old Ninety-Six (Old Piedmont Stage) and the Old Buncombe (Charleston) Roads. Completed in 1814 by Barrum Bobo (southern for Beaubeau, his family were French Huguenots), a prosperous merchant, it is an excellent example of Georgian Colonial style.

Jefferson Davis stopped here April 30 for lunch during his flight from Richmond and every April some 1,400 re-enacters recreate the event and its times. Held in the Bobo family until 2006, it is now owned by the Union County Historical Society and is open for tours on Saturdays.

It wasn't Saturday so we paused instead of toured, but the house has survived four earthquakes so that, too, can wait for a later date.

Union's Main Street where you'll find its museum.
We did stop at the fascinating Union County Museum in Union, where historian Ola Jean Kelly, who had accompanied us on our morning tour, pointed out some of the highlights of the 5,000-square feet of collections:

This dress brought seven brides good luck.
• Display of wedding gowns from 1825, including one worn over the years by seven brides.

Revolutionary War SC battle flag
• Two of the three South Carolina flags remaining from the Revolutionary War.

Secession table
• The table of secession upon which Benjamin F. Arthur of Union County drafted the Ordinance of Secession in Charleston, Dec. 20, 1860.

We were tickled to find out where the expression, "We'll thrown you under the jail" may have originated. No prisoners ever escaped from Union County's jail because they were housed underneath it, literally. So were those in Chester County but that's a story for the next post.

We ended our brief visit to Union County with a truly memorable meal at Midway BBQ in nearby Bufffalo, SC. The venerable establishment is now run by Jay Allen and owned by his wife, Amy, whose father was founder Jack O'Dell.

Jay Allen keeps the hash pots simmering.
Both Southern Living and Garden and Gun have sung its praises and it doesn't take long to see why when you enter this combination butcher shop, restaurant and community gathering place.

Everything edible here is good.
It is justly famous for its Carolina hash, a state specialty. Not pretty to look at but delicious to taste is this melange of beef (occasionally up to 5 percent pork), onions and butter assembled and cooked over a 24-hour period. It is what many diners drive 100 or more miles to eat. Equally famous should be the chicken stew, a rich bisque that soothes the soul with heartiness but would be right at home in a bone china bowl at a gourmet gathering.

We tried to sample it all.
Good Girls never quit so soon, though, and we tasted our way through the excellent pork barbecue, the sublime squash casserole, tangy turnip greens and a sweet potato souffle more satisfying to the sweet tooth than most desserts.

The things we do for our followers, burp.

Monday, October 6, 2014

South Carolina, a Peach of a State

South Carolina-grown Big Reds.
The Good Girls couldn't leave the Old 69 District of South Carolina without a word about peaches.

From beginnings near the city of Xian, China, where peaches were cultivated at least 3,000 years ago, the luscious fruit was spread o Russia and Persia. Alexander the Great and his armies bartered for them and spread the peach to Greece and from there to Europe. The Spanish brought peaches to the New World and today they are grown in 64 countries. Especially the Old 69 District of South Carolina.

Discovered there in the late 1600s, peaches became a major crop in the 1900s. During the mid-May to Labor Day season, weather permitting, 200-plus million pounds are harvested, more than in any other state except California. Yes, even more than in the "peach state" of Georgia. On the 5,100 acres of Titan Farms, the area's largest grower, more than 56 varieties are grown.

Carolina peaches ready for market.
We could not have been more delighted when honorary Good Girl Vicki Loughner brought us each a basket of Big Reds, one of the 70 different varieties grown here.

Timing wasn't good for what is considered a very perishable fruit; we had two more nights in the area plus another three in the Olde English district and a day's drive home.

 We needn't have worried. Treated right, truly fresh peaches are pretty hardy. Upon checking out of the Greenwood Fairfield Inn & Suites, we carefully placed our baskets in the car's back seat and floorboard, covering them with a windshield sun deflector. After checking into the Rock Hill Marriott Courtyard, we transferred them to a spot closest to the air conditioner in our rooms, repeating the process when we checked out and headed for home.

It worked. All peaches arrived deliciously edible. I managed to make a cobbler, a pie, have peaches on cereal every morning and put up fthree pint bags of perfect peaches just before going out of town nine days later. Debi's experience was similar.

Peaches on the tree in South Carolina.
Our advice, buy peaches from 300 miles away instead of 2,000 (South Carolina peaches can be bought on line). Keep them cool then allow to return to room temperature the night before you plan to use them.


The big peach we passed on the road.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Abbeville, History in every brick and board

Approaching Abbeville Square.
Drive up to Abbeville's square and you want to find a parking spot. Whether to sit on a bench in the shady park, to see what's showing at the Opera House or to explore what is inside the antebellum and early 1900s buildings, it calls to you.

Pull in and stay awhile.
There never seems to be enough time to do Abbeville justice which requires shifting your pace back 100 or so years.

Abbeville Opera House
Take the Opera House. Since 1908 Broadway's best have sung, danced and acted on its 7,500-square-foot stage. At the turn of that century, road shows traveled by train from New York to Richmond to Atlanta with an overnight stop in Abbeville. City fathers saw an opportunity and had the grand Opera House built. When movies began, it featured those, too, complete with orchestral accompaniment.

Imagine you imagine seeing plays from one of two stage-side boxes?
Today it has been restored to its 1908 glory with two additions, rocking chair seats and air conditioning. Stagehands still use the same rope-pulled rigging as in 1908. Named the official State Theater of South Carolina, Abbeville's Opera House is on the National Register of Historic Places, not to mention showcasing a year-round schedule of live productions.

I hope ghosts are still wandering around the Belmont Inn.
On one side stands the Courthouse and City Hall, across the street on the other side is the Belmont Inn, where those Scandals and Follies performers stayed, although they knew it as The Elysium. The venerable hostelry has been renovated by new owners since I spent a night there and I have to wonder if the ghosts stayed on.

The most notable was the chorus girl who wandered through the rooms looking for her favorite bracelet. She died never knowing it had been taken by another chorine. A colleague swore she had seen the apparition in her room during the night.

Burt-Stark Mansion
There isn't really anything left by the French Huguenots who founded Abbeville in 1764, but the town is rife with Civil War reminders.  It is, in fact, known as the cradle and the grave of the Confederacy. A tour of the Burt-Stark Mansion will explain.

On a hill now known as Secession Hill, the meeting that launched the state's secession from the Union was held on Nov. 22, 1860. According to our guide, the Articles of Secession were written at the Greek Revival mansion which had been built in the 1830s by David Lesley, a planter, lawyer and district judge.

Five years later, April 9, 1865, as the surrender of Richmond was expected any day, Varina Davis, wife of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis, and their children fled and took refuge in the house of their old friends, Armistead Burt, a former U. S. Representative, lawyer and Major in the Confederate Army, and his wife, Martha.

They left at month's end and around noon, May 2, Jefferson Davis arrived with his entourage. After eating, Davis, four of his cabinet members and five Brigade Commanders gathered in the gentleman's parlor for the last Council of War. Davis thought to gather the remains of the army and continue to Texas where they could raise more money and soldiers to fight on. His generals knew better and in the end, Davis was convinced that "All is indeed lost."

Did Judah P. Benjamin hide the Great Seal of the Confederacy here?
Also lost was the Confederacy's Great Seal. One theory has it being buried on the grounds around the mansion.

The Adam fan light of fleur de lis Burt had installed in the 1860s to honor his wife's Huguenot heritage; the red shows she was not of royal descent.
In all, Davis spent about 12 hours here, but they were decisive ones. Following the war, Burt, who had risked his life sheltering the Davises, was broke and in 1868, sold the house. In 1913 it was bought by cotton broker James and Ann Miller Stark. Their daughters were the last residents; in 1987, Mary Stark Davis willed the house to the Abbeville County Historic Preservation Committee.

We  ran out of time and couldn't see the Abbeville Historical Society's 1888 Queen Anne style McGowan-Barksdale House.

Anyone who claims there's nothing worth seeing in these smaller towns has never taken the time to visit one.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wild Turkey Museum

The Good Girls have been known to run around like wild turkeys, chasing down a flight or a story. But, the National WildTurkey Federation's (NWTF) Museum, officially the Winchester Museum, is a place worth tracking down. We consider it one of those hidden gems, a small interactive museum with world class exhibits. The center is located in the NWTF's national headquarters, in Edgefield, South Carolina.

The Good Girls visit the Winchester Museum

The Winchester Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to wild turkey restoration, management and hunting. It tells the amazing comeback story of the wild turkey. In the 1930s the population of wild turkeys was down to 20,000-30,000. By the early 1940s they were almost extinct. Then, work began to restore them using the capture and relocate method. By 1973 the population was back to nearly a million. Since then, the population has risen to full capacity at 7 million; however, wildlife management is still important or the turkey population could dwindle again. 

A museum tour begins with 3-D dioramas of the five wild turkey subspecies. It is interesting to note the colorful feathers of a male versus a female. Then, we came upon a Disney quality animated Cherokee Indian who shares legends about wild turkeys. I swear the movement of his hands is absolutely real. Around the corner, another incredibly life-like character sits in a rocking chair and tells more stories about the history of turkey hunting, conservation and the NWTF.

Native American Storyteller

The Good Girls entered a virtual reality theater that put them deep in a forest at the break of dawn. As light began to appear, we heard the sounds of nature mixing with early morning calls of wild turkeys as they flew down from their roosts. Did you know turkeys sleep in trees?

It's a lot easier to hit a wild turkey on the fly with a laser than in the wild.
One of my favorite parts of the museum was the interactive activity of shooting a  laser-like gun at a video of turkeys and a center for learning turkey calls. First of all, I had to learn what one was, as I am not a hunter. A turkey call mimics the sound of the bird and is used to entice them in your direction.

Here's a sample (Sadly, my video failed to record sound!)

Historic turkey calls donated by master turkey call makers Neil Cost and M.L. Lynch are some of the museum's most treasured collections. These items are pieces of art, exquisite works from extraordinary craftsmen. Through these exhibits, visitors can easily view the evolution of turkey calls spanning over the past one hundred years.

I climbed into a retired USDA Forest Service helicopter and watched as movie, much like an IMAX film, had me "flying," looking down on rangers tracking a controlled burn in a forest.

Turkey moms look after their young.
This museum was a significant eye-opener for me. I had no knowledge of wild turkeys before I visited, other than how to cook the domestic version for Thanksgiving. I learned that female turkeys are very good mothers who teach their offspring how to survive. Turkey males, on the other hand, are absentee fathers and in surplus, so hunters are allowed to shoot males. 

Statue outside the Museum in Edgefield
The biggest revelation, and this is actually a new scientific discovery, turkeys are descendants of dinosaurs.  Researchers compared turkey skeletons to dinosaur bones and found the similarities were astounding.  How cool is that?  

The NWTF recently acquired hundreds of acres surrounding their center. They are already developing them for various outdoor uses: camping, scouting, nature trails, skeet shooting and an amphitheater for presentations. In the future many more people will be drawn to the area. That's a good thing because this museum should not be missed.   


We couldn't leave Edgefield without visiting a pottery. After all, this is the locale of Old Edgefield Pottery and the style made famous by Dave the Slave Potter. His huge pots and poetic markings are even more desirable now than they were in the early 1800s. That style with its alkaline glaze is carried on today by Old Edgefield Pottery, but it was closed the day we arrived.

Jane Bess in front of her store.
Jane Bess Pottery Shop
Lucky for us we found potter Jane Bess opening up her lovely store. She showed us samples of her nature-inspired work but it was her most recent volunteer project that drew me in. 

Jane works with active military soldiers who have suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury. She is involved with a program that helps them overcome neurological, physical and emotional challenges. She makes pottery slabs containing an inspiration word like "Trust" and the soldiers break the slab. They then turn those sharp-edged, broken pieces into a resilient mosaic stepping stone. The soldiers put the pieces and their lives back together.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Lots of growing going on in Greenwood, SC

Like many county seats in the South, Greenwood, SC, has a charming, antebellum and turn-of-the-century downtown for its population of 23,000. Unlike many of the others, the movers and shakers here work to make sure their downtown - or uptown as they call it - thrives.

Kelly McWhorter of the Greenwood Regional Visitors and Tourism Bureau gave us a quick tour of three adjacent, re-purposed buildings on Main Street that had been turned into a cultural arts center, a community theater home and a science and history museum. All three nonprofits are interconnected as the Emerald Triangle.

Images from the center's files.
The Cultural Center is airy and spacious with well displayed art by regional artists in what was once a federal building built in 1911 as a post office and expanded in the 1930s.

Handsome inside and out.
Since opening in 2006, the 3,300-square-foot gallery space has had 180,000 visitors.

The Museum fills three levels with special exhibits plus permanent ones. The Regional History and 1900s Main Street exhibit takes visitors back in time. Naturally, we had to try on hats in the Milliner's shop.

How's this for 1914 chapeaus?
Given time we would have loved to explore the M. J. "Doc" Rhodes Gems and Minerals Gallery, the Epic Journeys of Animal Migration and the interactive Discovery Lab.

"Footloose" is the next production, opening Oct. 17, 2014.
The Theatre, once a movie house, is home to the thriving Greenwood Community Theatre. Executive Director Stephen Gilbert showed us around the 300-seat facility and talked about the group's success.

Musicals, staged with a 13-15-piece orchestra and at an average cost of $25,000 to $35,000 apiece, are particularly popular, playing to Standing Room Only audiences. There seems to be no lack of enthusiasm on the other side of the curtain: the recent "Wizard of Oz" production drew 212 auditioners for the 70-80-person cast.

It's a true year-round season with main and second stage productions, a children's theater, special events and movies when the stage is dark.

Connected to the Museum but located at the other end of Main Street, The Railroad Historical Center is a work in progress. Historically a railroad and textile town, Greenwood had five different lines coming through it in 1914. Now four of those antique cars are being restored and memorabilia and artifacts collected and displayed.

Speaking of Main Street, Greenwood's was once considered the widest in the world but reconfiguring it to add store front parking probably ended that status. It's still pretty wide and the convenient parking probably adds to uptown's success.

Topiary to show
Another reason for Greenwood's popularity is its festivals - barbecue, catfish, discovery, 4th of July stars and our favorite, flowers and the giant topiary featured during it. The SC Festival of Flowers began 47 years ago and peaks the fourth weekend in June. They start putting out the topiary in May and leave it up through most of July.
Prepping for new moss.

We visited horticulturist Ann Barklow, keeper and grower of the Disney-scaled creations in the greenhouse where volunteers were preparing the beasts for their next plantings.

The original 13 have grown to 40. A giant tiger and gamecock honor college mascots, Safari wildlife from apes to elephants stand waiting for a fresh foundation of moss for the flowers that will make them standouts.

Lunch time brought us to Kickers, a tiny restaurant with huge flavors across from the Farmers Market, where Chef Abdel Dimiati and wife Andrea serve an international, innovative, organic cuisine. His soups are outstanding and dessert
came as a lagniappe, a fried Oreo. Never would have ordered one but the almost pudding consistency of the cookie and the non-greasy crust was a flavorful surprise.

A surprisingly good fried Oreo.
Don't miss this little gem.

Note the quilt square on side of far left building.
McCormick was another tiny destination, but we were a bit disappointed. The gold mine over which the town is built was closed, the steam-driven cotton gin, one of two in the country, didn't work, the historic house was for sale (its exterior in need of TLC) and the vaunted Quilt Trail a mere few stops long with small- to medium-sized painted quilt squares.
A quilt square in progress.
With the South Carolina portion of giant Lake Thurmond, the county does have three of the state's six state parks with excellent outdoor recreation facilities including a golf course. Alas, none of them were on our schedule.

Our list of next times is getting awfully long.