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Outdoor Options in South Carolina’s Old 96 District The Old Cotton Gin, McCormick, South Carolina 1-9-9-7


                                Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher  

            The remote location of South Carolina ’s Old 96 District ensured we would not be overwhelmed with tourist traffic.  However, it was our stop by Godfrey’s Market in Hodges, that offered a glimpse into the area’s rural way of life.  As we pulled up, an early 60's Chevy truck sat out front–nothing unusual, but evocative of a bygone era.  Godfrey’s, in business for more than fifty years, is one of few remaining country stores where one may purchase about anything from a chainsaw to chopped liver.  Smoked hams hang along a wall as if placed by a set designer.  Wash tubs–like those used back in the wringer-washing machine dark ages–hang along another.  The country location, the carry-most-everything-you-can-imagine country store, the old truck–it was a Mayberry flashback.  We expected to see Andy and Barney emerging from an aisle of canned goods.  We did see Aunt Bea as we were leaving.  She was pulling away from the gas pumps in her 1972 Ford Thunderbird.  Well, actually, it wasn’t actually Aunt Bea, but it could have been.Route 378 crossing Lake Thurmond from South Carolina into Georgia 1-9-12-20

            Located along what’s referred to as “ South Carolina ’s Freshwater Coast ,” the Old 96 District offers an abundance of outdoor adventure options.  Although the area remains mostly undiscovered, we predict it will soon be a rising star on the outdoor enthusiast’s Mid-Atlantic map.  Three state parks, Lake J Strom Thurmond, and Sumter National Forest mean a plethora of outdoor activities are available.  Hunting and fishing are popular with many, but our emphasis is on the less resource-depleting activities of biking, hiking, horseback riding, boating, and canoeing.  I-26 and I-385 pass through a small segment of the region’s northernmost segment, otherwise, the region remains interstate-free, yet, within a two-hour-drive from Atlanta , Georgia or Columbia , South Carolina .

            The district takes its name from an important political and economic center in the Carolina Backcountry during the Colonial and Revolutionary War periods.  Located along the trail connecting Charleston and the Upper South Carolina foothills, Ninety Six may have obtained its name from early, cartographically-challenged traders, who thought it was ninety-six miles from the wayside to Keowee Cherokee village, the first Cherokee village in the foothills.   During the Revolution, Ninety Six was a hamlet controlled by the British and Loyalist forces until it was abandoned in July of 1781.

 The Guillebeau House, built in the 1700's the cabin was home to Andre Guillebeau, a French Huguenot settler. It is the only such Huguenot structure remaining in the area, Hickory Knob State Park, South Carolina 1-9-10-11           Hickory Knob State Resort Park , eight miles west of McCormick, is South Carolina ’s only state resort park.  The park, located on Lake Thurmond (still referred to as “ Clarks Hill Lake ,” by those who remember the lake’s original name), has all the amenities for an outdoor adventure.  The park has a boat dock; 75 campsites; fishing boat rentals; nature trail; restaurant; kayak rentals; bicycle rentals; rental cabins; a 78-room lodge; and an 18-hole golf course.  Among the rentals is the Guillebeau House, built in the 1700's the cabin was home to Andre Guillebeau, a French Huguenot settler.  It is the only such Huguenot structure remaining in the area.  The home has been fitted with water and electric, but it remains astonishing that such an historic treasure is available for public rental.

            Baker Creek State Park and Hamilton Branch State Park , both nearby, offer many of the same outdoor options.  While Baker Creek has 100 campsites, Hamilton Branch offers 200. 

            The town of McCormick has an interesting story.  The town, like the county, is named for inventor Cyrus McCormick, whose wife is credited with the layout of the town.  The 19th century discovery of gold in the area brought a breeze of prosperity.  Incorporated in 1869, the railroad brought growth and greater prosperity to the town.  By the late 1980's, however, McCormick’s fate had apparently turned.  The town was profiled in a news weekly magazine as a dying town.  The town’s residents decided they didn’t agree with the magazine’s assessment.  They refused to resign themselves to the foretold fate.  Efforts were put in place to diversify the town’s economic base.  Cultural tourism was considered as part of that plan, resulting in the restoration and opening for public touring of the long-closed Dorn Grist Mill.  The historic downtown building facades have been restored and there is a sense of vitality in this town of 8,800.

           Savannah Lakes Resort & Marina, pontoon boat rental, Lake Thurmond 1-9-12-7 Savannah Lakes Resort & Marina, on the banks of Lake Thurmond , makes a good base of operations for exploring the area.  The resort’s Parrot Cove Restaurant offers a surprisingly diverse menu, and the food is very good.  The resort’s 80 rooms all have lakefront views.  A 350-seat theater is available for meeting space, as are several more intimate boardrooms.  With 1200 miles of shoreline and 70,000 surface acres, Lake Thurmond presents much to be explored.  The marina offers pontoon boat rentals.  Pontoon boats are a slow, stable means of water-based transportation; great for family outings.  We spent a morning exploring the secluded recesses and coves, during which we saw a bald eagle and a number of ospreys soaring above the lake.  Two fishermen, bass boat snuggled behind a small island, turned their attention from their fishing to offer a friendly wave as we puttered through.

            Growing interest in trails and a significant portion of the traveling public’s interest in “active vacations,” led to a 1997 meeting of concerned groups.  Made up of public land managers, economic development agencies, trail interest groups and those interested in promoting nature-based tourism, the meeting resulted in the formation of the Mecca Trails Association.  The association’s goals include developing an area-wide network of trails using public and private property; to create recreational opportunities; and to promote nature-based tourism.  The association aims to meet those goals as it works to improve existing trails; establish connecting routes between existing trails; and showcase the rural and natural attributes of the Upper Savannah Valley region.  Currently 186.5 miles of trails are open for a variety of activities including horseback riding, canoeing, hiking, and biking.  The long-range plan is to have all the trails in place by 2010, when hundreds of miles of new and connecting trails are slated to be complete.

            The region’s extensive, undeveloped, public lands in this rural environment means plenty of room to explore without bumping elbows with others seeking the same experience.  The infrastructure to support a large tourism base is not in place, which means now is the time to explore this gem of an outdoors destination, before it’s discovered.


If You Go:

USA, South Carolina, McCormick County, Savannah Lakes Resort & Marina 1-9-11-19

Savannah Lakes Resort & Marina

101 Village Drive

McCormick, SC 29835

Phone: 864-391-2152

Fax: 864-391-2171



McCormick, South Carolina 1-9-8-11

Old 96 District Tourism Commission

104 ½ Public Square

PO Box 448

Laurens, SC 29360

Phone: 864-984-2233

Fax: 864-984-0096



Dorn Grist Mill, McCormick, South Carolina  1-9-10-1 1-9-10-1          Dorn Grist Mill, McCormick, South Carolina  

Savannah Lakes Resort & Marina, pontoon boat rental, Lake Thurmond  1-9-12-18 1-9-12-18        Savannah Lakes Resort & Marina, pontoon boat rental, Lake Thurmond
Lake Thurmond, Sumter National Forest, Old 96 District, South Carolina  1-9-11-8 1-9-11-8          Lake Thurmond, Sumter National Forest, Old 96 District, South Carolina Godfrey's Market, Hodges, South Carolina 1-9-7-15 1-9-7-15          Godfrey's Market, Hodges, South Carolina
Sunset, McCormick County, South Carolina 1-9-6-3


 The Guillebeau House, built in the 1700's the cabin was home to Andre Guillebeau, a French Huguenot settler. It is the only such Huguenot structure remaining in the area, Hickory Knob State Park, South Carolina  1-9-10-7Hickory Knob State Park

Route 1, Box 199-B

McCormick, SC 29835

Phone: 800-491-1764



Emerald Farm, where goat milk is turned into soap and other beauty products 1-9-6-111-9-6-11          Emerald Farm, where goat milk is turned into soap and other beauty products Old Farm, McCormick County, South Carolina 1-9-6-1 1-9-6-1    Old Farm, McCormick County, South Carolina

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