Are you a history buff who loves to explore the past through unique travel adventures? Or are you a parent hoping to fill your kids’ summer vacation with educational activities in addition to playtime on the beach? If that sounds like you, then you’ve come to the right place! The ‘Lowcountry’ refers to the Atlantic coastal region stretching from North Carolina to Georgia, with South Carolina at the heart. With its strong cultural roots, this region offers some truly extraordinary historical experiences—if one knows where to look.
First, plan your summertime getaway in Myrtle Beach, SC. Of course, the palm-lined, golden sand beaches and pristine coastal views make it a classic summertime vacation destination. Not only this, but you’ll also be within a day’s journey to some of the most famous Lowcountry historical sites. Read on for a breakdown of six Lowcountry towns where visitors will discover a variety of historic sites to learn about the fascinating colonial and antebellum eras.
The well-preserved plantations of the Lowcountry provide poignant insight on the agricultural South’s rapid development through slave labor. In Myrtle Beach, the Waccamaw River is dotted with these historic structures. For a history enthusiast on a mission, there are a variety of Myrtle Beach plantation tours that will bring you into the world of the past.
Hop on a 2.5-hour river cruise with Plantation River Tours for scenic views of at least six Myrtle Beach plantations. The knowledgeable historian on board will narrate stories about the daily lives of the plantation owners and the slaves who generated their wealth. Sit back and enjoy the breezy ride, the easy-going pace of swamp wildlife, and the picturesque views of architecture belonging to a bygone era.
At Brookgreen Gardens, there are more opportunities to experience Lowcountry history than you can count on one hand. This 9,000+ acre nature preserve is a home for local wildlife, native plants, and a wealth of educational events. You could learn about Zimbabwean sculpture or Gullah Geechee archaeological finds, or you could witness a wondrous nighttime light show in the gardens. For those specifically seeking history-related experiences, you might embark on an excursion to see former rice fields, plantation cemeteries, a slave village, and other historic structures. Brookgreen Gardens is the place to go in Myrtle Beach to witness how the history is forever imbued in the land.
When most people think of Lowcountry architecture, Charleston more often comes to mind. However, Georgetown has more historic 200-year-old homes in the downtown area alone than Charleston.
Only an hour away from Myrtle Beach, downtown Georgetown is a lovely venue for an afternoon stroll along the waterfront. As you walk among the antebellum architecture, boutique shops, and seafood restaurants, you’ll come across five museums. You can’t miss the Georgetown County Historical Society Museum, which traces over 300 years of history on South Carolina’s third oldest city. This museum exhibits artifacts from Native inhabitants, colonists, and even Civil War and WWII soldiers.
After your downtown adventures, make sure to leave enough time for lengthy visits to Georgetown’s many plantations. As an official port of entry since 1732, Georgetown played a crucial role for the local agricultural economy. Visit the Hopsewee Plantation to see one of the largest rice plantations in the South and the birthplace of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Also, don’t miss the Kaminski House Museum, built by the most prominent merchant of the South Carolina colony and a prime example of the 18th-century ‘single house’ style.
A quick pitstop northward to Conway, a strategic port city for plantation-made goods and naval stores, adds to the bigger picture of the 18th century. Though a small town compared to giants like Wilmington, Georgetown, and Charleston, Conway has a unique story to tell.
What began as an expansion effort by the colonial Brits of Charles Town later turned into a town of rebel supporters for the American Revolutionary War. Given its location on the Waccamaw and Pee Dee Rivers, Conway eventually became influential to the industrial development of Horry County. Today, visitors to Conway can enjoy shopping, dining, and a free, self-guided tour of the historic riverfront district to see several sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bald Head Island
One particular strip of Atlantic coastline in North Carolina played a crucial role in the Civil War. Cape Fear was first home to Native American hunter-fishers, then later christened by European explorers for its unnavigable sand bars. It even served as a pirates’ refuge at one point. In 1817, Old Baldy Lighthouse was built, followed by Fort Holmes in 1863. The Confederate fort made the entrance to the Cape Fear River impassable for Union forces hoping to disrupt Confederate military supply lines to Wilmington.
A tour of Bald Head Island is a fantastic way to unpack this history even further. Take a pleasant ferry ride to the island before jumping into a 2-hour guided tour of the grounds. Afterward, climb to the top of Old Baldy Lighthouse for panoramic coastal views, then head back to sea-level for more enlightening experiences at the Smith Island Museum of History.
About an hour and a half north of Bald Head Island and at the peak of Cape Fear is the great North Carolinian city of Wilmington. Thanks to its function as a port for manufactured goods and naval stores along the Cape Fear River, Wilmington has been a massive hub of trade, politics, and culture since the British colonial era. As such, it was a strategic point during the American Revolutionary War as well.
The best remnant from before this war is the Burgwin-Wright House & Gardens, which stands as a classic example of Georgian architecture and 18- and 19th-century antiques. Of notable mention at this property are the brick carriage house, slave quarters, dipping pool, heirloom rose garden, and 18th-century-style gardens.
Fast forward about 200 years at Battleship North Carolina to discover how this port city’s residents played a role in World War II. The restored battleship is a lasting memorial to the 11,000+ North Carolinians who gave their lives to fight for world freedom. Today, guests are welcome to tour the ship and learn about its operations and role in the Pacific Ocean naval offensive during World War II.
Last but not least, Charleston can’t be left out of your Lowcountry history tour. Between the perfectly preserved antebellum mansions, countryside plantation sites, Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie, Morris Island Lighthouse, and countless other historic sites, Charleston is a paradigm of the nation’s evolution and growth.
Once you’ve arrived in this town as old as 1670, you’ll learn from its innumerable museums how Charles Town operated as a seaport for British trade while maintaining religious tolerance. You’ll observe how its divided Civil War sentiment was made manifest as countless battles ravaged the city, killing thousands on both sides. You’ll also notice how Charleston has always been rebuilt, its history carefully preserved, despite war, earthquakes and hurricanes.
A truly distinct culture and impact on U.S. history defines the Lowcountry, and the best way to uncover its secrets is to experience its towns. From plantation tours and river boating trips to day trips to historic districts and museums, the region offers plenty of instances where history comes to life. So, spend your summer among these fascinating towns, exploring, appreciating, and enjoying the old-world Southern charm and its deeply rooted heritage. Your trip awaits!