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Historic Camden: War, Horses, Heritage, & More

By Tom Poland
web posted May 8, 2015

LIFE DOWN SOUTH – Camden gives me the feeling I’m in Charleston. As soon as I arrive, I think, “Here’s where history happened,” and indeed it did, for Camden played a role in this country’s founding. When I think of Camden, horses and Aiken, too, come to mind and vice versa. Camden, like Aiken, is widely known for equestrian activities. Camden, the “Steeplechase Capital of the World,” is a 98-mile drive away.

On Broad you can walk about downtown and find interesting shops and restaurants. Don’t be surprised if an antique shop with a sidewalk sign mandates that “all pedestrians must turn left” or right depending on your path as it directs you into its door. Don’t miss Books On Broad at 944 Broad and its great collection of Civil War books. Check out the galleria at 1011 Broad, which served as a hospital long ago. (A waitress says it’s haunted!) At noon you will hear Camden’s famous clock tower ring out twelve notes. Built in 1898 as part of the opera house, it adds to Camden’s Charleston-like ambience.

You’ll find plenty of palate-pleasing restaurants in the area. After lunch make the short drive down Broad to the site of the original Camden. The oft quoted “Spend a few peaceful hours where the British spent a rough year” comes alive at Camden’s Revolutionary War Site. Spend time here touring historic homes. An old log cabin, a breeze-blown Betsy Ross flag, and old palisade walls give you an idea of the hardships and struggles that led to this country’s founding.

You can’t miss the magnificent Kershaw House, a reconstruction of Joseph Kershaw’s mansion. The original house, built from 1775 to 1780 of Georgian architecture, served as the headquarters for Lord Cornwallis and the British army from 1780 to 1781. Burned in 1865 during the Civil War, it was rebuilt from 1974 to 1977.

Two Revolutionary War battles took place near here. The Battle of Camden, the worst American battle defeat of the Revolution, took place August 16, 1780 nine miles north. Closer by, General Nathanael Greene and some 1,400 Americans engaged 950 British soldiers on April 25, 1781. The costly British win forced the Redcoats to evacuate Camden.

No one will force you to leave, however. Tarry a bit and check out the beautifully restored McCaa’s Tavern. Note the interior colors, which were the original colors. (Seemingly hundreds of coats of paint had to be scraped away to find them.) The plan is to outfit it as an 18th century tavern.

Walk the grounds and note the old British cannons. If you’re brave, let a friend lock you up in the old pillory. (Better be a friend you can trust.) You’ll come away with a better sense of this country’s Revolutionary War history, and you’ll find that a day here opens a window to the past.

All photos by Tom

If You Go …
Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site (1.4 miles off I-20 at Exit 98)
222 Broad Street
Camden, SC 29020


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