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History Comes to Life

A family's "edutainment" in Olde English District, South Carolina

Ever since our kids were old enough to enjoy the rides, it's been a family tradition to celebrate the end of summer with a weekend trip to Carowinds Amusement Park in Fort Mill, S.C. This year I thought it would be fun to extend our trip by a day or two and venture beyond the park gates to check out some of the more educational sites nearby.

The surrounding region, known as the Olde English District after the original British settlers in the 1770s, is home to hundreds of historical sites. Ranging from Revolutionary War battlegrounds to Civil War landmarks, the many markers and museums offer a glimpse into the area's rich and significant past.

While both my children are overachievers when it comes to their favorite subjects—computers for my son and writing for my daughter—neither has ever shown much interest in history. I thought visiting some of the historic sites and battlegrounds in person may spark their interest more than simply reading about them in school.

Starting in the past

We kicked off the "edutainment" portion of our vacation in Cherawd, a small town with a big history. Dating back to the late 1600s, when the Native American tribe for whom it was named settled the area, the town grew to become the largest base in the state for Sherman's troops during their destructive march through the South in 1865. To say the least, Cheraw has had a front row seat for history. We took a self-guided tour around town to check out some of the sites we'd researched on the drive. One of our favorites was Old St. David's Church, which was used as a hospital by both armies from the Civil War and the Revolutionary War, and its graveyard where many of those fallen soldiers were buried.

Our next stop was Camden. Camden, one of South Carolina's oldest towns, was the site of two of the most significant Revolutionary War battles in the South. In addition to its historical fame, Camden is also known for its equestrian activities and its restored antebellum homes. In fact, as we drove past the many beautiful bed and breakfasts in town, I dropped more than a few hints to my husband that this would be a nice place to spend my birthday weekend.

Historic Camden Revolutionary War Park, an outdoor museum spread over 100 acres, features the house used as headquarters by Lord Charles Cornwallis during Camden's occupation by the British in the 1780s, as well as several other period homes and reconstructed fortifications. As we walked through the fields, it was incredible to think that the events that took place on those hallowed grounds would be integral in the creation of the modern day United States.

"Mom, which battles took place here?" my son asked, with his phone in hand.

"If you Google ‘Camden' and ‘Revolutionary War' it will bring up several sites with them listed," I said, quietly thrilled at his interest.

Rose Hill Plantation – Flickr/kingary

Making our way through history, our next stop that afternoon was Rose Hill Plantation in Union, a beautifully preserved plantation that once belonged to William Henry Gist, infamously known as the "Secession Governor" for his leadership during South Carolina's decision to secede from the Union in 1860. In addition to the historic significance of Gist, the tour also offered a glimpse into the everyday workings and life on a plantation in the 19th century South. While my kids and I were enamored by the elegant interior of the house, my husband—an amateur gardener—was in heaven as he wandered among the roses in the formal gardens.

Thrilling perspective

The thrilling side of Carowinds – Flickr/Kreg Steppe

More on the thrilling and educational side of our trip, the next day, we rode every rollercoaster imaginable at Carowinds. That list included The Fury 325—the world's tallest and fastest giga-coaster. My knees were a little wobbly after that one.

Our last stop was the Settlemyre Planetarium at the Museum of York County in Rock Hill, which, after focusing so much on the past at our previous stops, was like taking a giant leap into the future. As our virtual tour of the galaxy spread out above us in its full digital glory, I couldn't help but feel a little insignificant. When I told my daughter this later, she shared a completely different take.

"Not me," she said, "I felt the opposite. After all, look at the progress that mankind, made up of people just like us, has made in just the past 250 years. I think it's pretty amazing."

"You know, I hadn't thought about it like that, but you're right," I said.

As we made our way back home, I thought about my daughter's statement, and about my son's newfound interest in history, and I realized we were not only coming back from our trip with memories, but with new appreciations and perspectives as well.

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