Living History in the Upstate

Think you have to drive to Williamsburg or Charleston to have a real-life history experience? Think again—there are plenty of opportunities for history buffs right here in the Upstate, from walking history tours to battlefield reenactments to plantation tours.

Pickens is the place to go for really old history, well before the Civil War or even the Colonial period: The Archeological Dig at Robertson Farm is on private property, but you can call to find out about opportunities to volunteer to work on the site, in an area that has been occupied off and on for 10,000 years or so. Equally ancient, and also in Pickens County, are the rock drawings at the Hagood Creek Petroglyph Site. And there are plenty more historical sites to explore in Pickens, too, so it’s a great pick for a historical day trip.

There’s no shortage of guided history tours in the Upstate—both on foot and by bus—and they’re a great way to get to know your own town, even if you’ve lived there for years. The Spartanburg County Historical Association offers three guided walking tours: the standard tour (available Tuesday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.), a historic pub crawl, and a “pocket tour” of about ¼ mile.

Greenville History Tours, run by John Nolan, offers a West End Walking Tour, a Downtown Driving Tour, and a Historic Neighborhoods and Architecture tour. (Additionally, Nolan offers a culinary tour and a Greenville BBQ tour if you’re hungry for more than history.) Walking tours are available in Pendleton, Anderson, and Abbeville, too, as well as a historic building tour at Oconee Station.

Living History Events

If you really want to put yourself into history, though, there are living history events throughout the spring and summer. On the third Saturday of the month, 10:00 a.m.–2:00p.m., from May through September, visitors can interact with living historians at Ninety Six National Historic Site, which also has hiking trails, fishing, and picnic facilities.

Of course, some of the best known historic sites in the Upstate are Cowpens Battlefield and Kings Mountain, the sites of decisive battles in the Revolutionary War. The living history days at Cowpens don’t start until June, but you’ll want to check their event calendar—in addition to regular weapons demonstrations, there are other themed weekends throughout the summer and into the fall. Coming up at Kings Mountain on April 16th is the Backcountry Militia Spring Encampment, with demonstrations of 18th century activities. And while you’re in Cherokee County visiting those historic sites, be sure to stop in Gaffney and visit the Cherokee County History and Arts Museum.

In Union, Cross Keys Plantation will have a living history event on April 23–24, presented by the Union County Historical Society. Jefferson Davis’ visit to the plantation will be reenacted, followed by a historical military demonstration. The plantation is open for regular tours on the first and third Saturday of each month, with tours starting on the half hour from 12:30 to 3:30.


In addition to Cross Keys, there are several plantations in the Upstate that allow you to step back in time and imagine what life was like—the good and the bad—in our pre-Civil War past. Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site was the home of the man who became known as the “secession governor”: William Henry Gist. An upcoming “Mansion by Moonlight” event on April 16 will give a unique glimpse of the night-time activities of the plantation.

Ashtabula Plantation, in Pendleton, changed hands several times over its 225-year history; in 1957, it was bought by the Mead Corporation as a timber farm, and they donated the house and 10 acres to the Pendleton Historical Society in 1961. Similarly, Woodburn Plantation had several owners before it was purchased by the U.S. government through the Resettlement Administration. Clemson University acquired it under a lease-purchase arrangement, and finally deeded the house to the Pendleton Historical Society in 1966.

Situated on the site of a Revolutionary War fort, Fort Hill Plantation’s Calhoun Mansion is in the center of the Clemson University campus. Walnut Grove Plantation, in Spartanburg, is open from April to October, Tuesday through Sunday. Dating back to pre-Revolutionary days, the property includes the house, outbuildings, and a cemetery, and a walking trail and picnic pavilion have been added.

Other significant historical houses in the area include the Burt-Stark Mansion in Abbeville, and several in Laurens County.

Photo credits: Banner, center left—Cowpens National Battlefield; Top right—Greenville History Tours; Bottom right—©Rose Hill Plantation Historic Site.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at