Road Trip through Eastern South Carolina | Saturday, February 20, 2016 | Featuring Huntington Beach State Park, Prince Frederick’s Chapel Ruins, Francis Marion National Forest, Mepkin Abbey
The inspiration for this weekend adventure was simply that we had gone South on highway 17 for 2 weekends in a row, and decided this time that we needed to try going North. Our plan was to hit a couple dog-friendly and scenic spots, find letterboxes, plant a letterbox, and cross some more things off our bucket list! It was finally warming up around us, which we were so thankful for. It was so great to be able to actually enjoy being outside again!
Highway 17 North is not a whole different than 17 South, as we soon learned, but we enjoyed driving through Francis Marion National Forest on our way. We saw where the Palmetto Trail (the trail that crosses South Carolina from East to West) crosses the highway through the forest. We drove through the small but cute town of Georgetown for the first time on this trip (and celebrated as we crossed the county line into Georgetown, giving us another county in SC!).
Our first destination was to Huntington Beach State Park. We came with the intentions of walking the beach, metal detecting, and searching for letterboxes. All went well except for the metal detecting – so far, Curtis unfortunately hasn’t had a lot of luck with detecting on beaches, with the exception of Hunting Island. Speaking of Hunting Island, before going on this trip we used to mix the 2 beaches up and say the wrong thing when we meant the other, but we haven’t done that since – in our minds, Huntington doesn’t hold a candle to how cool Hunting Island is. In fact, every beach we visit from now on has a lot to live up to. Just our opinion though – and maybe not everyone agrees, considering that there were like 4 times as many people at Huntington beach! The parking lot said it all. Of course, we had to expect that since we were so close to Myrtle Beach, SC.
Anyway, we found a few letterboxes around the trails and the Atalaya Castle. Atalaya is on the US National Register of Historic Places for being a winter home for industrialist and philanthropist Archer M. Huntington and his wife, the sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. Huntington designed their home in the Moorish Revival in the Mediterranean Revival architecture style. The home now is open for guided tours through the state park for $2 per person. We only enjoyed Atalaya from the outside though since dogs aren’t allowed. Instead, we went for a little hike to find letterboxes. It was a nice area, but hiking on the non-paved trails was cut short due to the path being completely flooded.
After we had had enough time here, we made our way back to Georgetown. As we exited the park, the road goes over a swamp, and it’s an excellent place to birdwatch. The sidewalks were packed with people enjoying the unique birds to the area (and perhaps alligators when they come out of hibernation).
From Georgetown, we made a “short” detour North on 701 to Plantersville to see the Prince Frederick Chapel ruins. This church was a bit more modern than other brick ruins we’d seen previously (like the Sheldon Ruins, Biggins Ruins, or Pon Pon Chapel of Ease) as it was the second church to be built on this location, finished in 1876. The land was donated by Rev. Hugh Fraser in 1834, and the first church was built in 1848. The congregation consisted mostly of rice planters along the PeeDee River (if you’re familiar with this area, you know that it’s really far out there in the middle of nowhere…along with lots of plantations also along the river and a Wildlife Management Area). However, as rice planting fell into decline, the church also suffered. It fell into disrepair and eventually was marked unsafe. In 1966 the building was demolished, leaving only the front wall of the church. The church is fenced off, but there’s a historical sign there and the ruins stand out along the seemingly deserted road with houses pushed far back out of view. We wondered what kind of people choose to live out here – and what these plantations look like.
From there, we started to make our way back home. We passed Georgetown one last time, only this time left on Alternate route 17 to drive through Francis Marion National Forest some more. Maybe some day we’ll do some more exploring through the forest, but for today we only made one last stop at a Trappist Monastery called Mepkin Abbey that we came across a few miles South of 17-A along the Cooper River. We sought after a letterbox that proved to be missing, but decided to take some extra time to walk through the gardens as the sun was beginning to set.
Mepkin Abbey was originally an estate to several families dating back all the way to 1681. The first owners recorded were sons of Sir John Coleton, one of the Lords Proprietary of South Carolina. In 1762, Henry Laurens of Charleston bought the land and built his home, naming it Mepkin Plantation. Laurens was known for being a political leader during the Revolutionary War, and later was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, later succeeding John Hancock as the President of the Congress. The land stayed in his family for several more generations, and after being sold a few more times it ended up going to Henry Luce, a popular politician and playwright during that time, in 1936. His wife, Clare Booth Luce, was commissioned to create a beautiful landscape garden, which was called Mepkin Garden. In 1949, Henry and Clare donated a large portion of their land – along with the garden – to the Trappist Order’s Gethsemani Abbey. Twenty-nine Trappist Monks came from Kentucky and founded the Mepkin Abbey that remains today. While an active monastery, the Abbey and gardens are open for the public to enjoy (find visitor’s information and events here).
The gravesite with the ashes of Laurens and the Luces is on the property, and other highlights are these huge, incredible wool sculptures, and of course, the gorgeous gardens. They were just lovely that night we were there, but I can imagine they’re even more colorful now that spring has sprung in the Low Country.
After wandering around for a while, we finally finished our drive home and got to see a stunning sunset. As we were driving back, we also passed by the birthplace of Francis Marion! Altogether, we toured one new county, found 3 boxes, and planted 1 letterbox. We finished the day off with homemade pizza – the perfect ending to any adventure. 😉
To see more pictures from this day, visit savingtimeinabottleimages.tumblr.com!