Looking for a relaxing getaway where you can unwind? Next, head to the foothills of western South Carolina and Abbeville County with its fascinating history, natural beauty, and endless things to do. Both the seat and the jewel in the crown of Abbeville County is the charming, laid-back town of Abbeville.
The nearest airport is Greenville Spartanburg International Airport in Greenville. From there it’s a 105km drive to the beautiful tree lined brick square which is the gently beating heart of Abbeville. Extend your wanderings and you’ll soon see why the restoration of downtown Abbeville has earned national recognition and awards for small town revitalization.
One of Abbeville’s claims to fame is to be the “birth and death place of the Confederacy.” Secession Hill saw the first meeting to consider South Carolina’s secession from the Union on November 22, 1860. Then, on May 2, 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis met with his War Council for the final time to admit the defeat the Confederacy and disband its troops.
Disclosure: Our thanks go to the Lofts on the courtyard square, JP’s Food & Spirits, Blondies on the bricksand the Abbeville Departmental Chamber of Commerce for their generosity in making our visit to Abbeville a real pleasure. However, all opinions are entirely my own.
Things To Do In Abbeville
Abbeville is a car-free town with a delightful surprise around every corner. Start by exploring the square’s historic buildings, lined with locally owned shops, restaurants, and other amenities housed in original brick buildings. Then, let your feet take you to historic homes and churches. Later, you can hop in the car and explore all that Abbeville County has to offer, using the town as your home base.
Walk through the history of Abbeville
A great way to get your feet wet in Abbeville is with the Abbeville Historic Walking Tour, a self-guided stroll through the town’s past. Collect your free card at the visitor center in the square. Then follow his lead to designated historical markers and learn about Abbeville’s intriguing history at your own pace.
Watch a show at the historic Abbeville Opera
Built in 1906, this classically styled, three-storey Beaux-Arts building is ideally located on the square. But don’t expect any chandelier-breaking areas. The 300-seat Abbeville Opera House presents local theater and a variety of musical performances most weekends.
Restored to its former glory in the mid-1960s, the theater proudly shows off its scarlet and gold interior along with vintage posters from past performances. And if you believe in ghosts, the Opera would be haunted on the upper level where the lights are.
Pro Tip: The Opera is wheelchair accessible and open to the public (except during rehearsals or performances).
Walk around the campus of Erskine College
If you enjoy strolling among historic buildings, the Erskine College campus is worth a visit. Most prominent among the campus structures is the 1892 Erskine Building with two domed towers. The 1860 Georgian Revival Philomathean Literary Society Hall is the college’s oldest original structure.
Pro Tip: Be sure to head to the Bowie Art Center and browse clocks, mechanical musical instruments, glass, china, and other entertaining exhibits.
Visit Trinity Episcopal Church
Founded in 1842, Trinity Episcopal Church was dedicated in 1860, just 3 weeks before the start of the American Civil War. Thanks to thoughtful restoration, the community’s love for the church, and the fact that Sherman’s troops missed Abbeville on its notorious march to the sea, Trinity’s steeple still towers majestically 120 feet in heaven, welcoming the local and visiting devotees.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Trinity’s Gothic Revival, dusty rose exterior makes it an unusual sight in a small town — and the interior holds even more surprises. Exquisite stained glass windows, original pews and an organ that pumps out heavenly-sounding music make Trinity a piece of Abbeville history that keeps on giving.
Pro Tip: You can explore Trinity most Saturdays when weddings or other events are not scheduled.
Visit historic homes
If you like to go back in time by entering historic residences, here are two jewels of Abbeville to discover:
At the Burt Stark Mansion, within walking distance of the plaza, you’ll come across the large house where Jefferson Davis officially dissolved the Confederacy and fled to Georgia from. This opulent two-story Greek Revival mansion dates back to 1841. Today, you can tour the house filled with antique furniture and other period items.
The two-and-a-half-storey 1888 Queen Anne-style McGowan Barksdale Bundy House comes with all the bells and whistles. Towers, turrets, a multi-textured, multi-colored exterior, and windows that come in an assortment of shapes, sizes, and tints are eye-popping before you even step through the door. Inside you will find attractive features such as built-in furniture and a coffered ceiling. The headquarters of the Abbeville County Historical Society is located in the house and you can schedule a visit by appointment.
Dig for gems at Diamond Hill Mine
Less than 30 minutes’ drive from Abbeville is an ideal opportunity to dig for sparkling crystals at Diamond Hill Mine. Amethyst stones can also be found, but are not as common. You will need to bring your own sturdy gloves, digging tools, food and drink. Also be sure to slather on sunscreen and wear a hat.
Pro Tip: The mine area has picnic tables, but no restrooms. There is an outbuilding and a porta-potty. The nearest petrol station is several kilometers away.
Enjoy the great outdoors
Abbeville offers many opportunities to get out and hike, bike, hunt, fish, swim and enjoy the county’s natural beauty. And all are a short drive from Abbeville. Calhoun Falls State Park is an example of the many options available.
10 minutes by car from Abbeville, you will find yourself in another world. Calhoun Falls State Park has everything one could want for a splendid day in the great outdoors. Take a short leisurely walk on a nature trail. Play a game or two of tennis. Fish, swim and have fun in Lake Russell. And of course, picnic. Then hike it all on the 1.75 mile loop trail.
Engage in Small Town Retail Therapy
What would a holiday be without a bit of shopping? Abbeville will send you home with unique gifts and treats.
Just browsing the treasure trove of unique Native American arts and crafts at WolfTracks Gallery & Gifts is inspiring. Unique jewelry, woven baskets, wood carvings, pottery and more dazzle the eyes and fingertips with exquisite workmanship.
Breezy Quarters offers an impressive variety of natural skin care and home products. Non-melting lip balms, natural scented soaps and lotions, candles and even pet products will awaken the senses and invite you to indulge.
Abbeville’s population is around 5,000, but the number, variety and quality of places to eat are more like those of a large city. Take the following for example:
Located in the plaza of the Belmont Inn, JP’s Food & Spirits offers tasty, familiar dishes with a little flair and lots of flavor. Try the chicken parmesan or the popular buttermilk fried chicken breast.
For breakfast or lunch, served with a reason to smile, all Blondies on the Bricks offerings are about or named after blondes. Try Spicy Blonde for breakfast. And for lunch, you could opt for the Dolly Double Stack Southern Tomato Sandwich.
As soon as you enter the small Boulangerie du Pain Quotidien in downtown Abbeville, you find yourself enveloped in a warm olfactory embrace scented with cinnamon. Cinnamon rolls are part of a wide range of cookies, breads and other freshly baked temptations. Daily Bread also produces a tasty selection of gluten-free and nut-free options.
Pro Tip: The bakery is only open from Thursday to Saturday.
Hotels in Abbeville
The Lofts on Court Square are conveniently located in the square. This deluxe furnished apartment features an antique but comfortable four poster queen bed in the bedroom and a queen sofa bed in the living room. A well-equipped kitchen with dining area makes dining hassle-free. The apartment also has a washer and dryer, as well as a 65” flat screen TV showing a crackling fire when you arrive. The apartment is located on the second level of the building, up a single flight of stairs.
Built in 1903, the historic 26-room Belmont Inn on the square is a prime example of how Abbeville cherishes and preserves its history. From the 1825 reception to its original brickwork, everything you see and touch takes you back in time. It’s no wonder the Belmont is included in the Abbeville Historic District listing on the National Register of Historic Places. No doubt, it helps keep the more than 30 mischievous ghosts reputed to inhabit the inn happy. The rooms are on the second floor and there is an elevator, but the rooms themselves are not ADA accessible.
Pro Tip: The best times to visit Abbeville are spring and fall. Winter is also good, but if you can’t stand the high temperatures and humidity, you might want to avoid a mid-summer trip.
If you enjoyed reading about Abbeville, check out these other charming South Carolina destinations: