Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Classic Carolina City: Camden, SC

 City of History and Horses
 by Lynne Brandon

Robert Mills Courthouse
Carolina Cup
Re-enactment at Camden Revolutionary War site









































Camden, SC - A common misconception is that Camden is only for the equestrian-loving crowd. The equine industry is indeed robust in this Southern city, but it is only one part of its appeal. Camden is rich in history, arts, culture and antiques and gracious hospitality can be found on every corner.

Camden is South Carolina's oldest inland city, and its rich past is on display in its museums, historic district, antebellum homes and antique shops. Camden has more than 60 historic sites, including parks, cottages and spacious mansions. At the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site visitors can see reenactments twice a year. 

The Camden Archives and Museum is a city-owned museum that focuses on the Colonial and Revolutionary eras. Permanent and rotating exhibits such as the Ross M. Beard, Jr. Gun Collection generate a great deal of interest. The collection is one of the largest exhibits in the Southeast, featuring guns from John Dillinger.

Museums and exhibits tell Camden’s story while the horse industry are a major economic driver of the city. The estimated impact of the Carolina and Colonial Cup Races and the 31 weekend events at the South Carolina Equine Park was $10 million in 2013. The total economic impact of equine-related activities and businesses was estimated at more than $29 million for Kershaw County, the top South Carolina County for equine ownership per capita.

Signs of the equine lifestyle are everywhere--horse trailers and small barns tucked among homes, huntsman and hounds afoot on Saturdays, retail tack and feed supply stores. The 600 acres of the Springdale Race Course is central to the horse community. Established in 1928, the course is home to the Carolina and Colonial Cup Steeplechase Races. The Carolina Cup steeplechase draws over 65,000 fans annually from throughout the country to enjoy an afternoon of racing, fashion and tailgating. 

Spring heralds springtime in Camden when the Steeplechase Capital of the World gears up for the Carolina Cup. In the fall horse lovers gather for the world-famous Colonial Cup Race. Throughout the year horse shows at Equine Park, polo matches and foxhunts keep the equestrian community busy. Quarter horses are also trained in Camden for barrel racing shows and roping competition.

It is fitting that the National Steeplechase Museum resides in Camden. It opened to the public in 1998, and it is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated purely to telling the story of the American steeplechase. The white clapboard building that houses both the racing offices and the National Steeplechase Museum is on the grounds of the race course. A life-size bronze statue of Lonesome Glory, five-time Horse of the Year, greets museum visitors.  

Inside, rotating exhibits, a racing silks display, an interactive exhibit of a day in the life of a jockey, equine photography, and the J.V.H. (Bobby) Davis Memorial Library give horse lovers much to enjoy. Hope Cooper, Director of the National Steeplechase Museum, welcomes tourists from every state and several countries annually.  

The natural beauty of Camden’s landscape and temperate climate attract sports and recreation enthusiasts from across the U.S. and internationally. The clay sporting course at Hermitage Farm Shooting Sports, fishing at LakeWateree or driving a “lemon” at Carolina Motorsports Park are all fun ways to relax for those not inclined to ride horses.

After a day of outdoor sports, first-quality pampering awaits visitors at local bed and breakfast inns. The Camden House is located in the historic downtown across the street from the famed Buckley School of Public Speaking. Completed in 1832, the mansion is in easy walking distance to shops, restaurants, antique stores, a community theater and historic parks. Visitors also stay in Bloomsbury Inn, a former residence of Mary Boykin Chestnut who authored the well-known Civil War diary. Elegant surroundings and exceptional services have landed the inn on the “B& B of the Year” list multiple times.

Art and music are appreciated in the city, and blues lovers flock to the annual Carolina Downhome Blues Festival. Throughout the year, the active arts community supports more than 100 events and classes at the art center.

The vibrant city offers many reasons to visit and perhaps put down roots. From friendly people to the active outdoors lifestyle, Camden is a true Southern destination, and the town built on tradition is not just for those who are comfortable in a saddle.

SEE AND DO: Historic Camden Revolutionary War Park, Springdale Racecourse (home to the Carolina Cup and Colonial Cup steeplechase), National Steeplechase Museum, South Carolina Equine Park.

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