Looking for a relaxed getaway where you can destress? Then head for the foothills of western South Carolina and Abbeville County with its fascinating history, natural beauty, and a host of things to do. Both the seat and jewel in the crown of Abbeville County is the charming laidback town of Abbeville.
The nearest airport is Greenville Spartanburg International Airport in Greenville. From there, it’s a 65-mile drive to the handsome tree-lined brick square that is Abbeville’s gently beating heart. Expand your wanderings and you’ll soon understand why restoration of Abbeville’s downtown district has garnered nationwide recognition and awards for small town revitalization.
One of Abbeville’s claims to fame is that it is the “birthplace and deathbed 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 Council of War for the last time to admit the defeat of the Confederacy and disband his troops.
Disclosure: Our thanks go out to the Lofts on Court Square, JP’s Food & Spirits, Blondies on the Bricks, and the Abbeville County Chamber of Commerce for their generosity in making our visit to Abbeville a true pleasure. However, all opinions are entirely my own.
Things To Do In Abbeville
Abbeville is a walkable town with a delightful surprise around every corner. Start by exploring the historic buildings in the square, lined with locally-owned shops, eateries, and other amenities housed in original brick buildings. Then let your feet take you to historic houses and churches. Later, you can get in the car and explore all Abbeville County has to offer, using the town as your home base.
Take A Walk Through Abbeville History
An excellent way to cozy up to Abbeville is with the Historic Abbeville Walking Tour, a self-guided wander into the town’s past. Pick up your free map at the welcome center in the square. Then follow its lead to the designated historic markers and discover Abbeville’s intriguing story at your own pace.
Take In A Performance At The Historic Abbeville Opera House
Constructed in 1906, this Beaux-arts, classic-style building, standing three stories high, is conveniently located on the square. But don’t expect chandelier-shattering areas. The 300-seat Abbeville Opera House presents local live 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 House is alleged to be haunted on the upper level where the lights are located.
Pro Tip: The Opera House is wheelchair accessible and open to the public (except during rehearsals or performances).
Stroll The Campus Of Erskine College
If you enjoy meandering among historic buildings, the Erskine College campus is worth a wander. Most prominent among the campus’s structures is the domed, two-tower 1892 Erskine Building. The 1860 Georgian Revival-style Philomathean Literary Society Hall is the college’s oldest original structure.
Pro Tip: Be sure to drop into the Bowie Art Center and peruse clocks, mechanical musical instruments, glass, porcelain, and other entertaining displays.
Visit Trinity Episcopal Church
Founded in 1842, Trinity Episcopal Church was consecrated in 1860, just 3 weeks before the beginning of the American Civil War. Thanks to thoughtful restoration, community love for the church, and the fact that Sherman’s troops missed Abbeville on his notorious march to the sea, Trinity’s steeple still majestically soars 120 feet into the sky, welcoming local and visiting worshipers alike.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Trinity’s Gothic Revival-style and dusty rose exterior make 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 pours 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.
Tour Historic Houses
If you enjoy stepping into the past by stepping into historic houses, here are two Abbeville gems to explore:
At Burt Stark Mansion, within walking distance of the square, you’ll come upon the grand house where Jefferson Davis officially dissolved the Confederacy, and from where he fled to Georgia. This opulent two-story Greek Revival mansion dates back to 1841. Today, you can tour the home filled with antique furniture and other period items.
The two-and-a-half story, 1888 Queen Anne-style McGowan Barksdale Bundy House comes with all the bells and whistles. Towers, turrets, a multi-textured and multi-colored exterior, and windows that come in an assortment of shapes, sizes, and tints present an eyeful before you even walk through the door. Inside, you’ll find interesting features such as built-in furniture and a coffered ceiling. Abbeville County’s Historical Society headquarters is located in the house, and you can schedule a tour by appointment.
Dig For Gemstones At Diamond Hill Mine
Less than a 30-minute drive from Abbeville lies an ideal opportunity to dig for sparkling crystals at Diamond Hill Mine. Amethyst stones can also be found, but are not as common. You’ll need to bring your own sturdy gloves, digging implements, food, and drinks. Also be sure to slather on some sunscreen and wear a hat.
Pro Tip: The mine area has picnic tables, but no restrooms. There is an outhouse and porta-potty. The nearest gas station is several miles away.
Enjoy The Great Outdoors
Abbeville has many opportunities to get outdoors 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 one example of the many options available.
Take a 10-minute drive from Abbeville, and you’ll find yourself in another world. Calhoun Falls State Park has everything anyone could want for a splendid day surrounded by nature. Take a short, leisurely walk on a nature trail. Play a game or two of tennis. Fish, swim, and frolic in Lake Russell. And of course, picnic. Then walk it all off on the 1.75-mile loop trail.
Engage In Some Small Town Retail Therapy
What’s a vacation without a little shopping? Abbeville will send you home with unique gifts and treats.
Simply browsing WolfTracks Gallery & Gifts’ treasure trove of one-of-a-kind Native American arts and crafts is inspiring. Unique jewelry, woven baskets, wood carvings, pottery, and more dazzle the eye and the fingertips with exquisite workmanship.
Breezy Quarters offers an impressive variety of natural skin care and home products. No-melt lip balms, naturally-scented soaps and lotions, candles, and even pet products will tease the senses and beckon you to treat yourself.
Restaurants In Abbeville
Abbeville’s population is approximately 5,000, but the number, variety, and quality of places to eat is more like that of a larger town. Take the following for example:
Located on the square in the Belmont Inn, JP’s Food & Spirits offers tasty, familiar dishes with a little flair and a lot of flavor. Try the chicken parmesan or the popular buttermilk fried chicken breast.
For breakfast or lunch, served with a reason to smile, all the offerings at Blondies on the Bricks are about, or named after blondes. Try the Spicy Blonde for breakfast. And for lunch, you might go for the Dolly Double Stack Southern Tomato Sandwich.
As soon as you enter Abbeville’s small downtown Daily Bread Bakery, you’ll find yourself enveloped in a warm cinnamon-scented olfactory hug. The cinnamon rolls are part of a large array of cookies, breads, and other fresh-baked temptations. Daily Bread also produces a tasty selection of gluten-free and nut-free options.
Pro Tip: The bakery is only open Thursday–Saturday.
Hotels In Abbeville
The Lofts on Court Square is conveniently located on the square. This luxury furnished apartment comes with an antique but comfortable four-poster queen-sized bed in the bedroom, and a queen-sized pull-out sofa in the living room area. A well-equipped kitchen with dining area makes eating in hassle-free. The apartment also has a washer and dryer, and a 65-inch flat screen TV showing a crackling fire when you first 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 her history. From the 1825 reception desk to its original brickwork, everything you see and touch takes you back into the past. It’s no wonder the Belmont is included in the Abbeville Historic District listing on the National Register of Historic Places. No doubt, this helps keep the 30-plus playful 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 tolerate high temperatures and humidity, you might want to avoid a mid-summer trip.
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