Tucked away in the foothills of western South Carolina is one of the Palmetto State’s best-kept secrets, historic Abbeville County. Bordered on the west by the mighty Savannah River, Abbeville is a unique combination of natural beauty, with its pristine “freshwater coast”, and many valuable historic buildings and sites. It is also one of the oldest counties in the state, one of five carved out of the old Ninety Six District in 1785.
Abbeville still remains distinct because the old patterns of life persist. Its history is as distinct as its people but this dynamic county combines the old and the new. Its communities work hard to preserve their heritage while planning for progress, utilizing the tools of modern technology such as the Internet to promote the area.
We welcome all newcomers, businesses and industries, inviting them to share our excellent quality of life. Many Mennonite families, for example, have found rural Abbeville County meets their cultural needs. They, in turn, have opened businesses and restaurants here and provide a valuable source of craftsmen and entrepreneurs to the county’s labor pool. An increasing number of retirees have also been attracted by this slower pace of day-to-day living still within driving distance of the nearby larger cities and their attractions.
Tourism is the second largest industry in South Carolina and a vital component of economic development in many parts of the state. This is demonstrated clearly in Abbeville where the restoration of the historic Opera House, now a thriving regional theater, and then subsequently of the entire downtown area, has brought in an increasing number of visitors and introduced the county to the tourism industry. This process has expanded with the development of Lake Russell and the Calhoun Falls State Park, which has turned already popular hunting and fishing into alternative sources of economic prosperity and tapped into the nature-based tourism market.
In the early 1990s a small group of community leaders in Abbeville got together to discuss ways of building on this initial success and from this the idea for the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor was born. The concept, an economic development and marketing initiative, was that Abbeville pool its resources with the neighboring communities to promote the area and take advantage of the burgeoning popularity of heritage and nature-based tourism. With the support of the SC Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, the Corridor has grown from that grassroots organization in Abbeville County combining with Greenwood, Edgefield and McCormick to form one region, to encompassing four regions, in all 14 counties, which run from the mountains to the sea. In October of 1996, the Corridor won designation as a “National Heritage Area” under the Parks Bill passed in Washington, making it one of only eighteen in the whole country, a long way from its modest beginning in Abbeville. Visitors will now be able to travel the highways and byways of the Corridor and experience the heritage and natural beauty of South Carolina’s rural counties such as Abbeville. As in other “corridor” areas in the country, this venture is a public/private partnership and one of the cornerstones of this program is the stewardship of our natural, cultural and historic resources, so vital to maintaining our most important assets—quality of life.