Simple Pleasures, Natural Treasures

Sixty miles due east you’ll find a town where simple pleasures are the best . . . A taste of artesian water — a crisp 50 degrees — bubbling up from an ancient aquifer . . . A native azalea, its bewitching fragrance sweeter than honeysuckle . . . spring flowers’ shimmering black-water reflections. Hartsville, South Carolina simplicity. Revel in it.

This beautiful Pee Dee town, a bed-and-breakfast haven stitched to the South Carolina Cotton Trail, resurrects yesteryear’s charm. Faulkner may as well have had Hartsville in mind when he wrote, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” For Hartsville is about simple pleasures of the past. No wonder its homes, history and floral wealth lure wayfarers.

Hartsville covers 5 square miles, within which man transformed 491 acres of virgin pines into downtown Hartsville. Old Sol rains celestial riches here — 115 clear days a year — and all that energy feeds gorgeous greenery. People are fond of saying that Hartsville is a garden with a town in it. Kalmia Gardens is Hartsville’s pride and joy. May Roper Coker built the garden in the 1930s. With some hard-working men, a mule and enough sweat to float a steamship, “Miss May” sculpted Kalmia Gardens from “laurel land,” embellishing its trails with azaleas, camellias and tea-olives. This arboretum sustains a microcosm of plants extending from the Blue Ridge to the Coastal Plain.

Descend the boardwalk (435 feet, total) down a bluff through Kalmia Gardens across Black Creek, where tannins steep the water dark as tea. See profusions of mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, blizzard the bluff white come May. Journey across the creek where Segars-McKinnon Heritage Preserve displays copious sub-tropical vegetation.

Climb the bluff to the Thomas Hart house, (1820, National Register of Historic Places). See the museum — a restored post office building also on the NRH. Learn Sonoco’s history and see silver from the Eastern Carolina Silver Company. Yes, silver (Rumors hint that more millionaires live here per capita than any place in the United States.)

“There’s this notion millionaires live in mansions and drive big cars,” said Kathy Dunlap, Hartsville Museum’s executive director. “They can also live in 20-year-old homes and drive old cars.”

Kathy should know. South Carolina’s oldest car, the steam-powered Locomobile, sits in the museum. Just outside, native Lawrence Anthony’s “The Performance,” a steel sculpture sporting a coppery patina, celebrates the music, dance and drama flourishing in Hartsville’s Center Theater.

The good life. That’s Hartsville. Nature, history, gardens and art. Home to Coker College and Sonoco. Far from ordinary, but close to your wayfaring heart.

 

Learn more about Tom Poland, a southern writer at www.tompoland.net. Email day-trip ideas to [email protected]