Explore the Vast Campus of South Carolina’s Largest College

Written by Carrie Woodward
Updated: September 14, 2023
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The largest college campus in South Carolina is Clemson University, which has a campus of more than 1,400 acres. Clemson is a public land-grant research institution located in Clemson, South Carolina. Clemson has the second-largest student body of any university in South Carolina, after only the University of South Carolina – Columbia. This article explores some of the history of the university, describes its location in the state of South Carolina, and reviews some of the unique plant and animal species found on or around the campus. With that in mind, let’s jump right in to learn about Clemson University, the largest college campus in South Carolina!

Infographic of the Largest College Campus in South Carolina
Since its founding in 1889, Clemson University has played an important role in South Carolina.

About Clemson University

Clemson University is a world-leading research institution in the upstate portion of South Carolina. Since its founding in 1889, Clemson went on to become one of the United States’ most selective and influential public research universities. With an average undergraduate student body of more than 20,000 and over 5,000 graduate students, Clemson is also the second-largest university in South Carolina by student enrollment. The only college with a bigger student body in the state is the University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus. 

However, Clemson takes first place for the largest college campus in South Carolina, with a sprawling suburban campus of 1,400 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, bordering Lake Hartwell. Expanding the university’s reach even further is the nearby Clemson Experimental Forest, which is comprised of 17,500 acres of wooded land that extends eight miles north and eight miles south of Clemson University’s campus and is managed by the institution. 

beautiful view of clemson university historic building on a sunny day

Clemson University has the largest college campus in South Carolina.

©Nora Yero/Shutterstock.com

What Is Clemson University Known For?

Clemson was founded more than 140 years ago with the mission to be a “high seminary of learning” dedicated to teaching, research, and service. Proponents of the university today say that these values remain at the heart of institutional life and guide the educational experience of students and opportunities for the surrounding community. Clemson is known around the United States and the globe for exciting and novel research opportunities and world-class laboratories for scientific discovery and innovation. 

Yet no mention of Clemson is complete with recognizing the significant role of athletics in university life. Clemson is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference and has 19 NCAA Division I athletic teams. Every year, students, faculty, alumni, and the broader community show up for sporting events in activities such as basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball, softball, tennis, rowing, and of course, football. The Clemson Tigers are one of the most beloved football teams in the state — cheer them on or join their rivals in trying to beat out the fierce competition!

Tillman Hall on Clemson University at golden hour

Tillman Hall is a notable building on Clemson University’s campus.

©Adam Patyk/Shutterstock.com

History of Clemson University in South Carolina

Clemson is located in the northwestern part of South Carolina, about 27 miles west of Greenville and 15 miles north of Anderson. This region in the western part of South Carolina is often referred to as the “upstate” or “upcountry.” The term upcountry dates back to the 1700s, and is used to contrast the region of South Carolina with the coastal “Lowcountry.” 

Since its founding in 1889, Clemson University has played an important role in the state and the wider community of Clemson. When Clemson was founded, it began as an agricultural college in the upstate part of South Carolina on the land formerly known as Fort Hill Plantation. The plantation land was owned by South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun, who gained the land through marriage to his wife Floride. The daughter of Floride and John Calhoun, Anna Maria, married a man named Thomas Green Clemson, and bequeathed part of her portion of the Fort Hill land to him upon her death. Following his death, the land was bequeathed for the purpose of creating a college, and Clemson University was established on the land.

Clemson was initially founded as an all-male, all-white military school. At its start, the Clemson Agricultural College opened in July 1893 with 446 students. It wasn’t until 1955 that Clemson became a coeducational, civilian institution. After that, it was not until 1963, with the admission of Harvey Gantt, that Clemson became the first traditionally white institution in South Carolina to desegregate after the Civil War’s Reconstruction period. The institution formally became Clemson University in 1964.

The Hanover House In Clemson

The Hanover House is just one of the historic buildings that remains on Clemson’s Campus.

©JMB Photos/Shutterstock.com

Notable Parts of Clemson University’s Campus

Across Clemson University’s 1,400-acre campus, visitors and students alike will find pieces of unique history, examples of astounding architecture, and beautiful landscaping. Not only does the campus preserve multiple historic buildings that have stood on the land since before it became the university, but Clemson also has iconic buildings built throughout the 20th century that speak to the university’s history and legacy as an institution of learning. Three academic buildings, one residence hall and associated office, and a few other venues are considered historic resources in the state of South Carolina. There are also markers commemorating aspects of the land’s history and its development as a land-grant college.

There are several notable properties that are part of Clemson’s historic district. One is Tillman Hall, which was constructed in 1893 and still houses a university classroom. Godfrey Hall, constructed in 1898, is a classroom and office building for the College of Education. Bowman Field, an open grass field of about three acres, was established in 1900 for the university’s athletic activities. Sikes Hall, built in 1905, Holtzendorff Hall, built in 1916, Trustees Park, established in 1925, and Mell Hall, built in 1939, are other notable sites on campus.

About Clemson, SC

Clemson itself is a small city crossing Pickens and Anderson counties in the U.S. state of South Carolina. With a population of 17,986 residents in 2021, the town is heavily influenced by the presence of Clemson University and its student body which more than doubles the number of people in the area! This small city located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains is an Appalachian community with plenty of opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy nature by hiking the land, enjoying the local lakes, or experiencing the charming downtown restaurants and shops. 

Of course, Clemson University plays an important role in attracting visitors to the town. In fact, every year, thousands of fans come out to support the Clemson Tigers. Not a football fan? You might also enjoy the art, music, and academic events on the college campus. 

Downtown Clemson at Sunset

Clemson is a small college town in the northwestern corner of South Carolina.


Climate of Clemson, SC

In the upstate, or upcountry, of South Carolina, where Clemson sits, there is a humid subtropical climate. The summers are hot and humid while the winters are fairly cold, with cloudy and rainy weather all year long. The cool season only lasts a few months. You can expect colder months to come typically from the end of November into early March. The coldest January temperatures typically reach lows of 36 degrees and highs of 54 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Wildlife on Clemson’s Campus

South Carolina as a whole, and particularly the northwestern corner where Clemson is located, is home to incredibly diverse wildlife habitats. Keep in mind: there are also many acres of land in the Clemson Experimental Forest next to the Clemson University campus. This land serves as a nature preserve where there are always plenty of opportunities to witness local wildlife.  

Mammals on Clemson’s Campus

On or around Clemson, you can look out for many different mammal species. You are likely to see Virginia opossums, three species of shrews, two species of moles, Eastern chipmunks, woodchucks, Eastern gray squirrels, and Southern flying squirrels. There are two rabbits in the area too: swamp rabbits and Eastern cottontail rabbits. You should also look out for American beavers, numerous species of mice and rats, and multiple species of bats. On the carnivorous side, the region is home to coyotes, red and gray foxes, black bears, raccoons, weasels, mink, river otters, striped skunks, and bobcats. There are even feral pigs roaming around! White-tailed deer are also plentiful in the area.

Clemson is home to a variety of mammals, including coyotes.

©Hunter Desportes / flickr – License

Birds on Clemson’s Campus

Hundreds of bird species nest in or migrate through Clemson each year. In fact, that list includes many permanent, winter, and summer residents as well as potential species to look out for during peak migration periods in the spring and fall. These birds include various species of waterfowl, swifts and hummingbirds, nightjars, sandpipers and gulls, and herons and egrets. You will likely see doves and pigeons, kingfishers, cuckoos, quail and turkey, rails, perching birds, woodpeckers, grebes, owls and nocturnal birds of prey, and diurnal birds of prey. 

Look in the local lakes and waterways! There you may see water-loving species such as the Canada goose, mallard duck, great blue heron, or cattle egret. Or, look to the sky to see ospreys, bald eagles, sharp-shinned hawks, or the American kestrel. There are numerous rare and special birds to see in Clemson!


American kestrels are one of the many birds that nest in or migrate through Clemson.

©Milan Zygmunt/Shutterstock.com

Fish Near Clemson’s Campus

In the lakes and rivers surrounding Clemson’s campus, you can find numerous fish swimming around. If you go fishing, you may find pickerel, species of chub, whitefin shiners, northern hogsuckers, yellow bullheads, species of crappie, common carp, various sunfish, bluegill, warmouth, largemouth bass, mosquito fish, and others.

Lifting huge largemouth bass out of lake.

Largemouth bass are among the many fish swimming in the lakes and streams near Clemson University.

©Maclane Parker/Shutterstock.com

Reptiles and Amphibians on Clemson’s Campus

Look in the damp growth of the forests and fields near Clemson, and you may find any number of reptile and amphibian species. The area is home to many different salamanders, including the spotted salamander, marbled salamander, seal salamander, black-bellied salamander, black-chinned red salamander, and numerous others. There are also various species of toads and frogs, at least nine different turtle species, and several species of lizards and skinks.

Now, if snakes are what you are after, you are in luck. The area is home to at least 19 different species of snakes. However, that is the minimum! A few other species of snakes have been spotted in the area at rare times. Some of these are venomous to humans. The snakes in the Clemson area include harmless hognose snakes, black rat snakes, and garter snakes. However, while these may not be a threat, you will want to be on your toes. Be sure to avoid the copperheads and timber rattlesnakes known to make their home in the forest grounds.

Northern copperhead snake

Copperhead snakes are among the most common venomous snakes in North America.


Trees Near Clemson’s Campus

Of course, Clemson’s ecosystem could not be complete without a wide array of plants. The forest surrounding the university campus is full of different trees, including at least six species in the pine tree family (Pinaceae), at least 15 species of oak and beech trees, and four species of elm or sugarberry trees. Look for red mulberry trees, yellow poplar trees, cucumber magnolias, pawpaws, sassafras, sweetgum, and sycamore trees. You might also find at least 10 fruit-bearing trees such as the common apple tree and black cherry trees! The area is home to five trees in the ash and privet family, Southern catawba, and many more. 

You may also want to look out for Eastern redcedar trees, black willow trees, Eastern cottonwood, and European white poplar. You may see a variety of hickory trees, walnut trees, pecan trees, or two species of sumac. Other trees on the land include American holly, three species of maple trees, boxelder, Carolina buckhorn, white basswood, two types of dogwood, persimmon trees, and many more that did not make this list! 

Magnolia grandiflora (Southern magnolia)

Magnolia trees, which grow in Clemson, are often considered a symbol of southern culture and tradition.

©Vahan Abrahamyan/Shutterstock.com

Other Plant Life on Campus

Clemson University offers a program in landscape architecture, so it stands to reason that the campus itself would have stunning grounds. The campus itself is home to more than 6,500 trees, which are carefully inventoried by the Landscape Service’s sophisticated tree database. With a dedicated campus arborist, Clemson successfully manages and maintains the campus’ thousands of trees growing on campus. As you stroll across campus, you will likely notice an array of native plants growing between walkways, in garden areas, and in forested groves.

Clemson’s own greenhouse also provides foliage plants. These are placed in various buildings and administrative offices on campus. There are also bedding plants for outdoor seasonal use and palms that are available to rent for campus events. The grounds still include multiple historic buildings, including the antebellum Fort Hill plantation house, Hanover House, and Hopewell Plantation. Visiting these buildings is a great way to see both historic architecture and some very old, still-standing trees!

The fall in Clemson, SC.

Clemson University has more than 6,500 trees planted across its vast campus.


The South Carolina Botanical Garden

Visiting Clemson’s campus is also a chance to see the South Carolina Botanical Garden. Originally, the land that is now part of the botanical garden was established in 1958 as a camellia preserve. It was on a small parcel of land adjacent to John C. Calhoun’s 19th-century Fort Hill estate. However, it has grown to become a 295-acre site for learning about and enjoying the natural world. The land includes both cultivated landscapes and natural woodlands. Visitors are welcome 365 days a year from sunrise and sunset and can enter the grounds free of charge. The garden also hosts numerous events throughout the year, including plant sales from the garden’s on-site plant nursery. As part of Clemson’s larger network of research and education into plants and the natural world, the botanical garden is a fantastic way to help protect the environment and discover a diversity of plant species.

Venus fly traps at South Carolina botanical garden

The South Carolina Botanical Garden has numerous plant species on display, including Venus fly traps!

©Zizzleman Poachers/Shutterstock.com

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jim_Brown_Photography/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Carrie is a writer and fan of all types of plants and animals. Her apartment is home to more than dozen different houseplants and she aspires to adopt more in the near future. You can find Carrie taking long walks or reading a book under the trees in the park.

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