South Carolina Is Home to 76 National Historic Landmarks… These 5 Are the Best Ones to Visit

The South Carolina state flag waving along with the national flag of the United States of America. South Carolina is a state in the coastal Southeastern region of the United States
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Written by Carlee Parsley

Published: February 28, 2024

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One of the best ways to explore history is with a visit to a state’s historic landmarks. Some states naturally have more NHLs than others. A majority is clustered on the East Coast, where early colonists jumpstarted American history. South Carolina, one of the original 13 colonies with a rich history, is home to 76 NHLs. With so many to visit, we’ve rounded up the top South Carolina national historic landmarks to explore on your next trip to the Palmetto State.

What is a National Historic Landmark?

Beginning in 1935, the United States began an increased effort to preserve important historical places. It took until 1960 for the National Historic Landmark program to come to fruition under the authority of the National Park Service and, later, as a segment of the National Register of Historic Places. Today, over 2,600 National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) are throughout the country. According to the National Park Service, “The designation of a property as an NHL:

  • Preserves the stories of nationally important historic events, places, and people for all Americans.
  • Helps to protect the historic character of the property from any federal action.
  • Might facilitate eligibility for grants, tax credits, and other opportunities to maintain its historic character.”

1. Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum — Mount Pleasant, SC

A storied South Carolina historic landmark, The U.S.S. Yorktown looms above many of the other vessels at Patriots Point.

Okay, this first location is a bit of a cheat. The museum itself doesn’t have recognition as an NHL, but several ships featured on the naval base do. With a single stop, you can visit two vessels listed as NHLs: the U.S.S. Laffey and U.S.S. Yorktown, which rest at anchor in Charleston Harbor.

The destroyer Laffey served in the D-Day invasion in 1944, the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, the blockade of Korea in 1952, and Cold War efforts between 1957 and 1964, earning the nickname “The Ship That Would Not Die.”

Yorktown, an aircraft carrier also known as the “Fighting Lady,” played a large role in the World War II offensive in the Pacific between 1943 and 1945. It also served during the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1968. In addition, she rescued the crew and capsule from the Apollo 8 space mission in 1968.

The National Park Service designated both ships as NHLs in 1986, and both continue to serve as museum ships to educate and entertain visitors.

2. St. Philip’s Episcopal Church — Charleston, SC

The current St. Philip’s may be its third iteration, but its beautiful architecture and history make it worth a visit.

St. Philip’s represents the oldest congregation in South Carolina and, in fact, the oldest congregation south of Virginia. The original wooden church took shape in 1681 at the current location of the St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on Broad and Meeting. The current St. Philip’s is now located on Church Street, a few blocks away, after it was damaged in a hurricane and moved.

The rebuilt church features Tuscan porticoes and Roman columns, which contribute to a larger-than-life feeling within the church. The steeple, the last part of the church to be completed in 1850, stands tall enough to be used as a lighthouse that helped guide sailors into Charleson’s harbor until 1915. The church was designated an NHL in 1973 to protect its history and significance. 

3. Beaufort Historic District — Beaufort, SC

The homes in Beaufort’s historic district are up-kept with great care to preserve their beauty.

The second-oldest town in the state, Beaufort took shape on Port Royal Island in 1711. Many classic homes here take visitors back in time, before the Civil War. Most residents had already fled by the time Civil War armies reached the town, so they converted the buildings into hospitals, offices, and other useful purposes rather than destroy them. As such, historic Beaufort features breathtaking examples of antebellum construction, with homes designed in Federal, neoclassical, Greek Revival, and Queen Anne styles. Live oak trees hung with Spanish moss add to the atmosphere, as do the many graveyards, chapels, and businesses.

The National Register of Historic Places recognizes both the district as a whole and individual properties, including the Anchorage, the Barnwell-Gough House, Tabby Manse, and more. The district was recognized as an NHL in 1973, with two houses — the Marshlands and the Robert Smalls House — also recognized individually in 1973.

4. Burt-Stark Mansion — Abbeville, SC

The museum at the Burt-Stark House offers visitors a trip through time and is one of the more popular National Historic Landmarks South Carolina offers.

The Burt-Stark Mansion goes by multiple other names, including the Armistead Burt House and “The Deathbed of the Confederacy.” This Greek Revival-style home was built in the 1830s and had seven owners before its donation to the Abbeville Historic Preservation Commission. Confederate President Jefferson Davis held his last council of the Civil War in the Burt-Stark Mansion in 1865, where he admitted the Confederacy had lost. After this meeting, the Confederacy dispersed.

The house became an NHL in 1992 and continues to operate as a museum of the Old South. Period-accurate antiques, furniture, and artifacts fill the home, creating a time capsule for visitors to enjoy.

5. Atalaya and Brookgreen Gardens — Murrells Inlet, SC

South Carolina landmarks like Atalaya and Brookgreen Gardens preserve artistic contributions throughout the state.

Home of America’s first and largest formal sculpture garden, Atalaya and Brookgreen Gardens offer beautiful views for visitors. Atalaya, the expansive home on the property, features Spanish Revival architecture that echoes the styles found in coastal Spain. The house also includes the large studio space used by celebrated sculptor and philanthropist Anna Hyatt Huntington, where she produced much of her art.

Brookgreen Gardens encompasses more than 9,000 acres as a nature preserve, including 550 acres used as a sculpture garden that showcases a wide breadth of Huntington’s sculptures alongside those of her contemporaries. The property’s designation as an NHL, which came in 1992, only includes the 550 acres of the sculpture garden and the Atalaya buildings.

Conclusion

Charleston south Carolina

As a backdrop to many notable events in history, South Carolina National Historic Landmarks honor these legacies and educate visitors about their importance.

South Carolina contains many houses, buildings, and properties that contributed to the creation and formation of the United States. While we could only highlight a few historic landmarks South Carolina offers, there are many more to explore, especially within Charleston. The beautiful historic homes, plantations, churches, and other areas help remind us of our history and commemorate our past in a way worth celebrating. Thankfully, projects like the National Historic Landmark program aim to preserve these places for all to learn from and enjoy.


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About the Author

Carlee is a writer and researcher with nearly a decade of experience that ranges from fiction to business. She loves to write about the outdoors, weird and lesser-known animals, and all types of flora.

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