Exploring Abbeville with OLLI at Furman

Explore Up Close and a group of OLLI at Furman members recently spent the day exploring Abbeville, South Carolina. This day trip included sunny backroads drives through South Carolina farmland, stories about Abbeville’s French Huguenot roots and local history, and exploring some of Abbeville’s beautifully preserved buildings.

Our first stop: a driving tour of significant colonial and Civil War sites with local guide, Fred Lewis. We learned about blockhouses built during the colonial period, which were fortified log buildings meant to withstand attacks from Native Americans on the frontier.  We also visited Secession Hill, where Abbeville became the first South Carolina district to secede from the United States – a month before the state of South Carolina officially seceded in December 1860. Fittingly, Abbeville was also the place where Jefferson Davis would come at the end of the Civil War to meet for the last time with his cabinet before conceding the Confederacy’s defeat.

We enjoyed walking around Abbeville’s downtown square, surrounded by colorfully painted historic shops and buildings, including the Abbeville County Courthouse (designed by South Carolina’s Robert Mills), Opera House, and the Belmont Inn. Abbeville’s lovely rose-hued Trinity Episcopal Church is another highlight, built in the Gothic Revival style in 1860.

After a leisurely lunch, which featured several decadent Southern pies for dessert, we made our way to the Burt-Stark Mansion for a house tour. This historic home was built in the 1830s, designed after a home that the first owner’s wife fell in love with in the Hudson River Valley. Most interestingly, the house’s architect was one of the family slaves, Cubic, who was sent to the Hudson River Valley to draw plans for the construction of this house. His role in the design and building of the house is especially remarkable, since laws were passed in 1831 that outlawed slave literacy and travel. The Burt-Stark house was also the site where Jefferson Davis stopped as he fled south after Lee’s surrender at Appomatox, where his generals finally convinced him to accept defeat. Inside, we enjoyed looking at the architecture, period furniture and antiques, including a collection of early 20th century dresses owned by the Stark family daughters.

Thanks to OLLI at Furman for joining us on this South Carolina Trip of Discovery!