An easy two-hour drive southeast of Greenville, Camden, South Carolina, exudes a quiet Southern charm. Although the aesthetic appeal is evident in Camden’s columned antebellum homes and Spanish moss-draped live oaks, history and horses are the top reasons to visit this city of just under 8,000 people.
First plotted in the South Carolina backcountry in 1733-34, Camden ranks as the state’s oldest inland city. It owes its current layout to Joseph Kershaw, who designed the wide boulevards punctuated by public squares in 1758. The heart of the colonial town lies at Historic Camden, a 107-acre living-history museum that preserves five of the earliest homes from the colonial era, including a reconstruction of the 1777 Kershaw-Cornwallis House that served as the headquarters of the British Army during the British occupation of Camden, from August 1780 to May 1781.
Next door, exhibits in the sparkling new Revolutionary War Visitor Center relate the story of the colonists’ fight for independence, focusing on Camden’s importance as a strategic garrison in the backcountry during the Southern Campaign. Here, you can pick up maps to the sites of local battles, including General Lord Charles Cornwallis’s crushing defeat of the colonists led by General Horatio Gates in the August 1780 Battle of Camden, and the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill in April of the following year.
The equine industry trotted into town with wealthy Northerners who wintered in Camden in the early 1900s. They built the Springdale Race Course in 1928, the site of the first Carolina Cup steeplechase race in 1930. The spring Carolina Cup and the fall Colonial Cup, established by Virginia horsewoman Marion duPont Scott in 1970, bookend Camden’s racing season. Today, you can dig into the city’s horseracing heritage at the National Steeplechase Museum. Located adjacent to the Springdale Race Course, the museum is the only facility of its kind in the U.S. devoted solely to the national story of steeplechase racing.
Come evening, the antebellum Bloomsbury Inn makes a majestic place to lay your head before setting out on another day of acquainting yourself with the charms of Camden.
EAT, DRINK & STAY
The funky little café, with its bright walls and mismatched pillows, features Southern-infused dishes like a pimiento cheese BLT and a ham, brie, and pepper jelly sandwich. Don’t pass up the signature house-made lemonade.
611 Rutledge St, Camden.
Salud Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Lounge
Locals flock to Salud’s dark and cozy space for scratch-made Tex-Mex fare and margaritas made with fresh-squeezed juices. Aficionados can take their pick among 100 different tequilas.
1011 Broad St, Camden. Saludmexicankitchen.com
From grilled ribeyes and pork chops to jumbo lump crabcakes and seared scallops, American cuisine takes center stage in the casual dining space inside this restored c.1875 building.
1043 Broad St, Camden. samkendalls.com
Built for wealthy plantation owner James Chesnut Sr. and his wife, Mary Cox, in 1854, this graceful Southern manor—just minutes from Broad Street—now operates as a B&B. Four spacious rooms boast a mix of lovely period furnishings and modern amenities. Katherine Brown, who owns the inn with her husband, Bruce (he’s quite the storyteller), graciously lays out bountiful Southern breakfasts that, if you’re lucky, include fluffy biscuits baked in her grandmother’s little cast-iron skillets.
1707 Lyttleton St, Camden. bloomsburyinn.com
First Lady of American Steeplechasing
That title belongs to Marion duPont Scott, a scion of the duPont family of Wilmington, Delaware, and the last private owner of Montpelier, the Virginia estate of former U.S. President James Madison. An avid horsewoman and award-winning Thoroughbred breeder, Marion purchased the Springdale Race Course and adjacent acreage in 1953 from Mrs. Ambrose Clark of Aiken. It was Marion who, in 1970, established the Colonial Cup steeplechase race, the first international steeplechase run in the country with a purse of $100,000. When she died in 1983, she left Springdale Race Course to the State of South Carolina.
Also at Springdale, don’t miss the National Steeplechase Museum; Open Wed.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. through May 31; summer hours are 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. Thu.-Sat. 803.432.6513, nationalsteeplechasemuseum.org.
Coming up in Camden
South Carolina Equine Park (scequinepark.com) is a 60-acre center in Camden with a full range of offerings for anyone with a passion for horses, with stables, rings, a show pavilion, and more. Here are a few events on the schedule in the coming months:
May 21-22: Camden Spring Classic Hunter Jumper
May 27-29: S.C. Quarter Horse Association
June 4-5: Camden Classic Hunter Jumper
June 4-5: Kershaw County Ag & Art Tour, tour of farms with local artisans
Ready to ride?
Autumn Hill Stables; autumnhillstables.net, 407.955.1628
Camden Riding School; 803.669.1590
Pony Gang Equestrian Services, ponygang-farm.com; 803.374.2155