Discover Pinewood, South Carolina

By Cassandra M. Vanhooser on May 9, 2011 at 5:13 pm EST
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PHOTO CREDIT: Todd Bennett

Drive through Pinewood and you’ll see a snapshot of the quintessential small Southern town. Quiet. Unassuming. Beautiful in a way that’s both endearing and heartbreaking in the same instant.

A wide thoroughfare pierces the heart of downtown. Most folks around these parts call it Main Street, but the signs contradict them. This is Clarke Street. There’s a town hall, a smattering of tidy, well-groomed churches, and houses for the nearly 500 souls who call this South Carolina town home.

Pinewood People Make the Place 

The old Pinewood Depot remains the town’s most recognized and cherished landmark. Though it was built in 1889, only a year after the town was founded, the station has been lovingly restored and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Curved braces support wide eaves, and the end rafters form an ellipse. Stand on the station’s steps and you can easily imagine the excitement passengers of yesteryear must have felt when waiting for a train to arrive. The Atlantic Coastal Railroad was the only conduit to the outside world, both the way in and the way out.

There are many ways out of town these days, but some people choose to return home.

“Pinewood is a great place to live,” says lifelong resident Travis McIntosh, a financial consultant in nearby Sumter. “We have all the benefits of a small town, but we’re 15 to 20 minutes from larger towns like Sumter, Manning and Summerton, and less than an hour from Columbia.”

If the people make the place, McIntosh says there’s none better than Pinewood. “The best thing about this community is the people,” he continues. “You know your neighbors. They’re friends you’ve known your whole life. You don’t worry about your kids walking down the street to play.”

Fishing, Kayaking and Birding at Sparkleberry Swamp

Still, if you confine your exploration to the 1.1 square mile that encloses Pinewood proper, you will miss some of the area’s greatest treasures. Head out of town and you’ll find wild and wonderful Sparkleberry Swamp just a few miles to the southwest.

Named for the untamed bushes that populate the area, this area is actually an old cypress and tupelo forest submerged in the north end of Lake Marion. Favored by bird watchers, kayakers and fishermen, the swamp is crawling with wildlife. There are snakes and alligators, osprey and egrets, woodpeckers and warblers.

Sparkleberry is paradise for nature lovers, but unless you’re experienced — or traveling with someone who is — you’ll want to hire a guide to help you navigate the swamp. There are camping sites available near the swamp, including Elliott's Landing and Campground, the oldest campground on Lake Marion.

History and Architecture at Millford Plantation 

Pinewood also sits at the southern entrance to the High Hills of the Santee, a long, hilly ridge at the county’s western border. Because even a slight elevation cools the air, these low hills once hid many summer homes built by wealthy plantation owners looking to escape the heat of the Low Country.

Considering this history, it’s only mildly surprising that one of the South’s most beautiful homes can be found 5 miles west of Clarke Street. 

“We’re in the suburbs of Pinewood,” quips Louie Hall, the caretaker at Millford Plantation.

To reach the house one meanders through moss-draped forests and along dirt roads, seemingly headed nowhere. But reaching the destination is its own reward. Millford Plantation is flanked by live oaks and magnolias, and boasts soaring Corinthian columns and a wide, sweeping porch.

The interior is equally dazzling. A domed rotunda encloses a breathtaking circular staircase, plus there’s a grand dining room with circular walls at one end. Much of the custom-made Duncan Phyfe furniture still graces the home. Then there are the stories. Millford is said to have escaped burning during the Civil War because the Union general was the brother of the home’s architect.

A phone call secures a group tour year-round, but public tours are offered on the first Saturday of most months (closed in January, open every weekend in April).

“I’m a little prejudiced,” says Hall, “but you won’t see a house anywhere any prettier than this. If you like great architecture, this is the one to see. And once you see Millford, you’ll want to come back.”

Read about more activities in the Sumter, SC area.

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