Hunters and traders found their way to present-day McCormick County by the 1700s and soon settlers came in droves. Scotch-Irish, French Huguenots, and German refugees established communities that developed into the towns and very unique historic spots that you can see today. The various rivers and lakes connected to McCormick County offer picturesque outdoor recreation opportunities including paddling, hiking and biking trails, and South Carolina's only state park resort.
Mount Carmel, first blessed by traffic on the Savannah River and later by rail transportation, predates the formation of McCormick County. The town’s early history is closely tied to the religious and educational needs of the early settlers. There was considerable growth here during the late 1800s and by the end of the 1880s the town contained six stores, a church, a school and a carriage shop. There was also an established a pottery and brick factory here as early as 1885.
In the heyday of extensive cotton production Mt. Carmel had a bank, two cotton gins, Morrah Hotel, and seven churches.
Pictured: Mount Carmel Presbyterian by Bill Fitzpatrick
The only full-service resort in the SC State Park Service, Hickory Knob rests on rolling, wooded shorline alongside 70,000-acre Strom Thurmond Reservoir on the Savannah River. Hickory Knob offers 18 holes of lakeside championship golf, tennis, skeet shooting and archery, a swimming pool, full-service restaurant and meeting facilities. You can pick from 70 different lodge-style rooms, including a 1770s French Hugenot house.
With a population of around 200 people, Willington is a small village that was once a cotton boom town, whose growth was sparked by the coming of the railroad in 1886. By 1916, it boasted thirteen stores, a livery stable, doctor’s office and post office. Its decline began in the years of the boll weevil and the depression.
Today "Willington On the Way" is a row of stores built around 1912 that are completely restored for modern uses. You can stop by Willington to see history coming alive again through their history center, a non-profit book store, a visitor's center and an African American schoolhouse. There's even a locally owned Thai restaurant right down the street!
1931 barn from a historic children's school that is now a local marketplace
The John de la Howe School barn was built in 1931 and for nearly 50 years provided a dairy operation that offered much needed services to John de la Howe School for children and the surrounding community. The Barn, which stands out for it's architecture alone, was converted into a country marketplace that showcases the hand-made craft products that are made by the students, volunteers, staff and local artisans.
The McCormick Arts Council (or the MACK) occupies what was once the Keturah Hotel which was rebuilt in 1910. The original Carolina Hotel on this site burned in the late 1800’s. Salesmen would stay at the Keturah and “drum” their wares. One room on the main floor of the hotel used for this purpose is called “the drummer room.” Today the MACK houses a gift shop full of items made by local artisans, exhibits on the gallery walls that change monthly and many opportunities to attend a special event or art-focused programs.
This fascinating reminder of America's agricultural and industrial history contains a gristmill, cotton gin and a weigh station. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the gristmill was built in 1898 as a cottonseed oil mill and converted to a flour and gristmill in the 1920s. One of the few remaining gristmills in the state, the site contains original steam engines and equipment which were powered by sawdust and wood chips from Dorn Lumber Yard.
This gold mine is an area of 19th century mining operations, and was one of the most important mining sites in the state. The mine was struck in 1852 by William Dorn, who excavated nearly 1 million dollars in gold before the vein was exhausted. Dorn used enslaved African Americans to excavate the dirt and employed several types of mills to process the gold. Dorn became wealthy but lost much after the Civil War. Now the Heritage Gold Mine offers folks guided or self-guided tours, and even an opportunity to really pan for gold! Gold Rush Day is a favorite event here every third Saturday in September.