South Carolina’s Best-Kept Secret Destination?
Important historic landmarks are preserved around this rural Sumter County Mill Pond. Meanwhile, it’s become a destination for fine dining and folk crafts.
The remote community of Boykin might be seen as one of South Carolina’s best-kept tourism secrets. A peaceful drive down SC 261 from a Camden exit of I-20, well off the beaten path, takes you into flat cotton land harking to generations past. When you arrive at Boykin, some 12 miles south of the interstate, you realize you’re at a special place.
Boykin SC: A National Historic Treasure
The Boykin Mill Pond, practically the entire closely intertwined community, in fact, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Boykin ancestors settled here in the 1750s and began to flourish as farmers around Swift Creek.
In 1792, the 400-acre Mill Pond was dammed. The waters powered a grain mill, lumber mill, and cotton gin. By then, the precursor of Swift Creek Baptist Church was established. A tavern was in close proximity.
These traditions and similar reminders of southern rural culture are preserved at Boykin today: the musty, comforting scent of water-ground grits and cornmeal (no preservatives added), the use of ancient machinery and processes to craft brooms as in days of old, a hot country breakfast served in a country store/restaurant, and special church events that stir the soul today as they did two centuries ago.
Not surprisingly, Boykin has an indelible link to the Confederacy. One of the last battles of the Civil War was waged here on 18 April 1865. Traces of breastworks remain.
The South Carolina Department of History and Archives has overseen the restoration of the two-story Swift Creek Baptist Church, an 1827 Greek Revival landmark. It has become a popular wedding venue for couples who value the Boykin legacy. Nearby “Rosa Lee’s Cottage” is available for receptions, meetings, and overnight stays.
Meanwhile, visitors discover much of interest, both historically and recreationally. They not only find a historic mill, but sample some of the same types of grain products as did locals many generations ago. In the “Broom Place,” housed in an 18th-Century settlers’ cabin, artisan Susan Simpson assembles durable brooms much the way they were fashioned during the 19th Century.
Besides the short-order fare at the Boykin Company Grille and the nostalgic gift and practical items sold at the Boykin Company Store, folks enjoy fine dining directly across the road at the rustic Millpond Steakhouse, situated near the pond dam. Two of the wooden structures that form the restaurant complex date to the late 1800s. Loungers prior to their meal can gaze across the idyllic late-afternoon waters and spot varied wildlife, from aquatic birds to alligators.
Sundays before Christmas head over to Boykin for the highlight of the year. A lively Christmas parade through the Mill Pond area is preceded by the Road Kill Cook-Off (a barbeque competition), can you say yummy. The day concludes with a gospel concert at the church.
The premises of the Boykin Mill Pond remain in the possession of Boykin descendants. The mascot of the area is the renowned Boykin spaniel, a particularly savvy retriever first bred almost a century ago for turkey hunting in area swamplands.
Visitors today experience a slice of South Carolina that extends from the Revolutionary War period through 19th- and 20th-Century work-a-day life to modern cuisine and entertainment.