Beautiful bird encounters while traveling in South Carolina

My favorite thing to do while traveling in South Carolina is to take pictures of wildlife, especially birds.

Spotting a bald eagle last December while kayaking in the marsh at Cherry Grove Beach is by far the most cherished bird watching moment.

Amazing bald eagle sighting while kayaking in the marsh

The majestic bald eagle returns to South Carolina coast.

Witnessing a great white egret couple, delicately preparing their nest for the upcoming chicks, is a close second favorite encounter.

White Egret males and female building a nest

And here is the rest…get out there and enjoy nature at its best!


Dorchester State Park, old English settlement near Charleston

“I passed Dorchester, where there are the remains of what appears to have once been a considerable town: there are the ruins of an elegant church, and the vestiges of several well-built houses.” – A 1788 account by a passing traveler

Fort Dorchester built in 1775

The Dorchester Garrison commanded by Capt. Francis Marion during Revolutionary War

Few months ago I had the opportunity to visit Dorchester State Historic Park, a short drive from Summerville, the magnificent plantations and North Charleston.

Similarly to nearby Charles Towne Landing, visitors are rewarded with one of America’s most complete archaeological records of colonial life.

The park is open daily 9AM to 6PM and admission is $2 for adults, free for kids 15 and younger. Most Saturdays, from June through September you can attend educational programs and observe archaeologist at work (free with park admission, 10AM to 2PM)

Historic highlights and interesting artifacts (data and quotes provided by the park exhibits and brochure guide)

On October 20, 1695, Joseph Lord, Increase Summer and William Pratt were dismissed from their church from Dorchester, Massachusetts for “Ye gathering of A Church for ye South Carolina.” After securing 4050 of land here along the Ashley River, they sailed home to their congregation in New England.

Coming to South Carolina for an acceptable settlement

Lord, Summer and Pratt gathering of A Church for ye South Carolina

They returned in 1697 with other church members who hoped “to go to South Carolina to Settel the Gospel ther”.

When the new Dorchester was laid out, the village contained 116 quarter acre lots, a town square and commons. The St. George Anglican church was built in 1720, a fair was established in 1723 and the Free School opened in 1761.

By 1781, Dorchester became a booming trade center and boasted about 40 houses by 1781. The town gradually declined after the American Revolution and was abandoned in 1788. The threat of malaria and the shortage of land cause the Congregationalist colony to leave Dorchester and start a new settlement in Midway, Georgia.

In 1969, the land was donated to the South Carolina State Park Service. The village of Dorchester is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Dorchester Free School – The school was established in 1758 and consisted of

How it was like to go to school in the 18th century

The Dorchester Free School where girls were allowed to attend.

“two Brick Houses of the Dimensions of 23 feet in weadth & 36 feet in length, & one story high, with a dutch roof, shall be built for the use of the sd. School, one of them to serve as a School House, & other for a dwelling house for the Master, & his Family…”

Several girls attended the free school, an amazing feat for the time given most girls were raised to become just mothers and housewives.

During Revolutionary War the schoolmaster was removed from this post for remaining loyal to England and the school was closed.

The British troops burned it down and it did not reopen for almost 25 years. In 1818 the school moved to Summerville.

The St. George’s Anglican Church and Bell Tower – Angry with the Anglican Church, the Puritan Pilgrims left England in 1620.

Anglican Church Tower

St. George’s Anglican Church was built here in 1720. The bell tower was added in 1751.

Their descendants, known as Congregationalists, founded Dorchester in 1697, only to endure South Carolina’s 1706 declaration of Anglicanism as the colony’s official church.

With the Congregationalists worshiping only 2 miles away, St. George’s Anglican Church was built in 1720 in the center of Dorchester. Village founders and the other village “dissenters” were even taxed to support St. George’s.

The church was enlarged in the 1730s to meet its growing and prosperous parish. The bell tower was added in 1751.

St. George’s Anglican Church may have been a more convenient location for local worship, however the Congregationalist Church remained the religious center for most of Dorchester’s Puritan settlers.

The Native Coosa Tribe – Long before the English settlers, a small Native American tribe, the Coosa, lived here. The relationship with the English has always been uneasy. In 1671, the Charles Towne settlers accused them of stealing corn and livestock

17th century Indian village in South Carolina

The Coosa were one of the original inhabitants in the Lowcountry

and in 1674 they were even accused of murder.

The settlers waged war against the Coosa. After defeating the Indians, they required a monthly payment of deerskin per colony.

In 1675, one of the Lord Proprietors was granted the land where the Coosa village once stood. Although the grant gave him legal title he officially purchased the land from the surviving Coosa for “a valuable parcel of cloth, hatchet, beads and other goods and manufactures now received…” He called his home there the “Cussoo House”

By 1696, the Coosa ceased to have a significance presence in this area. Some had settled in the nearby St. Paul’s Parish, some migrated west, others died or intermarried with the English.

Fort Dorchester – During the French and Indian War rumors of an impeding naval attack by the French forced swift action by leaders in Charles Towne.

Dorchester earthen and osyster shells colonial defense

The powder magazine was fortified in 1775

A brick powder magazine enclosed by a tabby wall 8 feet high was built here in 1757.

During the Revolution, Dorchester was a strategic point.

In 1775, the magazine was fortified and the garrison commanded by Capt. Francis Marion. British troops occupied the town in April 1780 and again in 1781. At one point there were over 600 British soldiers in Dorchester.

They were driven out by cavalry and infantry under Col. Wade Hampton and Gen. Nathaniel Greene on December 1, 1781.

The meeting House was located 2 miles west of the village. The first structure was built of wood and replaced in the mid 1700 with a brick building. The interior is described as:

“A single door admitted to a single aisle, leading to a lofty pulpit, with a sounding board above it.

Congregationalist colony ruins Dorchester Park

What is left of the Dorchester burial ground

In front of the pulpit was an elevated seat for the ruling elder; a little lower and just behind the communion table was a seat for the deacons.

On either side of the island were several plain benches, capable of seating four or five persons each.

Along the sides of the house were two or three long seats, and at the site of the pulpit were several shorter ones. Back by the door two seats were fitted up for the guardsmen, with their old matchlocks.”

During the Revolutionary War, the British occupied the building and reportedly burned it when they evacuated the area. In 1794 the structure was repaired, and eventually its congregation entered into an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church.

As the Dorchester settlement declined and the town of Summerville grew, a new church was constructed nearer the town. Over time the old meeting house fell in disrepair and in 1886 it was severely damaged by the Great Earthquake. Today, only crumbling walls and the burial grounds remain.

The Artifacts – At the center you can see numerous artifacts such as hand painted pearl ware, Staffordshire candle holder, lead-glazed earthenware, white salt-glazed stoneware and the Colono ware. The Colono ware is similar to pottery from Nigeria and Ghana. It started to be produced in Carolina around 1680, peaked in the early 1700s and then disappeared by 1800. Typical vessels were flat bottomed, burnished, grit-tempered and often had an “X” incised on their bases.

Step back in the colonial period at Dorchester State Historic Park!

Dorchester State Park outdoor attractions

Best place to have a picnic along Ashley River

From Charleston to Savannah with love…Favorite places to visit with my kid in the Lowcountry

Here are the most surprising places I have found during my travel adventures in South Carolina (all approved by my preschool daughter). Today I’ll go over the Lowcountry: Charleston, Edisto, Beaufort, Hilton Head and Savannah.

The American LaFrance Fire Museum in North Charleston

This place is FUN with capital letters! Best of all its free for kids and only $6 for adults.

Kids get fired up in Charleston!

Drive a real fire truck at the North Charleston Fire Museum

Children can climb-on a real fire truck, go through a full-fledged emergency response, including a simulated street driving, honk horns, talk on the radio and push all sorts of buttons.

You get to see an amazing display of legendary fire engines from the 1700s to modern days.

I loved learning about the fire fighting history and its technological marvels, the fire trivia (i.e. Benjamin Franklin started the first successful fire insurance company in US) and the most devastating fires in the world (from AD 64 in Rome to 1906 in San Francisco).

The museum is open 10AM – 5PM (1PM on Sundays) and is located near the Tanger Outlets.

Charles Towne Landing Historic Park and Animal Fores Zoo

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Charles Towne Landing, the birthplace of America, is a wonderful place filled with educational, recreational and fun things to do for everyone.

Walk the plank at Charles Towne Landing

17th century justice is served

The park is open daily 9AM to 5 PM. Admission is $5 adults, $3 children 6-15 and free for 3 and under.

Start at the Visitors Center to see how life was like in the 1670s for the Lord Proprietors, settlers, native tribes, indentured servants, and slaves.

Visit the Animal Forest zoo home to pumas, bison, alligators, black bears, otters, bobcats, wolves and a variety of birds.

Be a captain aboard Adventure, a life-size 17th century trading ship replica.

Walk, stroll, jog or bike along the marsh or through the 80 acres of magnificent gardens, featuring thousands of azaleas, camellias and centuries old oak trees.

Edisto Island Serpentarium

Gigantic alligators, deadly snakes, funny looking lizards and snappy turtles “with a face only a mother could love”…

Incredible reptiles on Edisto Island near Charleston

Edisto's best buddies

The park features beautiful indoor and outdoor exhibits filled with native species as well as weird reptiles from around the world.

Make sure to attend the live snake education programs (at 11, 1, 3 and 5PM) and the alligator feedings (12 and 4PM).

Some may not have the stomach for it, yet we were thrilled!

Kids really enjoy digging through pre-historic bones from once native saber tooth cats, whales, mammoths and giant bears.

Edisto Island Serpentarium is open May through Labor Day Thursday to Saturdays from 10AM to 6PM (Monday to Saturday in the summer).

Admission is $12.95 adults, $9.95 children (6-12), $5.95 children 4 and 5, free for those 3 and under.

Old Sheldon Church Ruins

Beautiful 18th century church near CharlestonA deeply moving and inspirational historic site remnant of the 1745 Prince William Parish.

Twice burned, once during Revolutionary War and again during the Civil War March to the Sea and yet still standing…

Amid tragedy there hope and rebirth. The ruins have become a very popular site for outdoor wedding ceremonies and a photographers composition dream.

Mark your calendar! Once a year, on the second Sunday after Easter, the prestigious St. Helena Church holds a public service at the ruins.

The church ruins are located on Old Sheldon Road right off highway 21 between Beaufort and Yemassee.

Hunting Island Lighthouse and State Park – Breath-taking views, romantic beach and lush maritime forest. Hunting Island State Park is the most popular park in South Carolina, and for good reasons.
Best state park in South Carolina The park jewel is South Carolina’s only publicly accessible historic lighthouse. Dating from the 1870s, the Hunting Island Lighthouse shoots 170 feet into the air, rewarding visitors magnificent views of the Lowcountry marshland and the Atlantic Ocean.

Enjoy 5 miles of soft sand beach, a wonderful lagoon home to seahorses and barracuda, thousands of acres of marsh and tidal creek, a fishing pier and some of the state’s most desirable campsites.

Admire up-close loggerhead sea turtles, alligators, pelicans, dolphins and deer, Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and the rare coral snakes.

The loggerhead turtles nest on the island in the summer months.

Park daily admission is $4 adults, $1.5 children age 6-15 and free for children 5 and younger. Lighthouse ticket is an additional $2.

Parris Island Museum near Beaufort

An extraordinary place honoring the US Marines history, life as a recruit, and military accomplishments.

WWII Japanese cannon prize of war

Here I am!

Admire hundreds of unusual weapons and enemy captures from legendary battles, laugh at the “good life as a recruit” posters and learn about the inspiring US Marines history.

Little ones can earn the “Junior Recruit” title by successfully completing the museum exploration challenge.

Admission is free and the museum is open daily from 10AM to 4:30PM. If time permits take the island driving tour.

Coastal Discovery Museum in Hilton Head

This place has it all! A rich display of the Lowcountry heritage, an incredible saltmarsh ecosystem, world-class history walks and nature tours

Delicate beauty at Coastal Discovery Museum in Hilton Head

and a brilliant Butterfly Pavilion.

Admission to the museum, outside grounds and the butterfly enclosure is free (guided tours range from $5 to $20 per person).

Coastal Discovery Museum is open year around Monday to Saturday from 9AM to 4:30 PM, Sunday 11AM to 3PM.

Here is an overview of the fun things you can do with kids outdoor.

Fort Pulaski National Park near Savannah

A memorable Civil War battle marked the end of masonry fortifications after the “indestructible” Fort Pulaski fell after 30 hours of cannon firings.

Magnificent Civil War reenactments

Fort Pulaski, an incredible Civil War battle and military marvel

Admission is free for kids under 16 and $3 for adults and is good for 6 days. The Fort Pulaski National Monument has a plethora of educational family activities.

Learn about the tragic story of the Immortal 600 Confederate officers, and mind-boggling military strategies and weapons deployed at the time.

Make sure to attend the live musket and cannon fire demonstrations that are held each weekend.

Walk the scenic 0.75 mile Overloook Trail to the Cockspur Island Lighthouse, originally built in 1837. The lighthouse escaped untouched during the 30 hours attack on the Fort despite the fact it was positioned straight in the line of fire!

Life is beautiful in the historic Lowcountry!

A heart felt return to Old Sheldon Church

On my second visit to Beaufort and the “Palmetto Phoenix Church” I discovered touching stories of love, passion, freedom and despair.

Old Sheldon Church Ruins

Old Sheldon Church view as you come in the yard

The heart-breaking loss of a child…

“I’ll weep no tears upon the grave
Where lies my darling out of sight
God has but taken what He gave
And made my child a Seraph bright
He early tastes the promised bliss
And shall I, Can I, weep for this”

Front view

Old Sheldon Church Ruins - front view

The rite of passage at St. Helena Episcopal Church in Beaufort…

In 1734, Captain John Bull (brother of William Bull who helped built Old Sheldon Church) gave a silver Communion service in memory of his first wife who dissapeared during the 1715 Yemassee masacre. The chalice, paten and tankard, engraved “The gift of Captain John Bull to the Parish of St. Helena” are still used today on special occasions.

Both John and his second wife Mary are burried in the Sheldon Church graveyard.

1771 Mary Bull tombstone

1771 tombstone of Mary Bull, John Bull's second wife

The Stono Rebellion… (excerpts from PBS article “Africans in America” and Beginningsfrom USC Press)

In September 1739 a group of African slaves led by an Angolan named Jemmy, seized weapons near the Stono River south of Charleston and began to march towards Florida shouting “Liberty!” They burned and plundered plantations, taverns, and shops killing about 20 whites before stoping to rest for the night at Edisto River.

Entrance to the extended parking lot across the road

Entrance to the extended parking lot across the road

The carriage of Lieutenant Governor William Bull crossed paths with the rebels. Bull ordered his driver to get him back to Charleston where he called out all available white militia. The militia and the rebels fought a pitched battle near Jacksonborough.

The better armed and trained militia defeated the slaves and roughly 40 whites and 60 blacks died in the melee.

The response to the rebellion proved swift and brutal. Travelers on the Old Post Road (present day US Hwy 17) would have seen the heads of the rebels placed on pikes up and down the route.

The loyal devotion…

As you rest your body and spirit under the lush oak trees remember Biz and Bill Campbell, who for over 75 years cared with deep love for these sacred grounds.

Romantic picnic at Old Sheldon Church

Romantic picnic at Old Sheldon Church

The church is located on Old Sheldon Road between Beaufort and Yemassee, about 2 miles from the intersection of Hwy 17 and Hwy 21. A free public service is held each year on second Sunday after Easter. Call (843) 522-1712 to inquire about reserving the church yard for personal events or wedding celebrations.

Come as you are, leave as you wish!

Magnolia Plantation just for kids activities (an exciting weekend adventure in Charleston)

The Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is Charleston’s best known attraction, a top 25 most visited home in America and one of the oldest public gardens in the country. Coveted glamour aside, we recently discovered there is in fact lots of fun things to do with children at the plantation.

Basic admission to the Gardens, petting zoo and grounds

Cheese! Magnolia Plantation beautiful gardens in Spring

Cheese! Magnolia Plantation beautiful gardens in Spring

is $15 for adults, $10 for kids 6-12 and free for kids under 6. Here is a list with all prices grouped by age, attractions and type. Hold on to your receipt, it allows you one FREE admission within a week.

The Spring Garden is in full bloom at Magnolia Plantation!

Come enjoy a symphony of vibrant colors from beautiful Native Azaleas, Tulip Magnolias, Wisterias and the Cherokee Roses.

Little kids love spending time at the petting zoo. Say hello to donkeys, mini horses, sheep, geese and ducks. A red little antique carriage proudly decorates the green pastures.

Cute little donkey!

Cute little donkey!

Kids of all ages enjoy the fossil dig, the playground and the topiary garden. We found an ammonite, maybe you’ll get a dinosaur tooth!

Fossil Dig Fun

Fossil Dig Fun

Right across from the playground is the intriguing maze. I let my girls try it on their own and they successfully completed the quest within minutes. Then we all had fun doing it backwards!

Find your way through the Garden Maze

Find your way through the Garden Maze

From here follow the trail to the scenic 1840s Long Bridge over the Cypress Lake, then through the 1680s Flowerdale and the Japanese Garden. Watch out for snakes, we had a close “wild moment of the day” encounter!

The path strolls along the lake all the way to the Wildlife Observation Tower. Here you get breathtaking views of the marshes surrounding the Magnolia Plantation.

The Bird's Eye Watch Tower

The Bird's Eye Watch Tower

Now that you took the bait get onboard the Nature Boat Tour, a 45 minute ride that explores the plantation’s 125 acres of rice fields. This tour offers excellent wildlife viewing, including upclose looks at alligators! The tour is $7 (free for kids under 6).

Boat cruises through pristine marshes

Boat cruises through pristine marshes

Of course no visit is complete without a tour of The Audubon Swamp and Garden, one the most diverse and unique wildlife ecosystems in the country. Admission is $7 (free for kids under 6) and best time to spot animals is late afternoon.

If you are passionate about Charleston’s history then you must go to the Charles Towne Landing park, the birthplace of our state, an oasis of outdoor relaxation filled with fun activities for kids.

Wild family fun at the mysterious Audubon Swamp Garden (what to do with kids in Charleston)

The Audubon Swamp in Charleston is America’s most unique garden and wildlife preserve, a remarkable, must see family experience.

Alligator soaking the sun next to his best pal

Alligator soaking the sun next to his best pal

The swamp garden became famous when John J. Audubon visited 150 years ago in search of waterfowl specimens for his paintings.

Fast forward to our time, it shined again as the filming site of the movie “The Swamp Thing”.

Audubon is an unequaled biodiversity with thousands of plant and animal species coexisting in the 60 acres of blackwater cypress and tupelo swamp.

The pristine waters are home to nesting blue herons and great egrets, impassable alligators, playful otters, slender deer, mysterious turtles and slithering snakes.

Great Egrets Couple

Several boardwalks, dikes and bridges traverse the wilderness allowing you to observe animals in their natural habitat. You may encounter small animals such as rabbits, foxes, squirrels and opossums.

Boardwalk over the eerie swamp

Boardwalk over the eerie swamp

Bird lovers will be delighted to observe blue herons, great egrets, blue-winged teal, common moorhen, pied-billed grebe, wood ducks, white ibis, red-shouldered hawk, yellow warbler, and occasionally, a majestic bold eagle.

Older kids will enjoy reading the centuries old headstones in the graveyard…

Old graveyard inside Audubon Swamp Garden

Old graveyard inside Audubon Swamp Garden

And visiting the pre Civil War slave cabins.

Inside slave cabin at Magnolia Plantation in Charleston

Inside slave cabin at Magnolia Plantation in Charleston

Touring the swamp takes about an hour, more for the nature enthusiast. Best time to observe wildlife is late afternoon.

The Audubon Swamp Garden is open year around from 8AM to 5:30PM (8:30 – 5 in winter) and can be accessed via Magnolia Plantation. Standalone admission is $7 for individuals (free for kids under 6) and $4 for groups that are also visiting the Magnolia Plantation (here are more price details to all the attractions).

The Swamp Troubadours at Magnolia Plantation

The Swamp Troubadours at Magnolia Plantation

Reward your inner beauty at the Audubon Swamp Garden and the historic Magnolia Plantation, one of top 25 most visited homes in America!

And if that’s not enough drive to the modern Edisto Island Serpentarium to rub elbows giant alligators, exotic turtles and fearsome snakes of all shapes and sizes.