Historic Newberry, South Carolina: “The Most Charming Little Town”

Newberry, SC was recently named one of Travel Channel’s “Loveliest Little Towns” by Travel Channel, as well as on Day 14 of the South Carolina 7 Expedition. As KAG SC7 Correspondent, Liene Kukainis joined the team on the track to see what all the press is talking about!

About Historic Newberry, South Carolina

In the heart of downtown is the Newberry Opera House. Completed in 1882, the Opera House was intended as a place of entertainment for locals and as the seat of city government – comprising a fire department and three prison cells! Silent images were slowly replaced by films, and in the 1920s it was remodeled into a movie theater. But in 1952, the cinema closed and there was even talk of demolishing it; Fortunately, the Newberry Historical Society stepped in, and in 1970 the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1998, the Newberry Opera House was reopened for performances after extensive renovations.

However, in 2010, downtown Newberry was struggling in the wake of the Great National Recession. When the City took steps to initiate a revitalization of the city center, to make it more pedestrian-friendly and welcoming to visitors, the Opera House remained at the center of it all. The location between the Greenville-Spartanburg corridor and Columbia makes it one of the few venues in the Midlands / Piedmont, and musicians coming from Charleston often take the opportunity to catch another show before heading north / west. Newberry has truly capitalized on the unique location when it comes to the arts, and today is a vibrant, old-fashioned downtown that’s a centerpiece for the community.

The Travel Channel hailed Newberry as “a college town with lots of extras: beautiful architecture, a historic opera house, a cellar with rocking chairs beckoning from a large porch, and world-class dining and bucolic experiences.” Nicknamed the “City of Friendly People”, it is considered one of America’s Top 100 Small Towns. The accolades are well deserved, and Newberry has something for everyone… even a cross-state expedition!

Palmetto Trail in downtown Newberry, South Carolina

The Palmetto Trail in Newberry, South Carolina

South Carolina Expedition 7 used the Palmetto Trail as the backbone of its explorations, and on a sunny summer day I found myself “hiking” Newberry Passage with the Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina , Pamela Evette, and Newberry Mayor Foster Senn. Our urban trek took us into the very heart of Newberry, past Newberry College, established in 1856, past several ornate houses built from 1880 to 1915, and on to Main Street. We passed the old Coca-Cola bottling plant (now a covered shooting range, now a law firm) and City Hall.

The Newberry Passage is a 10 mile section of trail, approximately 4 miles of which is within the city limits. Be warned that there is little shade and most of the section runs along busy roads. However, I found the 3-4 miles within the city limits interesting, with the historic houses, an old cemetery and of course the renovated main street with shops, cafes, bars and ice cream parlors.

Another Newberry treasure is a second crossing the Palmetto Trail, Lynch’s Woods. In direct contrast to the urban Newberry Passage, Lynch’s Woods is a relaxing 5 mile loop hike through a beautiful park filled with ancient trees. Lynch’s Woods Park was established in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and today the 276-acre park offers trails for mountain bikers, hikers and horse riders.

Family activities in Newberry, SC

Newberry Museum

We stopped in the old courthouse, completed in 1853, to get a map and some brochures – the historic building now houses the chamber of commerce. There they directed us to the Newberry Museum, located in the 1911 Federal Building and the United States Post Office. The museum offers permanent and rotating exhibits on the history of the county as well as the surrounding municipalities. For a schedule of exhibits, please visit the Newberry Museum website.

Newberry Museum

Newberry Arts Center

Just a few blocks from the museum is the Newberry Arts Center. Through the windows, we could see kids busy creating at the NAC’s Youth Summer Camp, and the Arts Center boutique was full of pieces handmade by local artisans. The Arts Center also sponsors Rec Mobile Friday Art in the Park, a free traveling activity with a local artist that takes place 6 weeks in the summer. Art programs are offered year round; more information can be found on the Newberry Arts Center website.

Japanese Garden in Newberry, SC

I was pleasantly surprised that Newberry has a Japanese garden, tucked away and just waiting to be discovered. We were a little disappointed that the garden was closed, as it is currently under construction, but the chamber of commerce assured me that it should be open within a month. The Wells Japanese Garden is a Newberry monument that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. For more information on the garden, please visit the Newberry website.

Events in Newberry, SC

Newberry hosts many events throughout the year, including the Oktoberfest on the first Saturday in October, a pumpkin painting party in late October, and Main Street Lights in late November; all in the charming setting of Memorial Park, opposite the Opera House. Originally the horse and carriage parking lot, on our recent visit it turned into an exuberant welcome to the SC7 expedition, tables set up in the shade of huge trees where we ate our barbecue fillings and ice cream while listening to a DJ playing music.

Just around the corner, the Newberry Police Department had set up a bicycle rodeo, for young riders to test their knowledge of road signs and their ability to navigate an obstacle course. To top it off, the Opera House hosted the first green carpet of the SC7 documentary “Higher Ground”, and we got to see the ornate interior of the grand building. Yes, Newberry can throw a party too!

Newberry Community Hall (left), Newberry Opera House (right)

Shopping and dining in Newberry, SC

During our walks in the city center, we saw several intriguing antique shops, including a “World Famous, seen on American gatherers. “An antique bookstore, art galleries, clothing and jewelry stores complete the shopping experience – we could easily have spent a morning strolling through the stores. art when looking for that keepsake!

We had lunch and ice cream at Laila’s Place, a family owned establishment, and the cultural icon “Zesto’s” was on the Newberry Passage on the way to town. Several fine dining establishments catered to the Opera crowd, and the Figaro market was teeming with local produce and mouth-watering dishes.

Where to sleep in Newberry, South Carolina

Accommodation options include several of the big chains, although there are a few bed and breakfast options in the surrounding area.

Kidding Around wins when you book through this card, as a STAY22 affiliate.

Attractions near Newberry

Peak to Prosperty Passage from the Palmetto Trail

Just south is the Palmetto Trail’s famous Peak to Prosperity Passage, great for biking and hiking, and known for the converted rail bridge that now allows pedestrians to cross the Broad River.

Murray Lake

Less than an hour away is Lake Murray, with all kinds of recreational opportunities. This time of year, we’ll see the purple swallows en route south; the thousands of birds that all come to roost on Bomb Island at dusk is a sight to behold!

End of the day in Newberry, South Carolina

That evening the lights were dimmed in the Grand Opera House, and after Governor Henry McMaster gave a welcoming speech, the lights were dimmed until the premiere of “Higher Ground”. We collapsed in our plush red velvet armchairs and assimilated everything: the history, the hiking, the small town, the culture…. Yes indeed, Newberry is one of the best small towns in America!

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