Sumter Entertainment: Effortless Family Fun in Central South Carolina!

“10 cents?” asked my eleven-year-old in utter disbelief. It’s always hard explaining to our kids how much things used to cost back in the “good old days,” but for some reason, they had an especially difficult time digesting the fact that a movie ticket in 1936 was only a dime.

A movie theater during the Great Depression, the Sumter Opera House was the reason weopera house clock tower 2015 went to central South Carolina. Built in the late 1800’s, the building was renovated in 1936 to serve as a movie theater. It was lovingly restored again in the 1980’s back to its original purpose as a venue for performing arts. For years we’d heard that one of South Carolina’s best-kept secrets is this historic building, which still functions as a venue for the performing arts. So last summer when my husband and I were looking for a convenient weekend getaway that could deliver in the quality entertainment department as well as in the kid-friendly destination department, we landed on Sumter.

The skinny on Sumter

When we first told our kids, ages 7, 11 and 14, that we would be taking a trip to a town known for its Opera House, they became curious. “What’s an opera house?” “Do people live there?” and “Do we dress up for it?” were just a few of the questions we fielded.

Of course, our iPhone-wielding eldest daughter did some digging, but she got sidetracked from her Opera House research as soon as she discovered Sumter was also home to Swan Lake Iris Gardens—the only public park in the U.S. that is home to eight different swan Swan Lake for Blog 0415species. For her 14th birthday she got a new camera, and she was eager to capture unique flora and fauna for her portfolio. She read about the park’s exotic flower species and its butterfly garden, but she was most excited about its one-of-a-kind Chocolate Garden. It took her ten minutes to explain to her younger brother that while the plants would be edible, the “Banana Split” wouldn’t taste like his favorite dessert, but that the plants looked or smelled like different varieties of chocolate. We were pleasantly surprised to see so much enthusiasm from our often-indifferent teenager.

Music and food

We rolled into Sumter on a Friday evening, and the weather could not have been better–T-shirt temperatures with a cool, refreshing breeze. We timed our arrival so we could catch an outdoor concert—courtesy of Sumter’s Fourth Fridays on Main summer series. Some friendly locals let us borrow their spare lawn chairs, and to return the favor, we bought them a round of drinks. With mouths full of some of South Carolina’s finest BBQ, the kids were enthralled watching the band’s lead guitarist play up a storm on his Gibson.

“What’s for breakfast?” our son asked the next morning. An hour later we were forks deep into buttery shrimp and grits and passing around a plate of beignets—powdered sugar-covered squares of fried dough. After the last crumb was claimed, we set out to explore Sumter and burn off some energy. As we walked past Palmetto Park and the University of Black SwanSouth Carolina Sumter, my husband grabbed my hand. The kids cringed, but by the time we reached Swan Lake Iris Gardens, they were more concerned with counting water fowl than anything else.

Picture perfect

Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe Swan Lake. In no time at all, our daughter was putting in her second memory card. It’s ironic to think that this 120-acre park started out as a swamp. But now, as we took in the vibrant sights, sounds and scents, we found the now pristine lake to be peaceful, lovely and charming. Our lazy Saturday morning in the park was perfect, but it didn’t end until we promised the kids we would return for an event or two.

We’d heard about the annual Memorial Day Weekend Iris Festival—the state’s oldest continuous festival and widely considered one of the top events in the Southeast. Meanwhile, our seven-year-old was keen on coming back in December when he could see his favorite cartoon characters and a floating Christmas tree during the park’s month-long Fantasy of Lights.

“Speaking of floating things,” said my husband, “I heard a rumor that Sumter is THE place to get ice cream floats.” That rumor turned out to be very true. After doing some souvenir shopping downtown, we indulged at the hometown drug store’s popular soda fountain. Our day could have ended perfectly right then and there—over a frosted glass of root beer and vanilla ice cream, but it didn’t. No, we still had a concert to catch at the reason weOpera House Stage came to Sumter in the first place, the Opera House.

An historic perspective

“This is the coolest opera house ever,” remarked our son as he craned his neck to look up at the structure’s 100-ft. tall clock tower. My husband, an accountant who hopes he’ll be an architect in his next life, admired the original stone façade. The interior of the building was just as impressive, and you could tell that the musicians on stage felt honored to play there. As the last notes of the final song played out, I surveyed my family’s reactions: 4 for 4. Or, if you counted the smile on my face too, 5 for 5.

The real tell-tale sign that this weekend getaway in Sumter was a success was the fact that the next morning, despite subconsciously knowing we had to return home, we all woke up wearing the same looks of contentment. Sumter may no longer be home to 10-cent entertainment, but a visit to this special town is worth every dime!

Easily entertain your family in Sumter, South Carolina!

This entry was kindly provided by a guest blogger.

Posted in Sumter SC Tourism, Sumter, South Carolina, Visit Sumter SC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#Sumter join us at 11 AM today to honor

#Sumter join us at 11 AM today to honor #VeteransDay on the courthouse lawn on Main Street.

| Leave a comment

@discoverSC Check out this wonderful video story of our favorite gardens #SwanLakeIrisGardens #SumterSC

| Leave a comment

Awesome view #Sumter! #SwanLakeIrisGarde

Awesome view #Sumter! #SwanLakeIrisGardens #discoverSC #sctweets #arialphotography #quadcopter

| Leave a comment

Christmas in June? The 2014 #PoinsettiaF

Christmas in June? The 2014 #PoinsettiaFestival is just around the corner. In hopes to get a full schedule of #Christmas holiday events to share with the #Sumter community, we need your help! Send us your event ASAP @

| Leave a comment

Have you checked out #Sumter Trolley Tou

Have you checked out #Sumter Trolley Tours yet? Upcoming… Salem/Black River and Dingle’s Mill

| Leave a comment

Frame and Frequency: Challenging New Exhibit Coming to Gallery 135

In the midst of end-of-school/beginning-of-summer/oh-gosh-it’s-getting-hot, and everything else that accompanies this time of year—well, here’s something a bit different. A lot different, actually.

In 1963, former commercial illustrator Andy Warhol began pointing his 16mm film camera at whomever walked in the door of his New York studio, The Factory. Since Warholthat time, video has become an integral part of many forms, such as installation and performance art, and a powerful medium in its own right. Artistic barriers crumbled as the stillness of sculptures and paintings came up against the immediacy of the new form—the first truly “new” artistic medium in centuries.

Over the last five decades, the rise in news coverage that brings world events into our living rooms in real time, changes to Hollywood codes that have led to ever-more daring and experimental cinema, the proliferation of cable television, MTV, video games, and nearly countless other influences, our lives are now virtually saturated by moving onscreen images. Nearly everyone you know probably has a YouTube channel, and our mobile phones can capture live action to share with thousands at the click of a button. The Museum of Modern Art provides a fairly detailed explanation of the phenomenon on its website here.

As part of its ongoing challenge “to engage community members of all ages in the creation, contemplation, and appreciation of the visual arts,” the Sumter County Cultural Commission presents the first exhibition from the South to South International Video Art Exchange Program — “Frame & Frequency” at Gallery 135, located at Patriot Hall on Haynsworth Street.  Co-curated by Sumter County Gallery of Art curator Frank McCauley, along with Liliana Hernandez and Victor Muñoz, the exhibition, opening on June 6, highlights the work of twelve international artists—from Bogotá to Medellín, Colombia (i.e., “South” America to “South” Carolina—get it?), from Canada to California, and of course, New York City—whose new media, experimental film and video works explore contemporary visual culture. The “intimate panorama” encompasses the variety and breadth of video art today, including themes such as video as a medium, documentation of a performance, and more.

Gallery-0614According to a press release from the Sumter County Cultural Commission, “while video art is a relatively recent development in art history, it allows for a unique and wholly different experience from other mediums such as painting and sculpture, etc. The durational nature of video art requires a longer commitment of time on the part of the viewer in order to render an aesthetic judgment, but hopefully also a more immersive experience as well.”

“Frame & Frequency” is proudly presented by the Sumter County Cultural Commission, in collaboration with the Sumter County Gallery of Art, Bivouac Projects, and PLECTO Galleria de Arte. The opening reception will be held on Friday, June 6, 2014 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.; the exhibit will remain in place through July 18th. Admission is FREE, and the public is invited. Patriot Hall Performing Arts Center, at 135 Haynsworth Street, is open Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, please call Patriot Hall at (803) 436-2260.

Even for people who aren’t usually interested in galleries or museums, this groundbreaking event promises to be an extraordinary experience. For some, it will be a revelation. From others, it may elicit a shake of the head and a puzzled, “Um, what was that?” For all, it is bound to inspire thought. And this much, you can count on—it won’t be boring! Join the artists and their works, and check it out!

by Colette Daniels

Posted in Sumter SC Tourism, Sumter, South Carolina, Visit Sumter SC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment