Track Your Adventure Number Five: The Fastest Dirt Track in the South!

Here’s something I haven’t done in a while—shared a little piece of my personal history with you. When I bought my home in Sumter’s historic district some years back, I had the good fortune to meet several people who had clear memories of the place and could tell me about its history. One gentleman had spent his childhood there, and shared that his dad was an avid stock car racer. He reminisced about “Old Blue,” the Ford that their family kept in the back yard, a car they had raced at the Sumter Speedway until it came apart. From the smile on his face, those were fond memories, indeed.

For more than 50 years, Sumter Speedway has provided highly competitive racing entertainment to Southern stock car racing fans. From its origins in 1956 as a converted Sumter-Speedway-01cow pasture, Sumter Speedway has become a tradition among stock car racing fans from all over the area. It moved to its present location in 1957, and the 3/8 mile oval clay track has been a center of racing excitement ever since. According to its website, the Sumter Speedway is “proud to be a part of Dirt Track Racing, and is committed to maintaining the high standards of competition for which we are known.” In keeping with those standards, the track has been graced with such legends as Ralph Earnhardt, David Pearson, Ned Jarrett, Doug Yates, Richard Petty, Lee Petty, Junior Johnson, Rex White and Buck Baker.

Sumter-Speedway-02Racing classes include Extreme 4, Stock 4, Stock V8, Super Street, and Late Models. Special events include V8 Sprints and Monster Minis. In 2015, the Sumter Speedway became a member of the Southeastern Crate Association. And if you have the need for speed, you can become a driver! Check out Sumter Speedway on Facebook for racing details.

Racing Schedule
April – August every Saturday
Gates open 5 pm racing begins at 7 pm

Special Events
September, October, November
Gates open 3 pm racing begins at 6pm

Pricing varies on race schedule
Active Duty and Retired Military with ID FREE in stands

For more information, visit the Sumter Speedway website or call (803) 481-2650. The Speedway is located at 3150 Wedgefield Road in Sumter.

Head for the “Fastest Dirt Track in the South,” get your passport stamped, and join in on some nonstop action!

by Colette Daniels

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

Track Your Adventure Number Four: Fall for the Arts—This Summer!

In today’s environmentally conscious world, the concept of “re-purposing” buildings is part of doing business as usual. Gone are the days of tearing down structures and building something new and trendy atop what might have been an interesting historic site. But it wasn’t so long ago that finding a new use for an old building was considered an innovation—and by some, perhaps, even a waste of time.

Sumter County was well ahead of the game in the 1980s, with the decision to repurpose the old Sumter High School building on Haynsworth Street. Alma mater of many Sumterites since 1939, it had outlived its usefulness and, in 1983, was replaced by the present Sumter High School on McCray’s Mill Road. For the first time in the city’s history, all four public school classes attended school together for four years and graduated from under the same roof.

This left the question of what to do with the old building, particularly the Haynsworth Patriot-Hall-RevisedStreet Auditorium, which had become home to many stage performances on weekends and during the summers. In addition, the building occupied a prominent place in the center of the city’s residential historic district. Obviously, if there was a chance of saving it from the wrecking ball, our community leaders were highly interested. And so it came to pass…in 1986, after a thorough renovation and many upgrades, the venerable auditorium was re-opened as Patriot Hall, a state-of-the-art performance facility that has since Patriot-Hall-Body-Art-Showbecome one of the area’s premier arts venues. Seating 1,017 patrons at full capacity, Patriot Hall has hosted nearly every kind of performance in its nearly 30-year history, from the Sumter Community Concert Band and Civic Chorale to New York City’s Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe, to the Columbia City Ballet and fully staged Sumter Little Theatre productions such as “Oklahoma!”—as well as educational lectures, political forums, art installation events, and so much more. Patriot Hall’s opening also marked the birth of the Sumter County Cultural Center, seat of the Sumter County Cultural Commission and one of only a few fully-contained arts centers of its kind in the state of South Carolina.

In the meantime, a former wing of Sumter High School, located immediately adjacent to Patriot Hall, was about to undergo its own renaissance. With funds raised from the public and private sectors, the unused classrooms were gutted and redesigned as spacious galleries, up-to-the-minute climate control and security were installed, and the Sumter County Gallery of Art proudly opened its doors in 2003 at its present location (200 Hasel Street). As a fitting nod to the past, the first exhibit was “Sumter Collects,” a surprisingly eclectic collection of artwork from local private collections. Since then, the Zan-Wells-Exhibition-013-1012-CDGallery has played host to everything from SC folk art to the work of internationally known painters, sculptors, photographers, and other artists working in a variety of media—some of it, such as avante-garde film, quite surprising and a departure from static “art on a wall.” Along with children’s classes, fundraising events, educational forums, and showcasing emerging artists in neighboring “Gallery 135,” the Sumter County Gallery of Art has come a long way since it was established in 1970 at the former Carnegie Library on West Liberty Street before moving to the former Elizabeth White House on North Main Street, where it remained for decades. The present Gallery features three exhibit rooms downstairs, seven classrooms upstairs, and ample reception space flowing through Gallery 135 and into the Patriot Hall complex.

The third venue of the Sumter County Cultural Center has the deepest roots in the Sumter community. Formed in 1941 and originally chartered in 1949, the Sumter Little Theatre’s enthusiastic volunteers have dedicated decades to quality theatre productionsBeauty-and-the-Beast-SLT of all types and for all ages. Headquartered at the Sumter County Cultural Center since 1987, SLT presents an annual season in a “black box” setting that creates an intimacy between the actors and audience. The vibrant Youth Theatre program offers classes in acting, improv, lighting, sound, and design, with many alumni going on to study theatre arts on a post-secondary level, and quite a few finding careers in arts-related fields. In addition to the regular season, other quality entertainment such as “Cabaret Night” is also offered. The Sumter Little Theatre is located at 14 Mood Avenue.

Beating deep within the heart of old Sumter, the Cultural Center is the pulse of Sumter County’s cultural activities. Stop by sometime at 135 Haynsworth Street, or give them a call at (803) 436-2260. Prepare to leave with your horizons expanded!

More info on the “Track Your Adventure” program can be found here, or call the Sumter Convention & Visitors Bureau at (803) 436-2640 .

by Colette Daniels


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

Track Your Adventure, Two & Three: Sumter Opera House and Sumter County Museum

As we continue our journey through the 22 one-of-a-kind places listed in Sumter’s “Passport to Adventure”, next on the list are the historic Sumter Opera House and the Sumter County Museum.

The Opera House, an 1894 treasure listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the jewel in downtown Sumter’s crown, has been mentioned many times in these pages. For a history of downtown’s “grand old lady” through prosperity and hardship to her present-day grandeur, click here. As a featured destination in “Track Your Adventure,” a visit to the Opera House earns a passport stamp—along with the chance to appreciate onekat-and-kids-TYA-edit of South Carolina’s most beautiful historic venues.

Next on the list of places to have your passport stamped is the Sumter County Museum, located at 122 North Washington Street in midtown. Known locally as the Williams-Brice House, the stately home at the center of the Museum complex reflects a name familiar to many South Carolinians, most notably from the Williams-Brice Stadium at the University of South Carolina. According to their website, 2015 marks 25 years of the Sumter County Museum, and what a lot of growth has taken place over that time!

The lovely Edwardian home, built in 1916 by the Phelps family, occupies a property of considerable historic significance. Prior to the present construction, it was the site of a Queen Anne-style estate, built circa 1848 by Andrew Jackson Moses, that served not only as a home, but as a school, and in a case of déjà vu, also as a museum. The present structure became known as the Williams-Brice House in the 1920’s, when Mr. O.L. Williams, founder of Williams Furniture Company, gifted the home to his daughter Martha and her husband, Thomas Brice.  It was given to the Sumter County Historical Society in 1972 for the purpose of conversion to a museum dedicated to Williams-Brice-Housethe history of Sumter District, to be enjoyed by citizens and visitors to the Sumter community. For decades, the adjoining Martha Brice Gardens, added in the 1960’s, have been home to gracious private parties and other events among the original garden sculptures and gazebo, while the house has gradually evolved from a house museum to feature permanent and revolving exhibits, among them the General Thomas Sumter Room and one of the state’s finest textile collections.

Today, the Sumter County Museum Complex also includes:

  • the Carolina Backcountry Homestead, a lovingly and painstakingly re-created 1800 settlement,
  • McKenzie Hall, an educational center containing meeting space, additional exhibits, and the Lion’s Paws gift shop,
  • a transportation museum,
  • an agricultural museum, and the
  • Museum Archives, including the W.A. “Mayor Bubba” McElveen and Myrtis Ginn Osteen collections.

For more info about the many things to see and do at the Sumter County Museum, along with a listing of annual events, please visit online or call the Museum at (803) 775-0908. From gracious home to a center for annual themed feasts, historic re-enactments, and a leisurely place to spend an interesting, educational afternoon, the Sumter County Museum has stood as a community treasure for nearly one hundred years.

The Sumter County Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. Adult admission is $3, $1 for ages 6 to 17, and free for those five and under.

Grab your passport and go, as next time we take a quick visit to the Sumter County Cultural Center!

by Colette Daniels

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

Track Your Adventure Number One: Swan Lake Iris Gardens

Wow…only one month after its initial launch, the Sumter CVB’s “Passport to Adventure” has already entered its second printing. We certainly hoped it would be successful, but thismagnolia may have been beyond what anyone dreamed! Now, summer’s here, and the time is right to get more closely acquainted with this wonderful community we call home.

Just in case you haven’t heard, “Passport to Adventure” is a booklet (available at the Swan Lake Visitors Center and each participating location) detailing 22 places to go and things to do in Sumter and surrounding areas. Each adventure is, as the booklet describes it, “a little different, but enjoyable to say the least,” and can be any place from a well-known attraction such as Swan Lake Iris Gardens to a hidden jewel like the LeNoir Store or Boykin Broom Factory, or anything in between. Some involve a roscoequick visit, others a planned day trip or an evening event. At each location, visitors receive a stamp—just like a real passport—and the first 1,000 booklets to have all stamps completed can be redeemed for a commemorative gift at the Swan Lake Visitors Center. But be aware that it’s more challenging than it sounds—some attractions are open on a seasonal basis only, and others are in the outer reaches of the county, far from the beaten path. As mentioned in our May 12, 2015 post, we will explore each of the 22 locations over the upcoming weeks.

Of course, Number One on the list is Sumter’s largest tourist attraction, boasting more swan-lake-heath-gatethan 600,000 visitors per year—Swan Lake Iris Gardens. Located in the heart of the city, Swan Lake is the only public park in the US known to be home to all of the eight swan species. With a four-season blooming schedule encompassing almost everything from azaleas to zinnias, and an abundance of fascinating wildlife, the 150-acre park is a place to relax, unwind, and enjoy life. It is also home to two of Sumter’s largest annual events, the Sumter Iris Festival and the Fantasy of Lights.

You can read more about Swan Lake Iris Gardens here. What a wonderful place to begin your adventure—and keep up with it online at TrackYourAdventure!

So get to the Visitors Center (open Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.), get your passport, and happy wandering!

Coming up: The Sumter Opera House and Sumter County Museum.

by Colette Daniels


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

Get Your Passport to Adventure!

Looking for things to do in Sumter just got a lot easier! The Sumter Convention & VisitorsTrack-Your-Adventure Bureau has worked in collaboration with 22 area attractions to produce a new initiative, “Track Your Adventure,” a campaign that has already begun attracting hundreds of local residents to find fun and excitement in our hometown.

Planned as a marketing strategy to attract visitors from across the southeastern US, “Track Your Adventure” features both such well-known destinations as Swan Lake Iris Gardens, and those somewhat off the beaten path, like the LeNoir Store and Willard Farms, among many others. Participants are issued a “passport” to be stamped as they visit each location. The first 1,000 people to return a completed passport to the Swan Lake Visitors Center will receive a prize. Visitors are also Passport-Frontencouraged to post photos of their outings to our social media pages. More information can be found online at

Of course, we can’t make it quite that easy. Not only are some of the locations not particularly well-known (although we are hoping to change that!), not all of them are open daily or year-round. So, if you choose to take on the adventure, prepare for a challenge.

Twenty-two places to visit…one place to have your completed passport redeemed. Over the coming weeks, we will feature information about many of Sumter’s best kept secrets. Until then…get ready to track your adventure!

by Colette Daniels


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

The Iris Festival: Experiencing the beauty of Sumter, South Carolina

“If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.” My friend gave me the magnet when my eldest daughter, Lauren, left for college. She was the first to go, but with three more kids at home, I had my hands full and I managed pretty well. My husband, on the other hand, was a bit of a wreck. Lauren is a daddy’s girl, and it had been hard for him to see her go. Every Memorial Day Weekend it was a tradition for the two of them to go camping. But last Memorial Day Weekend, our daughter didn’t come home. She had a new boyfriend and wanted us to come to her.

Festival of beauty
After a unanimous family vote, we agreed. Lauren had just finished up her freshman year at the University of South Carolina at Sumter, and I jumped at every chance I got to visit this endearing Southern city. Yes, I was excited about seeing my daughter, but I was also Sumter-Iris-Festival-2015-FINAL-1looking forward to checking out Sumter’s annual Iris Festival  held at Swan Lake Iris Gardens. I had read about this three-day festival in Southern Living, and also heard about it from my mother. Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015, the Iris Festival is South Carolina’s oldest continuous festival, and it was actually where my parents first met when they were crowned Iris King and Queen when they were young.

The Iris Festival Pageant was just one of the festival’s highlights. Somehow my nine-year-old got his hands on the schedule of events, and he made sure I knew that he and his six-year-old twin sisters couldn’t miss Just Kidding Around, Children’s Art in the Park, the Bike Rodeo and the annual Shrine Day Parade. I made a mental note of his “musts.”

Tasty bites
When we arrived, Lauren took us to her favorite restaurant downtown and we had the kind of BBQ that could turn a vegetarian into a meat eater. That meal was just the start of a weekend full of fantastic food, and we especially loved the highly anticipated Taste of the Gardens featuring mouthwatering food from the region’s most popular dining establishments and celebrated chefs.

While the food was definitely something to write home about, it was hard to top the flowers. Swan Lake Iris Gardens’ crown jewel is the Japanese iris. Peak blooming season for this extraordinary flower (it has the largest bloom of any iris) is late May, and thousands of people come for the flower show’s elaborate sculpted shrubs and the opportunity to buy iris plants from the master gardeners. My green thumb was inspired by the exotic blossoms, and my younger kids were fascinated by the floral art project displays from the local elementary schools.

Classic cars
From flowers to Ford Mustangs—kudos to the festival planners for creating an event that appealed to so many different interests. My husband, who began the trip pretty bummed about not being on his yearly camping trip, perked up when he heard about the festival’s Head Turnerz Classic Car Show and ended up spending hours socializing with other car buffs over the hood of a 1964 Corvette. He wanted to buy one and take me for a ride, but I suggested a boat ride on Swan Lake instead. More than 500,000 people visit Swan Lake each year, but the Iris Festival is the only time when groups are allowed out on the lake—providing an opportune time to see the lake’s eight different species of swans on their turf.

Golf carts galore
With the boat ride and every other effortlessly fun activity behind us, all that was left to do was meet our daughter’s new boyfriend. Begrudgingly, he agreed to leave the festival’s East Coast Scooters Golf Cart Show and meet the kids and me in front of a giant catfish sculpture. Our meeting point was not chosen at random—it seemed our daughter’s new boyfriend, James, a student at Central Carolina Technical College, was quite an accomplished artist, and his metal masterpiece was part of the festival’s We Weld America display and auction.

Important introduction
As my husband shook James’ hand, I was pleasantly surprised to see him break into a slight smile. Lauren noticed too, and I felt a weight lift off my chest. We had been having so much fun at the festival I didn’t even realize I was anxious about this moment. Our little girl was grown up. While she had spent the past couple days joking around with her younger siblings and enjoying the kind of activities that make everyone feel like kids again, here she was, a young woman—making new friends and living her own life in Sumter.

A year later and our daughter is still seeing James. My husband has accepted the fact that his camping trips with Lauren may be fewer and farther between. I have my eye on our backyard where a catfish sculpture stands tall in a bed of flowers and any day now, my Japanese iris plants should bloom. Like usual, my younger kids are active, but occasionally they slow down enough to remind me that we can’t miss this year’s Iris Festival. I’ve promised to take them, but in return, I made them promise they won’t grow up too fast. But then I have to remind myself that without change there’d be no butterflies.

Discover uncommon beauty in Sumter.

This post was contributed by a guest blogger.

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

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