The boom from a grasshopper cannon served as the call for more than 30 VIPs to break ground at the new Revolutionary War Visitors Center at Camden on Tuesday afternoon.
Those VIPs, who included representatives from the city of Camden, Kershaw County, Central Carolina Technical College (CCTC), Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site and more, braved heat indexes in the mid-100s to dig in and officially open the site for construction.
Those gathered heard from State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who -- in a relatively short speech -- declared they were launching “an important new endeavor by deeply reaching into our past.”
“A community that fails to remember and honor the past, will not be a thriving community for very long,” Sheheen said.
The senator went over the history of the site, once owned by Historic Camden, as well as the acquisition by Historic Camden of the Battle of Camden site some 8 miles to the north on Flat Rock Road. The current effort to create the visitors center effectively next door to Historic Camden started four years ago, according to Sheheen.
“This endeavor has involved a lot of work. It has involved reports, studies, partnerships, tours of other facilities around the state and a lot of meetings,” Sheheen said. “Lots and lots of meetings.”
Sheheen at Visitors Center GroundbreakingState Sen. Vincent’s remarks at the groundbreaking for the Revolutionary War Visitors Center at Camden, August 13, 2019. (6 minutes, 19 seconds)
He said it has, most importantly, involved those partnerships with national, state and local governments and organizations. Sheheen said that, on the state level, the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, along with the Olde English District, spearheaded the effort that eventually led to Tuesday’s groundbreaking. In addition, he said, the ability to finance the $5 million project comes from CCTC, specifically from state funding left over from its 2018 expansion in Kershaw County.
“(They have) the vision … to make this an integral part of their campus, where they can train and educate their young and not so young students, and also gather here for the purposes that they need,” he said.
Back on the national level, Sheheen mentioned the American Battlefield Trust, which will actually maintain an exhibit in the visitors center’s main building.
“And this will be a core stop on the Liberty Trail,” Sheheen said, “starting in Charleston and continuing to North Carolina and, right now, Camden is the (furthest) along core part of that trail.”
Sheheen also thanked Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amy Kinard for visiting similar sites around the state in an effort create the vision for the Revolutionary War Visitors Center. He also thanked State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk for being a good partner with him on the effort to create the visitors center.
“This gathering place that we are going to create here, it puts down a marker about the importance of Camden, Kershaw County and this nation becoming what it is today. This place will be a place to bring our children and tell them the story of who we are. It will be a place that lures visitors from around this state and this nation and this world who want to experience how America was made. It will be place that launches those visitors out into Camden and Kershaw County to visit, to spend the night, to buy some gas, and help support our local economy and help them understand what it’s all about.
“We have a lot to brag about, we have a lot to be proud of and this is a place where people can leave the interstate, come through, go back in time and understand why they’re here, why we’re here and what we can do now and in the future,” Sheheen concluded.
Following his comments, Camden City Manager Mel Pearson had those gathered thank Sheheen with a round of applause for being the one most responsible for helping to make the visitors center a reality. Pearson then had those 30-plus VIPs gather on a long strip of dirt with golden shovels in hand to await the sound of the cannon provided by Historic Camden.