“This is going to change everything,” Kershaw County Chairman Julian Burns told Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford on Friday.
We often hear that, but this time, with the full plans revealed for what will be called the Camden-Kershaw County Visitors Center, we believe it will actually be true.
As detailed in today’s top story, the city of Camden and Central Carolina Technical College (CCTC), along with numerous other partners in Kershaw County and at the state and national level, plan to break ground sometime this spring on a three-building, truly regional visitors center.
Building “No. 1,” if you will, will be the actual visitors center, filled with exhibits and other information about Camden and Kershaw County’s history, with emphasis on the Revolutionary War period, as well as Native and African-American history. Staff, including CCTC students, will help interpret those exhibits, but, just as importantly, guide them toward visiting sites across the county -- including Elgin, Bethune, Liberty Hill and our other communities -- and beyond. This will tie Camden and Kershaw County to the whole of the Southern Campaign, including the nascent Liberty Trail between Charleston and the Upstate. That staff would also direct them to our shops, restaurants, hotels, parks and other local amenities.
As State Sen. Vincent Sheheen -- the man Kershaw County should most thank for making this dream a reality -- so aptly put it Friday, people interested in the Southern Campaign and the Revolutionary War are “going to have to come here. They’re going to have to check that box.”
The second building will be, primarily, CCTC’s to use, although it will be open to others for a variety of purposes. Essentially, a classroom/meeting/tour facility with a full kitchen, it will be a true multi-purpose facility, something Sheheen said is “desperately needed” here. We wholeheartedly agree.
The third building will be an open-air market, primarily for area residents to use in a variety of ways. There will also be a courtyard nestled between the three buildings and generous parking, including space for tour buses.
The designs for the visitors center and market buildings are based on ones from Camden’s early history. The visitors center will be built to mimic an old tavern from the 1770s that was torn down in 1958; the open-air market will be similar to one at the foot of the Clock Tower when it stood across from the Robert Mills Courthouse. This is perfect, in our opinion, giving visitors a taste of what the rest of Camden and Kershaw County have to offer.
If you get a sense that we are excited, you’re not wrong. Think of what else is happening and has already happened along Broad Street and throughout downtown Camden. During the past few years the area has seen the installation of wayfinding and other signage and the complete renovations of Rhame Arena and Zemp Stadium. The city is poised to take over and refurbish the Robert Mills Courthouse. And, directly across the street from the future visitors center, contractors are preparing the former site of Shirley’s Taxidermy for construction of a nursing/memory care center to be operated by Affinity Living Group.
All of that will, in about a year’s time, will be anchored by the new visitors center. Imagine being a newcomer to the area and getting off I-20 at the very well-lit Exit 98 with its restaurants and hotels. Once you pass the gas station at Black River Road, you are taken back in time over the swampy area of Big Pine Tree Creek.
And then, as the trees suddenly thin out, you are greeted by the Camden-Kershaw County Visitors Center, welcoming you to the city, county and beyond.
So, a huge thank you to Sen. Sheheen for bringing together everyone involved in this massive collaboration. There is no doubt in our minds that this will be a game changer -- and a major one at that -- bringing thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of visitors to Camden and Kershaw County. These visitors will avail themselves of everything we have to offer.
That could entice even more business and industry to locate here. And who knows -- perhaps visitors will turn into neighbors, coming to love our communities as much as those who live here already do.