Andrew Jackson State Park – Field Report
For more about Andrew Jackson and the State Park including everything you need to know to plan your visit, check out our Andrew Jackson State Park.
Today’s excursion found me back in the Waxhaws with a visit to Andrew Jackson State Park in Lancaster South Carolina. Now, we don’t know exactly where Jackson was born. There’s some debate whether he was born in North or South Carolina, but Jackson claimed to be form South Carolina and he was raised at an uncles plantation where the state park now stands. Whichever side of the state line he was born on, he was definitely born nearby and in the Waxhaws.
The park itself is one of the smaller parks in SC at around 360 acres. My first stop was the main parking area near the park office and picnic shelter. The picnic shelter immediately caught my attention. It’s one of the more unusual ones in the state as it’s built like a log cabin. Lots of buildings around this part of the park are built in the same style.
Following a path behind the shelter I passed a few more picnic tables in a shaded area and then found myself at the amphitheater. Designed to fit into the natural surroundings, it’s a large wooden multilevel deck with a covered stage at one end. The deck was built around the existing trees instead of clearing them out, so in a few spots there are trees growing up out of the floor. There’s a path running down the hill behind the amphitheater that crosses the park road and leads to the lake.
I returned to the parking lot, passed the statue of a dog placed there by the Lancaster County Council of the Arts, and walked to the south east corner of the parking lot where I could see some type of building. This is the Meeting House, built to resemble the churches built by the Scotch-Irish Presbyterian settlers of the region like Andrew Jackson’s parents. The buildings were called meeting houses because they became the center of activity for the community. The door was locked with a note about renting it for gatherings. There were a few more picnic tables nearby.
Behind the Meeting House, I found one of the two trails at the park. The Crawford trail is a one mile loop through the woods, so most of the trail is shaded. There aren’t any trail blazes, but it’s really easy to follow. The trail is mostly compacted dirt with exposed roots, but isn’t hard to traverse. After heavy rains, it could get really muddy though.
Shortly after the trail starts, it crosses Old Church Road that runs through the park and resumes on the other side. Look for the sign pointing the way, it’s really easy to spot. After crossing the road, the trail becomes much more narrow and less level. Some area’s have wooden retaining stairs to help the climb, but it’s still a fairly easy hike. There’s a short spur trail to a dried creek bed, but nothing to see there.
After a little bit, still not half way in, I came across an area with picnic tables, fire pits, and a small seating area. I found out later that it’s a camp spot for BSA, Girl Scouts, and other camps. Still, it wouldn’t be a bad place for a picnic.
It’s also here where I started noticing road noises and the sound of heavy equipment. That’s something I noticed in several spots, but this is a rather small state park and it’s close to a major highway.
The trail got a little wider after the picnic/camp area, but still hilly and rooty. Crossing back over the road, the continuation of the trail is to the left. This is the only spot along the trail that isn’t clearly signed, but you can see where to go fairly easily. From here it’s just a short walk back to the kiosk at the start of the trail, the Meeting House, and the Parking Lot.
Park Office Museum
Back at the parking lot, I made my way to the park office that also houses the museum. Along the way are a couple granite markers. One marker is for the location of the James Crawford Plantation where Jackson claimed to have been born. Another tells the story of Jackson’s mother, Elizabeth, the struggles she faced and her death of cholera during the American Revolution.
The final point of interest before reaching the museum is the statue of a young Andrew Jackson on horseback entitled “The Boy of the Waxhaws” by sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington.
The folks in the office were able to answer any question I had and where happy to pint out other points of interest in the area and other parts of the state. The museum has some artifacts, statues, and lots of interpretive signage. It’s a fairly small museum with three rooms and a hallway, but maybe a little larger that what you’ll find at other state parks.
Behind the museum is an herb garden, a staple of any frontier homestead. The path then leads back to the parking lot and a replica schoolhouse. It’s a log cabin with a well and bell out front and is very similar to the one Andrew Jackson would have attended.
Campground and Lake
I turned left out of the parking lot on my way to check out the lake. I passed a gravel road to my left and continued down the road passing the playground with a large picnic area beside it. Soon I found myself in the small camp ground (about 25 spaces) and looped around back the way I came. I could see the lake behind camp sites on one side of the campground, but I was looking for the day access to the lake.
I turned down the gravel road I passed earlier, and sure enough, it’s the lake access road. From the lake access parking lot you have access to rented boats, the fishing pier, and the nature trail around the lake.
Garden of the Waxhaws Trail
This one mile trail starts to the left of the fishing pier. Along the path there are signs pointing out the native flora. Initially the trail is simply a grassy path along the shore with great views of the lake and lots of sun until reaching the other side of the lake. It’s worth noting that this is where the road noise was the worst in the whole park. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was only 50 feet from highway 521. The road noise continued until I reached the boardwalk on the far side of the lake and by the time I got to the campground, was almost completely gone.
The trail turned off into the woods at this point. There’s a line of trees blocking views of the lake, but the are several paths down to the shore where you can fish or just enjoy the view. The path is the same compacted earth as the other trail with all the roots that come with it. Although it’s mostly level, there are some ups and downs and some stairs to climb. The park has this trail listed as Moderate and the other listed as Easy, but I’d classify both as fairly easy.
On the far side of the lake, the trail runs over a long boardwalk. Some of the boards look kind of rough, so it’s best to watch your step. But lots of boards are new, so the park is obviously maintaining the walkway. This is the furthest point away from the lake that you’ll get, and the point where I noticed the road noise dissipating.
After the boardwalk ends, the trail turns back towards the start. After a while it emerges at the campground, passes a sandy area, and reenters the woods for the final stretch. Although there is a small “beach”, swimming is prohibited.
After returning to the car, I headed out of the park for the next stop of the day. As I got back to the main park road, I saw a small brown sign pointing to the lake down the gravel road. I missed it earlier as it’s small and blends into the surroundings.
Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church
At the park office, I picked up a map to the old church and cemetery and picked up a little information about some of the monuments. Dating to 1757, it’s one of the oldest cemeteries in the South Carolina backstory. Most famous as the place where Andrew Jackson’s father is burred, there are a number of other prominent names associated with the cemetery. 38 Revolutionary War soldiers are known to be berried here including some who died in the Battle of the Waxhaws, also known as “Buford’s Massacre”. The most notable Revolutionary War soldier buried there is General William Richardson Davie who went on to help establish the University of North Carolina and served as NC governor.
The cemetery also houses one of the most unusual enclosures you’ll find. The Leckie Enclosure was built by Robert Leckie, the designer and builder of the Landsford Canal, for his wife, aunt, and son. Built irregular sized stones, it doesn’t have an entrance, just a series of steps sticking out from the walls.
Battle of the Waxhaws Site
The site of the May 29, 1780 is a work on progress. There aren’t any trails and just a small pull off by the side of the road. Built near the site of a mass grave where 84 Continentals where burred after the battle, a number of interpretive signs tell the story of Abraham Buford and his men marching towards Hillsborough, North Carolina when they were overtaken by British troops under the command of Banastre Tarleton. The subsequent battle and the British continuing to attack after the white flag had been raised while a low point for Patriots in the Carolinas, it became a rallying cry for Patriots in subsequent battles. It also inspired Robert Jackson and his younger brother Andrew to join the militia as couriers.
Finlay a Return to Landsford Canal
On my previous trip to Landsford Canal State Park, I missed the lock keeper’s house, so I wanted to return and find it. Originally built at the Rocky Mount Canal, the house was moved to Landsford in the 1970s and housed the park museum for many years. It’s fallen into disrepair as the museum isn’t open regularly and while right near the main parking lot, is hard to find.
The easiest way to get to the lock keeper’s house is to follow the gravel road to the left just after the ranger’s residences on the main park road. Otherwise you can walk to it from the main parking lot of the north entrance to the park. Almost directly across the road from the stop sign, there’s a grassy clearing in the trees. The house is at the top of the hill.
Note: There’s a map of the canal system at the south entrance that lists a lock keeper’s house near the lifting locks. That’s not this house and confuses a lot of people. I’ve heard that’s for the foundation of the Landsford house, but I haven’t been able to find it yet.