Ninety Six National Historic Site Field Report
Today’s expedition takes us to Ninety Six South Carolina. When folks think about Revolutionary war sites, Ninety Six often gets forgotten, and that’s a shame. Not only is it the site of two battles, but it’s also the site of the first battle fought in the Carolinas, just a few months after Lexington and Concord.
Pulling into the parking lot at 9:30, I was first struck by the old house on the right, more on it later. I passed about 10 parking spots to pull into a gated area with an additional 2 dozen spots including handicap spaces. About six cars were in the lot, but I only saw 2 other people out on the trail, so most likely those belonged to staff.
From the parking lot, I found myself in a small plaza with the historic home to my right, the administration building to my left and the park visitor center a little further down to my right. The plaza has interpretive signs giving some background of the park and on the two battles fought here.
The visitor center has maps and a recorded walking tour available. The tour hasn’t been updated so it can accessed by phone, so you sill need to check out a mp3 player. They also have a 22 minute video about the site.
The Battlefield Trail
The battlefield trail starts to the left as you leave the visitor center. It’s paved the whole way around and mostly level. There are some steep bits, but not long stretches. Most of the trail is in the sun, though. So don’t skimp on the sunscreen and take some water.
Initially the path runs through the woods crossing historically significant spots like Island Ford Road used by the Patriot Army in 1781. Soon entering an open field, the path winds its way towards the site of the Star Fort where the British were stationed.
Interpretive signs along the way tell the story of the Patriot siege of the fort in 1781. The areas where trenches were dug, the point where artillery was placed, a reproduction of a rifle tower where Patriot forces were able to fire down into the fort all have signs. Closer to the fort, there’s a point where the Patriots dug a mine under the fortifications in an attempt to end the siege. The mine shaft still exits, but isn’t open to the public due to its unstable nature.
The trail eventually reaches the remnants of the star fort. The earthwork fortifications still exist and you can climb up and look down the battlefield and imagine how the defenders might have felt staring down Patriot artillery.
After the fort, the trail leads to the site of the original frontier town of Nintey-Six. As the town was burned by the British when they abandoned the fort, there are no buildings left. But the four corners of the town are marked.
Charleston Road/Goudey Trail
A few other trails run through the park. Most don’t have any additional historical markers, but the Charleston Road/Goudey Trail is different. The 1.5 mile trail starts after you enter the area of the old town. The Charleston Road section of the trail is a gravel road and leads down to the Ninety Six Creek. Close to the creek, the Goudey Trail loop splits off, and it quickly turns into a backwoods path.
Along the Goudey Trail, you’ll pass the site of Robert Goudey’s 1751 trading post, then the path ventures into the woods. The next marker is at James Gouedy’s grave. He was the son of Robert. Further down the path, there’s an old cemetery. If not for the parks service fencing and sign, it would be easy to miss. There is speculation that it dates to colonial times and local legend says that it’s a slave cemetery.
In the 1750’s the area around the trading post would have been cleared and busy with traders moving their goods in and out. But once away from the Goudey home and main road, Ninety Six was truly the western frontier. Walking this trail gives you an idea what conditions were like in the Carolina Backcountry during the Revolution.
A little further down, the trail reaches the Ninety Six Creek and loops back. An older trail continues down stream beside the creek. I found out later that it’s an old equestrian trail that isn’t used anymore. Further down it ends at the Charleston Road about 50 feet from where the Goudey Trail returns to the road.
Back to the Battleground Trail
Returning to the Battleground trail, I followed it past the site of the jail and the courthouse. The corners of the buildings are marked in the field. It’s from here that I got my first look at the partial reconstruction of Holmes’ Fort at the top of a hill. It was a stockade fort built in 1781 to replace earlier temporary fortifications.
This is also the spot of the first Revolutionary battle fought in the Carolinas in Nov 1775. About 25 feet from the fort is a memorial to James Birmingham who was killed in that battle. He was the first Patriot to die in combat in the South.
This is the last of the exhibits relating to the battles that took place here, and the tour is almost over. The last stop is the historical house I saw as I drove up. It’s a two story log home that dates to the late 1700’s. It was built by Andrew Logan in Greenwood and later moved here. Although it’s not original to the site, it’s a great example of how people lived in the old town.