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Dillon County, South Carolina – A Trip to Dillon County


SC SC Newsletter SCIWAY News: October 2008 Beyond the Sombrero: A Trip to Dillon County


Beyond the Sombrero: A Trip to Dillon County

Following a bombardment of campy billboards, a giant sombrero looms above the horizon. No, it's not heatwaves coming off the asphalt of I-95, it's South of the Border. If the advertisements haven't already worked their way into your subconscious, then veer off the interstate and prepare to be amazed ... or disappointed. The theme park, started as a modest beer stand in 1949, is one of the more recognizable landmarks on the interminable monotony that is I-95.

Today, South of the Border seems a little past its prime, which may add to its quirky draw. The gift shops are still there, replete with a bevy of unique junk, and the amusement rides are working – when they're open. A ride up the 200-foot sombrero tower costs only a dollar and provides a unique panorama of SC's favorite tourist trap.

Thankfully, just a a few miles further off the highway, you'll find yourself exploring Dillon County. But just in case all of this seems a little too bland, you can always pick up a six-pack of Blenheim's spicy ginger ale – brewed locally.

Apart from the neon signs of Pedroland, the rest of Dillon County spreads out in this far northeastern part of our state, abutted to North Carolina. Long a relatively isolated region, the area got a boost when railroads spurred development in the late 1800s. Towns like Dillon and Latta sprang up around a new rail line out of Florence in 1888. In its heyday, the region grew cotton and tobacco, accumulating enough wealth to build opulent structures like the Dillon County Courthouse.

Apparent throughout our trip was the county's rich historical heritage. The many classic homes and restored buildings speak of a population respectful of its roots. As the focal point of the town, Dillon's Main Street has many reminders of times past. For one, the railroad still dominates the streetscape, as Dillon boasts one of a handful of Amtrak stations in our state.

South of the Border Dillon Latta
SOUTH OF THE BORDER DILLON LATTA

If you continue south for several miles on US 301, you'll pass by the lovely town of Latta. With nearly 1,500 residents, Latta exudes charm, both through the welcoming demeanor of its townsfolk and its many historic buildings. For a glimpse into the early 20th century, we visited the Dillon County Museum. Once a local dentist's office, the small museum now displays artifacts from the region's agricultural legacy. Right across the street is the old post office and one-room school, as well as the Latta library, built in 1915 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie.

While the charm of Dillon County is clear at every turn, it's obvious that this area is faced with economic challenges. Having relied for many years on cotton and tobacco production, this is a place, like so many rural counties in our state, that is struggling with unemployment. Few industries call Dillon County home, but not for lacks of assets. From its unspoiled nature to its historical places, the county provides yet-untapped opportunities for growth.

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