With a history that stretches back to 1670 when the first English settlers arrived at Charles Towne Landing to establish a colony, South Carolina offers an abundance of interesting abandoned places, from historic vacant mansions to shuttered naval facilities. As you plan your next visit to the Palmetto State, be sure to add the nine sites below to list of must-visit locations, the best abandoned places in South Carolina.
Need a strong camera to photograph abandoned places in South Carolina? Look no further than our two top recommendations, the Canon EOS 90D and the Nikon D7500. Find more DSLR options in our comprehensive guide.
Interested in venturing outside South Carolina? Here are a few guides to surrounding states that will be helpful in your explorations outside of the wonderful abandoned places in South Carolina:
- Discovering The Best 10 Abandoned Places In North Carolina
- Finding the 10 Best Abandoned Places in Virginia In 2021
- Finding The 10 Best Abandoned Places In Tennessee In 2021
- Finding the 10 Best Abandoned Places in Georgia In 2021
The Best Abandoned Places in South Carolina
South Carolina Lunatic Asylum (Columbia)
Less than 50 years after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, the South Carolina state legislature identified the growing challenge of providing care and treatment to citizens with mental illness. The standard practice of caring for these individuals in private homes and poorhouses was proving to be unsustainable, leading the General Assembly to create the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum in the state’s capital in 1821.
Named for the architect who designed it, the hospital’s residential Mills Building opened its doors to patients in 1828. Construction on a second structure, the Babcock Building, began in 1858 but took more than 25 years to complete, with its 250,000 square feet of space, 1,100 windows and 20-inch thick brick walls. The Babcock Building featured south-facing patient rooms to let in fresh air and natural light, and the doors included hidden hinges and locks so patients didn’t feel as though they were in a prison.
Even with the architectural elements designed to provide a healing environment, patients frequently complained about the facility’s cramped rooms, inadequate lighting and flooding issues on the ground level. Once the state took over care for all mentally ill patients in 1871, many county jails sent inmates to the hospital, swelling its patient population to more than 1,000, compared to around 200 just 20 years earlier.
Tragically, up to three in 10 patients would perish within the asylum’s walls due to a mysterious ailment with symptoms that included diarrhea, depression, seizures and dementia; these symptoms were often misidentified as mental illness and resulted in otherwise healthy individuals being sentenced to suffer in the dirty, overcrowded conditions of the state hospital.
Over the course of the 20th century, the development of pharmaceutical treatments and outpatient therapy for treating mental illness resulted in many of the state hospital’s patients being relocated to community-based facilities. The patients’ rights movement of the 1970s further reduced the hospital’s population, and in 1996, the hospital closed its doors for good.
After being left to the mercy of vagrants and vandals for two decades, the historic structures on the 181-acre campus were in poor shape. Neon-colored graffiti was layered over the peeling interior walls, virtually every window had been broken and rusted skeletons of beds and other furniture littered the dusty rooms.
A two-alarm fire thought to be arson devoured the roof of the Babcock Building’s south wing in December 2018, and a second fire in September 2020 gutted what remained of the building, throwing into doubt the previously announced plan to transform it into 208 luxury apartments. All in all, this still remains one of the most popular and best abandoned places in South Carolina.
Boynton House (Green Pond)
Located in a remote corner of the 8,000-acre Donnelley Wildlife Management Area in Colleton County, the once-proud Boynton House is now a shadow of its previous self. This Victorian-style farmhouse was the main residence of the Boynton family, who raised cattle on the vast property that once held a prosperous rice plantation.
The one-story frame house sits on a low brick pier foundation. The gabled roof is bookended by twin chimneys, and 12 posts support a large porch that spans the front and one side of the home. Said to have been abandoned during the Great Depression, the unsecured doors and windows have left it vulnerable to weather and wildlife as well as trespassers.
Broken glass and bat guano litter the aging wooden floors. Uncontrolled vegetation, including thick creeping vines and dense underbrush, partially obscures the historic home near the main parking area of the wildlife refuge.
Charleston Naval Hospital (North Charleston)
Along with hundreds of other buildings on the site of the now-shuttered Charleston Navy Base, the campus of the Charleston Naval Hospital has stood empty and abandoned since the base’s closure in 1996. Most of the hospital facilities date back to the 1940s, when the base was expanded as part of World War II. Prior to that time, most medical care was provided in tents on the base.
Primarily designed in the Spanish Colonial style, the hospital’s 32 buildings feature concrete block walls fitted with terracotta tiles. These structures include the Sick Officers’ Quarters, Nurses’ Quarters, Neuro-Psychiatric Ward, Surgical Ward, Emergency Ward and Administrative Building, which once contained offices, a medical library, a pharmacy and a chapel.
After the base closed, the site was slated for redevelopment by the Noisette Company, but plans fell through and the property was instead sold to Palmetto Railways—operated by the South Carolina Department of Commerce—in 2013. The rail company planned to establish a rail line adjacent to the main building to provide service to the new State Ports Authority terminal, but the project called for demolition of several hospital buildings included on the National Register of Historic Places.
The state began working on a mitigation plan to accommodate the project without destroying the historic structures, but plans have since ground to a halt. In the meantime, the campus of the Charleston Naval Hospital District has continued to decay due to lack of maintenance, and remains one of the most haunting abandoned places in South Carolina.
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South Carolina Tuberculosis Sanitorium (Columbia)
In the early 20th century, a diagnosis of tuberculosis often amounted to a death sentence, especially for poor African-Americans living in the South. With progressive leaders of the time demanding government intervention into the public health crisis, tuberculosis sanatoriums began popping up across the state. Facing a mounting caseload, state officials called for construction of a new, larger facility, which opened in 1938 with 268 patient beds.
Lacking a cure—or even effective treatment—for the disease, the new sanatorium soon found itself facing the same overcrowded conditions that preceded its existence. The facility’s hallways were lined with beds, and long waiting lists meant a maximum stay of 18 months before patients were released to fend for themselves.
Many of them spent years in quarantine, and three in 10 lost their lives to the devastating illness until a cure was finally discovered in the 1950s. In the decades that followed, the patient population declined rapidly, and the sanatorium finally shut down in 1983.
Today, several of its buildings are still standing, albeit largely in ruins. Covered in vines and hidden behind large trees, the facility is easy to miss. A look behind its boarded-up windows reveals cracked, crumbling walls and floors covered in plaster, broken glass and other debris. If you’re looking for one of the most perfect abandoned places in South Carolina, look no further than the South Carolina Tuberculosis Sanitorium in Columbia.
Heritage USA (Fort Mill)
Launched in 1978 by notorious televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Heritage USA once held the title of the nation’s third-largest amusement park, bested only by Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida. At its peak in 1986, the 2,300-acre park drew roughly 5 million visitors and employed 2,500 workers.
The property included the 501-room Heritage Grand Hotel, Heritage Village Church, a 400-unit campground, an indoor shopping complex, skating rink, conference facilities, television production studios, timeshares and a water park.
In 1987, Heritage USA was the site of a publicity stunt to help raise money for the Bakkers’ foundering PTL Club ministry. Wearing a formal suit, fellow televangelist Jerry Falwell plunged 163 feet down the park’s Typhoon water slide to fulfill a pledge he made during a $20 million fundraising drive.
Soon afterward, Falwell took over operations of both PTL and Heritage USA after the federal government revoked the park’s tax-exempt status and indicted Bakker for fraud. Bakker also faced widespread public disgrace when a sexual encounter with a church secretary seven years earlier was exposed.
With Falwell at the helm, Heritage USA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but after Hurricane Hugo severely damaged its facilities in 1989, the park shut down for good. The property was purchased by a Malaysian investment group in 1991, but a short-lived attempt to operate the 501-room hotel as a Radisson Grand Resort failed, leading to its permanent closure and abandonment.
Since the early 2000s, much of the property has been parceled out and redeveloped, but the vacant, dilapidated 21-story hotel remains on-site as a sad memorial to the Bakkers’ ill-fated entertainment empire and public fall from grace.
Landsford Canal (Catawba)
Sprawling across the banks of the Catawba River in Chester County, Landsford Canal State Park is rich with history. The 448-acre park boasts the remains of the Landsford Canal, which was completed in 1823 to allow merchants to avoid the rough waters of the Catawba River when transporting their goods. The Landsford Canal was one of four canals on the Catawba and Wateree rivers that joined a larger eight-canal system, enabling access by water to all of the state’s districts except Greenville.
The two-mile Landsford Canal included a series of five locks that controlled the water level in the canal, enabling ships to pass through; the remnants of the locks’ locally-quarried granite walls are still visible today. Though it was considered an impressive feat of engineering when it was conceived, the canal experienced multiple structural issues over its brief lifespan, including the collapse of one of its walls in 1824. By 1840, nearly all of the canals along the Catawba and Wateree rivers had become obsolete as railroads replaced ships as the preferred method of commercial transport.
In addition to the shell of the old canal, the state park features several other historic ruins, including the former lock keeper’s residence, which has been converted into a museum, as well as the remains of a grist mill and Native American artifacts dating back nearly 10,000 years. If you happen to visit in late spring, you’ll also get to see one of the world’s largest populations of rocky shoals spider lilies blooming along the banks of the Catawba.
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Old Charleston City Jail (Charleston)
For more than a century, this distinctive building in downtown Charleston housed a wide range of criminal offenders, from petty thieves to depraved murderers. The original structure was built in 1802, but only its front interior remains; the iconic castle towers, dramatic archways and wrought-iron staircases were added in a massive renovation in 1855.
Each of the jail’s three floors was designed to house a different category of inmate: upper class “gentleman” prisoners were held on ground level along with jail staff; minor offenders like prostitutes and debtors stayed on the second floor, while the third floor was reserved for violent criminals and thieves. Though a few inmates are known to have been hanged in the jail’s central courtyard, most either served their sentences and were released or died of disease or natural causes.
During the Civil War, the jail was used as a holding facility for Union prisoners of war. At times, the number of POWs in custody so far exceeded its capacity that most of them were held in ramshackle tents in the courtyard.
When a massive earthquake rocked Charleston in 1886, portions of the jail sustained severe damage, forcing the removal of the building’s fourth floor as well as a ventilation tower. The 20-foot wall surrounding the property had to be reduced to 15 feet, and an adjacent workhouse was completely demolished.
By the 1930s, age had taken its toll on the facility, and a plan to build low-income housing across the street from the jail finalized its demise. After 136 years in operation, the Charleston City Jail was decommissioned in 1939 and spent the next 60 years being sporadically used for storage.
In 2000, the newly-established American College for the Building Arts (ACBA) purchased the property for use as its main campus. The school’s mission to train aspiring craftsmen in building preservation techniques dovetailed nicely with the needs of the deteriorating historic structure, and the school launched an emergency stabilization effort to shore up its most pressing structural issues.
After moving to a new downtown location in 2016, the ACBA sold the old jail to a local real estate company, which is now planning a major renovation and historic preservation project on the site, which will include repairs to many of the granite windowsills and 70 percent of the building’s stucco, as well as replacement of the staircase and elevator.
Walking tours of the old jail are available and include glimpses into the cells and hallways as well as insights into the building’s storied history. As of now, it is one of the most easily-accessible abandoned places in South Carolina.
Abandoned Mansion (McClellanville)
Hidden among old live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, this once-stately mansion in the sleepy town of McClellanville dates back to 1923. Though modest by today’s standards, the 2,300 square-foot home was considered sprawling when it was built. Its antebellum-style architecture, which blends elements of Georgian, Greek Revival and Neo-Classical design, is still eye-catching despite the extreme effects of time and weather on the old home.
Though little is known about this overgrown property off Highway 17, it appears to have been occupied at least through the 1990s and then abandoned. A rickety rocking chair stands watch on the front porch, and inside, a few pieces of furniture and several ceiling fans sit in stillness, collecting dust and grime from the endless passage of time.
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St. Simon’s Episcopal Church (Peak)
Like most of the tiny town that surrounds it, the sagging wooden exterior of St. Simon’s Episcopal Church has largely been forgotten by the world. The congregation was formed in 1889, with the church building itself completed in 1900. It served parishioners in the rural community for approximately 25 years, but as the population of Peak shrank during the Great Depression due to the collapse of the cotton and tobacco industries, the church could no longer sustain an active congregation.
After St. Simon’s stopped meeting in the building, it was occupied by one of the siblings of the property owner, who became known around town as “Preacher” due to his unusual residence. After Preacher died, his descendants moved into a home elsewhere on the property and converted the church building to storage.
The modest wood-framed building is now covered in a tangle of vines and surrounded by overgrown trees and shrubs, and portions of its red metal roof are beginning to peel away. Still, its battered steeple stands proudly as a beacon of hope to the roughly five dozen residents who remain in this fading town on the banks of the Broad River in Newberry County.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in South Carolina
Those who are into urban exploration in the South Carolina state area, and wanting to explore abandoned places in South Carolina, should get comfortable with South Carolina trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of South Carolina, the laws are easy to understand and are pretty cut and dry.
For these cases, you should familiarize yourself with x. For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places in South Carolina, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.