25 Fascinating Facts About South Carolina

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron / Chloe Effron

Though it's often clumped together with its neighbor to the north, South Carolina boasts its own unique history, cultures, and way of life. Before your next visit, file away these 25 facts about SC:


Today it's known as the Palmetto State, but at one time, South Carolina's license plates read “The Iodine State.” The motto was an effort by the South Carolina Natural Resources Commission to publicize the high levels of the chemical element found in the state’s fruits and vegetables. Thankfully, it did not stick.

2. The state motto, which appears on its seal, is the Latin phrase “Dum spiro, spero,” which translates to “While I breathe, I hope.” The seal also bears the phrase “Animis opibusque parati,” which means “Prepared in mind and resources."

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3. The highest point in the state, Sassafras Mountain, is around 3560 feet at its summit, whilce the state’s coastal plains, known as the “lowcountry,” are of course just at or barely above sea level.

4. The smallest town in the state is a patch of land in the northwest called Smyrna. The entire town is only around .7 square miles, and according to the 2010 Census Summary, the population hovers around 45 people.

5. Charleston has earned the nickname “The Holy City” because there are more than 400 places of worship representing several denominations across the city. 

6. At 297 feet tall, St. Matthew's Lutheran Church is the tallest structure in the city of Charleston. At one point, it was also the tallest structure in the state.

7. On April 12, 1861, the Civil War began at Fort Sumter in South Carolina when Confederate soldiers opened fire on the Union soldiers guarding the sea fort. The conflict that followed has been called the “bloodiest four years in American history.” The fort is now a national monument and popular tourist destination.

8. The popular '90s Nickelodeon television show, Gullah Gullah Island, was filmed on South Carolina's St. Helena Island and was inspired by a real culture. The Gullah people are descendants of African slaves living in the coastal areas of the Southeast, stretching from Pender County, North Carolina down to St. Johns County, Florida. The show’s polliwog mascot, Binyah Binyah, gets his name from the Gullah word meaning “been here” and signifies someone who is a native of the area. Although the creators of the show have said that it was not specifically “about Gullah culture,” they paid homage to the language and cultural traditions of the Gullah people, while also celebrating the region's diversity.

9. There are no major sports teams based in South Carolina, but that doesn’t mean that the state hasn’t produced some amazing athletes. Legendary tennis player Althea Gibson, boxing champion Joe Frazier, and future NBA Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett were all born in the Palmetto State.

10. There is a town in South Carolina named Due West, and you can probably guess where it is geographically. There are also real towns called Quarantine, Wide Awake, and Climax.

11. Bishopville, South Carolina, is home to The Button Museum, the brainchild of one Dalton Stevens. A lifelong insomniac, one night in 1983, Stevens decided to while the hours away by sewing buttons on to one of his suits. Two years later, he had successfully attached more than 16,000 buttons to the garment. Stevens kept his project going, adding buttons to all kinds of bizarre objects. Today, the fruits of his labor—including a button-covered hearse—can be viewed in a hangar he rents off of SC-41.   

12. There are over 4000 rhesus monkeys on Morgan Island (also called Monkey Island). Around 750 monkeys are born there each year, but the island is not a cute tourist attraction. The only humans that are allowed there are the researchers who tag and use the growing population for AIDS research and other kinds of scientific testing.

13. “America’s First Museum” was started by the Charleston Library Society in 1773, 12 years before the nation’s first public museum opened in Philadelphia. The Charleston Museum would not open to the public until 1824.

14. The town of Sumter is home to the world's largest commercial gingko farm

15. The Shag, not the Charleston, was designated the official state dance in 1984.

16. Tattooing was illegal in South Carolina until 2004. To get inked legally, residents had to drive out of state to nearby Georgia or North Carolina. In the decade since the law was changed, more than 100 parlors have been established across the state.

17. In 2014, an eight-year-old girl wrote a letter to her state senator suggesting that the wooly mammoth become the official state fossil. Despite the fact that some creationists took issue, the measure was passed in May of that year.

18. There are more peaches produced in South Carolina than in Georgia (the so-called Peach State). In the town of Gaffney, there is a landmark water tower shaped like a giant peach that was built in the 1980s to honor the region’s peach farmers (and to hold water, of course). The peach made national news when locals and tourists who had seen it in an episode of House of Cards mistook site renovations for a complete demolition.



19. South Carolinians have their own lake monster, affectionately dubbed "Messie." The creature supposedly resides in Lake Murray; the South Carolina Fish and Wildlife Department reportedly has a file full of Messie sightings, from "reputable" citizens who were "not on drugs or drinking" when they spotted the beast.

20. When it opened in 2005, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge that connects downtown Charleston and the town of Mount Pleasant was the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America. The bridge is 1546 feet long and cost $540 million to build. It was dethroned in 2011 by the John James Audubon Bridge in Louisiana.

21. Snow in South Carolina is very rare: On average, the state receives less than an inch each year. When there is snowfall, chaos reigns. For example? In 2014, a state of emergency was issued by governor Nikki Haley ahead of a winter storm that the National Weather Service forecasted would bring a quarter inch of ice and between 2 and 3 inches of snow to parts of the state. 

22. The worst earthquake on record in South Carolina occurred on August 31, 1886. Believed to have been a 7.6 on the Richter scale, the quake killed more than 100 people and leveled much of Charleston. The damage done totaled an estimated $5.5 million—around $136 million today.

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23. When the aliens show up, Bowman resident Jody Pendarvis will be ready. Pendarvis has built a large "UFO Welcome Center" in his backyard, in case any extra terrestrials decide to park their ships in Orangeburg County. 

24. Hogna carolinensis, also known as the Carolina wolf spider, is the largest wolf spider in North America and has been the state spider of South Carolina since 2000. Despite its name, the spiders are found in much of the United States (save for the Pacific Northwest) and even down into Mexico.

25. The largest living cat, according to Guinness World Records, is an adult male liger (half lion, half tiger) named Hercules who lives at the Myrtle Beach Safari wildlife reserve. The cat weighs over 900 pounds, is 12 feet tall when standing on his hind legs, and eats 100 pounds of meat each day.