Ninety Six National Historic Site near Greenwood, S.C. Visited: October 23, 2005 NPS Site Visited: 267 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
WHAT IS IT? Site of, on November 19, 1775, the first major land-based Revolutionary War battle south of New England as well as, in June of 1781, the War’s longest siege.
BEAUTY (6/10) It would be difficult to imagine a more pleasant historical stroll than Ninety Six NHS’s Walking Tour. The walk begins in the shadow of towering pine trees, twisting its way before it makes a sharp left at the historic Island Ford Road. It is easy to imagine horseback riders and elegant coaches traipsing along this shaded thoroughfare.
Once you cross the road, a wide, treeless expanse become apparent. This is the siege ground, an undulating series of earthworks, gentle S-curves, manicured bright green grass and perfect blue skies. A helpful observation tower allows for a bird’s-eye view of the terrain; it looks more like a golf course than a battleground.
The walk passes the ruins of the British Star Fort, the siege’s target, before leading past the reconstructed remnants of the Town of Ninety Six, a Stockade Fort and the Black Swan Tavern. Ninety Six NHS is one of those subtle places that remind you of how gorgeous the day is without overwhelming you with beauty.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10) Ninety Six NHS is among the least significant of all the NPS Revolutionary War sites. The Loyalists successfully repelled the Patriots June 1781 but abandoned the Site less than a month later. Nevertheless, the Ninety Six siege saw military action from the incomparable engineer (and our favorite Revolutionary War Hero) Thaddeus Kosciuszko.
The dashing Pole designed the earthworks as well as underground mine shaft whose purpose was to lead under the Loyalist Star Fort and facilitate an underground Patriot bomb (a la The Battle of the Crater). The tunnel never worked but its bold path remains.
CROWDS (7/10) A motley mish mash of South Carolinians accompanied us on our leisurely walk. The lovely Sunday afternoon and the mildly interesting historical tale charmed us all. As we were leaving the Site, a large family was setting up a post-church outdoor barbeque at the Park’s picnic tables. Ninety Six NHS feels loved and enjoyed by its rural neighbors primarily as a superb public place and secondly as a place where light skirmish occurred over 200 years ago.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5) Ninety Six NHS, like Arkansas Post N MEM and Moores Creek NHS, commemorates a place that once was an important town but has since drifted in rural obscurity. There is zero chance that you could mistakenly find yourself in Ninety Six, S.C., one of two U.S. towns that are a number. The other is Eighty Four, Pa., birthplace of Gab’s dad.
If you want to visit Ninety Six NHS, carefully consult your road atlas. The closest sizable town is Greenwood, about nine miles to the west. Columbia is about 80 miles to the southeast; Greenville is 70 miles to the northeast. A spider web of two-lane roads weaves in and out of the Park’s vicinity.
CONCESSIONS/ BOOKSTORE (4/5) Most of what is sold here looks site specific. Where else could you find five books (pamphlets is more like it) dedicated to the Siege of Fort Ninety Six? The similar looking series that includes A Backcountry Herbal, The Backcountry Housewife and Old Timey Recipes we are guessing won’t be found at Barnes and Noble.
But, without doubt, the best Ninety Six-only items on sale are the $5 reprints of the pen and ink sketches that hang in the Visitor Center and honor the Siege’s heroes and villains. We might have to order the portrait of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the War’s handsomest man.
COSTS (4/5) The Site is 100% free.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5) One Ranger was ready to answer all of our Ninety Six-related questions but we did not have any. The Walking Tour is completely self-guided; living history performers and guided tours occur only a few times a year and on special occasions.
TOURS/CLASSES (6/10) Three short sentences on the Site’s webpage summarize what one can do here: View the 10-minute interpretive video. Explore the museum and exhibits. Walk the one mile interpretive trail. Said activities will take about one hour to complete, and that’s just about enough time to learn all there is to know about Ninety Six.
We came to Ninety Six with the very vague idea that a Revolutionary War battle took place here. We found out about the later siege and our favorite Pole’s starring role as we watched the movie, went to the museum and took our recommended walk.
The best part about the walk is the interpretive panels which line the path and illustrate the actions of both Revolutionary events. They are really good! Although judging from the father and son in front of us who took turns reading the panels aloud, a phonetic spelling of Kosciuszko (koh-ZHOOS-koh) might have been helpful.
FUN (7/10) Perhaps we were blessed with unusually sunny and warm weather; perhaps we could have been anywhere in South Carolina and we would have been happy. Or perhaps we just love learning more about a handsome Polish hero and his “Revolutionary” feats of engineering (sorry). We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Ninety Six, and it seemed like every other visitor did too.
We aren’t sure how or why the rest of the Site’s guests found their way to the Star Fort, but there was an air of intellectual curiosity that was contagious. No one among us looked like Revolutionary War buffs or scholars, but we all took turns stopping at each wayside exhibit and pausing at vantage points to try and understand the logic behind placing a fort with no natural water supply 100 meters away from an easily besieged town. So close, yet so far away.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10) We had a terrific time but Ninety Six is out-of-the-way, like going to Mars out-of-the-way. If the destination encapsulated a significant historic event or was a regional capital, a recommendation would be easier. Instead, Ninety Six was a generic frontier trading post where an anticlimactic, slightly important siege occurred.
That being said, we had a nice day, the grounds were pristine and the earthworks were among the best-preserved and best looking we have seen. If Gab never sees another earthwork, Michael is sure she will be content.
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