Although October is chock full of events and festivals, one thing you don’t get every year is a brand new Florence County Museum grand opening.
By the time you read this article, the museum’s ribbon-cutting festivities will be complete. Make plans to visit the museum in its new home at the corner of Cheves and Dargan streets in downtown Florence. The first among the museum’s succession of changing exhibits will include “William H. Johnson-New Beginnings and Selections” from the Wright Collection of Southern Art.
You will be right in the heart of the Arts Corridor. Take a stroll across Cheves to see the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center, which opened in 2011. This is a $34 million facility, featuring a main stage to entertain 850, an amphitheatre and a flexible black box space.
The exterior is constructed of Winnsboro granite and Georgia White Cherokee marble, while the interior lobby design calls to mind the signature trumpet horn of Pee Dee jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie. Mary Chapin Carpenter is among the great performers this season and will be in Florence November 13.
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Just beyond the Performing Arts Center, you’ll notice the Drs. Bruce & Lee Foundation Library, an impressive 83,000-square-foot building that features classical columns, etched windows and a marble exterior. The library, a $17 million project, completed in 2004, initiated the revitalization of downtown Florence. Ongoing art exhibits are held in the Dr. N. Lee Morris Gallery of the library, and the library’s South Carolina Room contains an excellent collection of rare maps and genealogical documents.
Continuing along Dargan Street, you’ll find the beloved Florence Little Theatre’s new building, which holds seasonal productions in its $10 million facility and provides live entertainment by local thespians. In November, you won’t want to miss “Christmas Belles,” best described as a hilarious holiday journey through a misadventure-filled Christmas Eve.
One of the Little Theatre’s longtime actors has an antique store in an antique house. Stop in at Hamilton House Antiques on Dargan Street and say hello to David Hamilton, a gracious host who knows almost all there is to know about Florence’s history and the arts. Of course, you can also shop for beautiful furniture while you’re there. Look for the distinctive, pink Victorian-style house with a turret.
All that walking might make you hungry, and you have a variety of restaurants to choose from. There are longtime Florence institutions like the 301 Drive-In, Townhouse and Venus Pancake House, as well as downtown’s newest restaurants: the Clay Pot with a menu highlighting local produce and 1031 Grill’s “Best in the South” hamburgers. You might also want to try the noodles at Thai House or a specialty tea at Top Hat. Coming soon is one of the BBQ Trail’s standout restaurants — Wholly Smokin’ Barbecue plans to move to Dargan Street this month.
Stay into the evening for wine and chocolate at Dolce Vita, then treat yourself to a night in the lovely Hotel Florence, a new boutique hotel on Evans Street, where the vibrant history of Florence surrounds you in pictures and paintings. The Portuguese soup and broccoli cornbread at Victor’s Restaurant, inside the hotel, are not to be missed.
If you need a complete soup-to-nuts experience, head north on Highway 52 (Irby Street/Lucas Street). You’ll find ice cream at the Pee Dee State Farmers’ Market, and you can sample delicious salty or sweet pecans at Young Plantations.