Newberry South Carolina is a town rich in history and architecture, with the famous Newberry Opera House as the focal point. The town was established in 1789 but did not become a city until 1976. The area was settled much earlier however by German, Scotch-Irish, and English settlers in 1740.
When we visit small towns across the state, we always look for what makes that town special and unique, for Newberry, it has to be the sense of community. The town’s motto is ‘The city of friendly folks’ and it took little time to witness this for ourselves.
As we strolled through downtown, most everyone we passed would be quick to say hello or throw up their hand to wave. The community feeling was very evident at our first stop, The Grille on Main.
The Grille On Main
Our first stop was the Grille On Main, a restaurant-bar featuring traditional southern cuisine and all American favorites. The building itself is one of the oldest standing buildings in downtown Newberry, having survived a massive explosion in 1936, this was the only building at the time constructed of brick, while other buildings on the block were constructed of wood. The most important question I am sure you are asking is how is the food?
The food was very tasty and was well presented on the plate. The picture above was my Club Sandwich, I don’t typically order sandwiches at restaurants because they rarely fill me up, this one was an exception. The sandwich is stacked high with turkey, crisp bacon, juicy tomato, mayonnaise, green leaf lettuce, and cheese on perfectly toasted bread.
When I said earlier in the article that the community feeling was evident at our first stop, nothing could be truer. As patrons walked through the door and made their way past our table located near the front door, they stopped and talked with just about everyone, as most everyone in the restaurant knew each other. This is what I think of when I think ‘small town’ seeing familiar and friendly faces around every corner.
Our next stop gives Newberry a modern and trendy staple in the downtown section with a massive 7000 square foot 3 story building featuring local artistry, gifts, jewelry, cards, and home decor. The store is located next to the Newberry Hotel on Caldwell Street and is within walking distance of the Newberry Opera House.
As we walked in the door we were greeted by the friendly and inviting owners that were more than willing to give us a tour of their beautiful and unique store. The Gallery selects art from many talented local artists, and although I am not much of an art connoisseur, there were many pieces that I would have in my own home.
In addition to the beautiful art, The Gallery features modern home decor and furniture as well as items that would make perfect gifts for any occasion. Although many of the items are geared toward women, they do have what I call a ‘man cave’ filled with gift ideas for him, I spent a few minutes in this section. If you are in Newberry, The Gallery is a must visit!
This quaint little market on the corner of Caldwell and Main carries a vast assortment of lunch food, drinks, wine, candy, and dessert. We found the Figaro market unique due to its beautiful curb appeal and the fact you can not find many markets to the liking these days.
This place takes you back to how things used to be when you would go to a small market to get the things you need, unlike today where there is a major chain grocery store every few miles.
Olwen – McKenna’s Tearoom
Tea anyone? During the Victorian era in the mid-1800’s, European women would enjoy each other’s company without a male escort to tea rooms throughout The United Kingdom. Downtown Newberry was built around the same time period, so what better way to travel through time and enjoy high tea at Olwen – McKenna’s Tea Room. This tea room is a replica of what tea rooms in the United Kingdom looked like featuring fine china, antique teapots, and dining tables of the era.
We had the pleasure of meeting Rachel Mayyou, one of the co-owners of the Tea Room. As a young child, Rachel used to drink tea with her grandmother, who was from Whales, United Kingdom. Her grandmother met her grandfather in England, who was a U.S. soldier during World War II. They married and came to the United States on a bride ship.
These memories of her grandmother gave her and her aunt, Suzanne Westbrook, co-owner, a dream to continue her grandmothers legacy through Olwen – Mckenna’s Tea Room. The unique name of their business ties the past with the present. Olwen is named after Rachel’s grandmother, and Mckenna is named after her 10-year-old granddaughter.
This majestic and historical landmark of Newberry was built in 1852 and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The Old Courthouse is now home to the local chamber of commerce and the Newberry Visitors center. The design you see at the top of the building, added in 1876, the year before Reconstruction ended, shows an American eagle (depicting the Union) grasping an uprooted palmetto tree (depicting the state of South Carolina). A crowing gamecock (for defiant citizens) stands at one end of the tree and a dove carrying an olive branch (for peace and harmony) perches at the other.
If you make your way up the steps to the second-floor balcony, you will have a beautiful view overlooking the Old Newberry Hotel and the Figaro Market. If you are downtown, it may be a good idea to stop here first and pick up some info from the friendly and knowledgeable staff of the visitors center.
The Old Newberry Hotel
The old hotel was build in 1880 and designed by G.L. Norman, who later designed the Newberry Opera House. The hotel’s architectural design is that of a simplistic Romanesque revival style with a square tower that overlooks Caldwell and Main street. The original hotel burned down in 1879, a new hotel was constructed in its place. This 25,000 square foot building also features a reception area, kitchen, and dining room. All of the hotel rooms were located on the 2nd floor. At one time the hotel also had a bank, barber shop, and doctor’s office located on the property. The hotel closed in the 1950’s.
There are now five commercial storefronts located downstairs which were renovated around 2008. A local couple from Newberry purchased the Old Hotel in 2016 with a vision to renovate the hotel into a multi-use facility to include artist studios, apartments, gallery space, event space, meeting rooms, and The Newberry Art Center. The hotel is currently undergoing renovation
Enoree River Winery
Located just 30 minutes northwest of Columbia, this winery features locally handcrafted wines, a deck for entertaining, and a beautiful bar and lounge. We met up with the owners, Richard and Laura LaBarre to get our own personal tour of the winery and learn a little about their history, and what makes the Enoree River Winery their passion.
It didn’t take long when talking with Richard to realize it’s not just the making of the wine that feeds this couples soul, but it’s about the people they meet every day. Richard and Laura have gradually finished the property to include a covered porch, outdoor stage for live music, beautiful indoor bar, a nice lounge area with a big screen tv, and a pergola to accommodate weddings. Weekends out on the deck you will find patrons enjoying some of Enoree Rivers famous wine slushies, these are a big hit with everyone.
During our time here, we knew that we could not leave without trying some of the wines. Sheri and I both are wine drinkers but do not have the pleasure of visiting many wineries in our travels, as there are only 12 or so wineries in South Carolina. Our flavor of choice by Enoree River Winery was the Carlos White Muscadine (Dry) and this was probably our favorite white wine we have ever had.
Although the Carlos Muscadine is technically considered dry, the taste had enough sweetness to satisfy our taste buds, not to mention the subtle taste of Muscadines that truly make this wine magnificent. Be sure on your way through Newberry to stop in and try some of their amazing handcrafted creations, they are located about a mile from I-26.
Newberry Opera House Performing Arts Center
If there is one landmark or building that would define the heart of this town, it is the Newberry Opera house. The building was built in 1881 by CL Norman for $30,000 dollars, may not seem like a lot of money now, however, back then it was a fortune. This French Gothic-inspired structure was a focal point of entertainment for the people of the town, in addition to entertainment, the building’s main floor was also home to the Police Department, 3 Jail cells, Fire Department, council chambers, and the clerk office.
We were lucky enough to have a personal tour of the building by executive director Molly Fortune. Prior to Mrs. Fortune’s position with the Newberry Opera House, she held the position of director of restoration and operations for the Fox Theater in Atlanta Georgia for 15 years. Needless to say, we had the best tour guide possible for our adventure through this magical building.
The building was renovated in 1996 and cost the town nearly 6 million dollars to complete. The house now seats 426 patrons, is fully equipped with state of the art lighting and sound systems, has a Bayreuth orchestra pit for Broadway and opera productions, full-size rehearsal hall, and not a bad seat in the house.
The picture above shows the dining quarters where staff members and local citizens prepare homemade meals for the talent. The walls are covered by signatures of the many talented performers from around the world to come and perform at the venue. Many performers look forward to returning to the Newberry Opera House due to the exceptional hospitality of the staff members and community during their stay.
As we stepped out onto the stage, there is a feeling of nostalgia and elegance that is hard to put into words. The atmosphere of the theater seems to lock in a history and era of days past, when going to the theater was a time-honored tradition, and was the one place everyone wanted to be in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
This was where you would see women dressed in the most magnificent dresses, and the guys in sleek black and white suits with bowties. I believe with the past renovation, the talented and passionate staff, and the community behind a historic landmark like the Newberry Opera House, an evening show still has the appeal today as it did in the late 1800’s.
Many say that if it were not for the Opera House during a time when the town was struggling, Newberry may not have survived. During the first year of restoration alone, the Opera House brought in more than 50,000 visitors to the area bringing life back to the community. We do not come across buildings that truly keep a town alive like The Newberry Opera House very often.
Newberry College’s heritage was established in 1828 at the annual meeting of the Lutheran Synod in South Carolina and the Adjacent States. Nearly 30 years prior to Newberry becoming an established college, the president of the synod, John Bachman, recommended the school to train Lutheran ministers. The following year the Synod voted to establish Newberry College as a seminary and classical academy. In 1854, the Synod voted to make Newberry a degree-granting institution. A preparatory department opened in 1858, and the College and Seminary began operation in February 1859.
The college was prosperous for many years until the Civil War began. At this time, most of the faculty and students of the school were called into the military. In 1868, the campus became occupied by federal troops. Because of the deterioration of the campus and lack of funds, Newberry College became desolate. Because of the citizens of Newberry, In 1867, Newberry College was re-established. The College has maintained its association with the Lutheran Church, and today is affiliated with the South Carolina, Southeastern, Florida-Bahamas, and Caribbean Synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).
Today, Newberry College is ranked the 17th best regional college in the south, 7th best value regional colleges in the south, 3rd least debt at graduation regional colleges in the south, and awarded 15 million dollars in scholarships alone last year. Newberry College combines a strong liberal arts foundation with specialized professional degree programs to prepare students for successful futures. Newberry College has a total undergraduate enrollment of 1,070, with a gender distribution of 54 percent male students and 46 percent female students. At this school, 82 percent of the students live in college-owned-operated or -affiliated housing and 18 percent of students live off campus. In sports, Newberry College is part of the NCAA II.
For more information about Newberry college visit https://www.newberry.edu/
Although we were not able to visit all the great locations that Newberry has to offer, the shops and landmarks we did see were magnificent. Newberry is full of history, charm, and friendly people. If you live in this town, you are sure to have many thousands of friends, and beautiful scenery to boot.
On our next visit to this charming South Carolina town, we will be sure to visit more of the local favorites that also contribute to the beauty and friendliness of Newberry. Below are some of the places we did not visit but come highly recommended by the locals.
Other Recommended Places to visit in Newberry
This article was co-authored by Sheri Freeman