Home » Exploring Charlotte »
A Creative Tour of Fort Mill & Indian Landby Amanda Lea on October 21, 2021
Divided by Sugar Creek and connected by Hwy. 160, Fort Mill and Indian Land are two South Carolina towns that offer complementary views of old and new. You can spend the day exploring highlights in both areas, but there’s plenty to see to keep you coming back. Welcome to the latest in our creative exploration series sponsored by OrthoCarolina. See previous installments below.
Main Image Credit: Caroline Simas
A Fort and a Mill
Situated in northeastern York County, Fort Mill’s roots run deep. Much of the area’s history originates with the Catawba Indians, the only federally recognized Native American tribe in South Carolina. Thomas Spratt and his wife, Elizabeth, were traveling through upper South Carolina in the mid-1700s when they came across the area. The Spratts became the first white settlers in the Fort Mill area as a result of the Catawbas offering the Spratts a large piece of land on which to settle.
The town of Fort Mill was established in the 1800s, the name a combination of a colonial-era fort, and a grist mill located near Steele Creek. Originally a farming community, Fort Mill’s textile mills and railways are responsible for the town’s growth and development.
Threads and Ties
Textiles have been intertwined in the town’s tapestry for generations. Samuel Elliott White founded Fort Mill Manufacturing Company in 1887. (The first mill — The Gingham Mill — was built on land that is now Walter Elisha Park.) White’s son-in-law, Leroy Springs, started the Lancaster Cotton Mills in 1895. Springs later became president of Fort Mill Manufacturing. His son, Elliott White Springs, took over as president in 1931 when his father died. Elliott consolidated the mills and created Springs Cotton Mills – precursor to Springs Industries.
By 1959, Springs Cotton Mill was the world’s largest manufacturer of linens, producing more than 20,000 sheets per week under brands Springmaid and Wamsutta. It was Elliott who pushed the boundaries of advertising for that time, combining risque humor and imagery that made mainstream media blush. His advertising campaigns established the iconic “Miss Springmaid,” a logo depicting a milkmaid amidst a landscape of a windmill, trees and a waterfall. Springmaid quickly became a household name.
As for the town’s ties to the railway, Charlotte and South Carolina (later the Charlotte, Columbia and Augusta) Railroad ran through Fort Mill beginning in 1852. The train depot that was at the bottom of Main Street was removed by the railroad in 1968, but remnants of the railway community can still be seen across the walkable downtown area, including the red train car across from Millstone Park. (The park also features an original millstone from the
Garrison-Webb gristmill from which Fort Mill takes its name.) Grab a seat on one of the swings that overlooks downtown, and you may catch a train rumbling along the storied tracks.
For unique vignettes of the town’s history, stop by Fort Mill History Museum and pursue the variety of memorabilia that encapsulates the town’s past. You can also use the museum’s detailed walking tour map to help you navigate more than 40 historic sites in downtown Fort Mill. You’ll notice the surnames Spratt, Springs and White are prominent throughout the area as their legacies live on through their descendants.
Nature has a way of recharging the soul. Fill up your cup by spending the day at Anne Springs Close Greenway. Close, the founder and namesake of the beloved 2,100-acre nature conservancy and greenway, was the daughter of Elliott White Springs and Frances Ley Springs. (I told you these names live on!) Close died this August at 95 years old. But her passion for nature lives on through the historic trails, festive community events and vibrant dog park.
You can also stroll or bike through history at Walter Elisha Park. The paved trail loops around the park, with playgrounds, fitness equipment and an events stage dotting the 12-acre green space. Note the Springs of Achievement sculptures located throughout the park that capture figures and families from historic moments in Fort Mill’s history.
An easy walk from both Walter Elisha Park and downtown Fort Mill, Veterans Park is dedicated to those who have served in the armed forces. The centerpiece of the park is an 8-foot-tall pedestal topped by a World War I Doughboy (a nickname typically used to refer to troops deployed to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Forces). The pedestal is engraved with the names of fallen Fort Mill servicemen and -women. Granite walls in the shape of a five-point star surround the pedestal and represent the five branches of the armed services.
You can park in the small lot off Railroad Ave. and enjoy downtown on foot. Pose with the interactive “Hometown Mural” by Caroline Simas on the wall of the nifty gift shop, Crossings on Main. Pop into Buy the Bunch next door and peep the beautiful blooms that are in season.
Around the corner, LOOM Coworking and Gallery is a cool concept that offers space to touch down and knock out some work, record a podcast or view new works by local artists. They also host community events like receptions celebrating their artists. (Follow their Facebook page for the latest events and showings.)
History in the Making
Head up Main Street, and you’ll hear whispers of history through the bricks and boards. Each shop and storefront has its own backstory. The building that now houses Five Oh Skate Shop was destroyed by a fire in 1914. It was rebuilt and was home to the Belk-Brown Department Store. Today you can get all your “sk8tr boi” (or girl) gear at the full-service skateboard shop.
Fort Mill Community Playhouse is housed in the structure that was once First National Bank. (The town later bought the space and used it as the town hall before moving to offices around the corner.) The Playhouse was organized in 1980 and moved into its current spot on Main Street in 2016. You can catch a variety of plays, performances and improv showcases.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend a trip to PuckerButt Pepper Co. — partly because it’s just fun to say, but mostly for the experience. The storefront was formerly home to Park’s Grocery and was once the office of Western Union. Today, the spunky pepper shop is the holder of the record for the world’s hottest pepper in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Grab Some Grub
You’ll work up an appetite consuming all this history. Satisfy any craving with an array of dining options in downtown Fort Mill. Across from the history museum, Good Life Organic Kitchen offers a modern take on healthy eating with menu items ranging from smoothie bowls to sandwiches. Wash it down with a cold-pressed juice or superfood coffee and your body — and mind — will thank you.
Emmet’s Social Table, on the corner of Main and Academy streets, is beside what was once the Center Theatre. The theater closed in 1970 but the space was refurbished in 2016 to accommodate office and retail space. Emmet’s offers an American-style tapas concept with a surprisingly comprehensive gluten-free menu.
Other dining options in downtown include Z Bakery and Cafe (you can’t go wrong with the grilled pimento cheese and bacon), Local Dish (the chicken pot pie is divine), Hobo’s Burgers, Shakes, and Brews (“The Wanderer” is a burger lover’s dream), or The Improper Pig (you can smell the smoked meat from the street).
For a literal hidden gem, check out Chatty Cathy’s Cafe. It’s a cozy cabin tucked in a residential area on the banks of Heritage Lake (about five miles from downtown Fort Mill). The snug rooms and inviting porch are perfect for catching up with a friend or poring over a page turner while sipping on one of their expertly-made lattes.
Thirsty for More
The Fort Mill area is brimming with new brewery concepts. Grab a brew (or two) at Amor Artis Brewing. The laid-back brewery and taproom just off Main Street is owned and operated by brothers Travis and Steve Tolson who grew up in Fort Mill. Enjoy a pint on the patio at 1873 Brewing, Fort Mill’s newest brewery. And speaking of new, keep an eye out for Little York Brewing Company (which will be the perfect place to grab a round after a round at Fort Mill Golf Club).
Indian Land Welcomes You
Located in the northernmost part of Lancaster County, Indian Land begins where Hwy. 160 intersects US 521. It’s tucked just east of Fort Mill, south of Ballantyne and west of Waxhaw.
Development in the area has flourished in the last few years. It was mostly known for Sun City Carolina Lakes — an “active-adult” community that sits on the banks of the Catawba River in South Carolina.
To get to Indian Land from Fort Mill, just hop on Hwy. 160 and go straight until you hit Hwy. 521 Turn right at the light and cruise straight down Hwy. 521 for a variety of coffee, shopping, trails and brews. Along the way, you’ll see a mix of sleek new apartments and local dining concepts, plus larger nationals restaurants and stores.
Sign up for a class at Chelsea and Savannah Art Studio. From crafty kids classes to grownup BYOB paint nights, there’s something for every level or interest. For more kid-friendly fun, try a class, camp or workshop at Small Hands Big Art. Mixed-media classes encourage ages 18 months to 15 years to explore the worlds of painting, sculpture, printmaking and more.
But First, Coffee
If you need a place to knock out some emails, post up at Rendezbrew and hide away in one of the plant-filled corners. The airy atmosphere and soulful soundtrack will make you want to leave your earbuds at home and bask in the creative vibes. (On a practical note, outlets are bountiful and easy to access!)
There’s also a variety of provisions depending on when you visit. Order the maple latte and a housemade bagel for breakfast, have a panini for lunch or meet up with friends after work to graze on a cheese board and sip some local craft beer. The spacious patio is great for kids, and the surrounding sidewalks make for an easy stroll. (Bonus: Check out the events calendar for live music and trivia nights.)
If you need your caffeine on the go, slide into the drive-thru line at Burr & Berry Coffee. The shed-like structure is tiny yet mighty, with kind baristas serving up coffee and good vibes that match the mural on its exterior.
For working meetings or brainstorming sessions, try CrossRidge Cafe. Located in a developing corporate park, the professional atmosphere has space to spread out, or you can rent a room for larger groups. The business-like interior is balanced by its surprisingly zen outdoor space — stunning fountains against a floral backdrop offer a few moments of much-needed peace.
Food for Thought
Shake up your dinner routine and pick out some pork chops, prosecco and produce at New York Butcher Shoppe & Wine Bar. This family-friendly market is also a great place to watch a football game, relax on the patio or grab some provisions for your next weekend gathering. They also offer weekly specials and host seasonal community gatherings.
In the same shopping center, That’s Amore serves up unique takes on classic Italian favorites. Try the scallops wrapped in bacon and served with a peach cream sauce or the fig and prosciutto pizza.
Save room for dessert, because you’ll want to stop by Milkster Nitrogen Creamery. As the name implies, it’s not your average ice cream shop experience. Pick your ice cream base and mix-ins, then watch the magic (well, science) happen as liquid nitrogen is added to the mixing bowl and creates some of the creamiest ice cream you’ve ever had.
Milkster also partners with Hope Water Project for the “Cup for Cup” project — so for every cup of ice cream purchased, they donate a cup of water by digging wells for the Pokot people in Western Kenya. Now that’s pretty cool (pun intended).
For live music and a few brews, check out Lore Brewing Company (the first brewery in Indian Land) or Farm Haus Butcher & Beer Garden (amazing outdoor seating). Both serve up a variety of drinks with atmospheres that will make you feel right at home.
Shop Small, Score Big
While there’s a plethora of big-box options in the area, nothing beats the experience of supporting local shops and small businesses. Whether you’re looking for the perfect hostess gift or just hunting for some new pieces for your wardrobe, there are several local spots waiting to be explored.
The Southern Olive features artisan olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars that make the perfect pairing. The wine-and-gift-shop combo also offers vegan, gluten free and paleo-friendly snacks and treats.
For on-trend women’s clothes and accessories, take a peek at Tullulah Graham Boutique. For unique home decor, thoughtful gifts and chic women’s wear, try The Southern Nest. Both offer a selection of carefully curated items that support local artisans.
Putt, Paint and Pedal
You don’t have to be a member to tee off at the Carolina Lakes Golf Club. The 7,024 yard, par-72 championship golf course was designed by Tim Freeland. Rolling hills, Bermuda fairways and G2 bentgrass greens make for a challenging golfing experience.
If you’re not up for a full 18 holes, you can take a swing at High Seas Miniature Golf. The pirate-themed course will make you feel like you’re vacationing at the beach. After a round, grab a drink and hang out at Castaways, the beer and wine garden with yard games and island vibes.
Get your creative juices flowing with a session at That’s Art Wine and Paint Studio. Instructors will guide you through a painting session while you work on your masterpiece. Beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages are available for purchase so you can sip while you create. Private parties and kids workshops are also available.
Walk, hike or bike the Carolina Thread Trail. The trailhead at Walnut Creek Park stretches along Twelve Mile Creek for nearly 3.5 miles from Walnut Creek Park in the Walnut Creek neighborhood to the North Carolina state line (near Waxhaw) where there is an incredible 180-foot-long suspension bridge.
This natural surface trail also hosts a number of additional boardwalks and bridges. Be sure to bring your phone or camera to capture some great nature shots. If you’re not up for a full trail experience, you can park at the playground by Walnut Creek Park and stroll the manicured paths that loop around the fountains and fields. Sit on the rocks beside the pond and enjoy the company of the fish, or take advantage of the fitness check-ins for a quick lunch-break workout.
Did We Miss One of Your Favorites?
If you have a favorite creative location in Fort Mill or Indian Land that we didn’t include in this story, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send a description and a photo. We may add it to the story as a reader suggestion.
Be sure to check out the other creative excursions we’ve shared in this series:
- Creative Tour of Belmont
- Creative Tour of Matthews
- Creative Tour of University City
- Creative Tour of Mecklenburg County Public Art
- Creative Tour of Rock Hill’s Mural Mile
- Creative Tour of Boone, N.C.