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Sumter SC

Swan Lake Iris Gardens
Who knew tossing a bunch of recalcitrant iris bulbs into the swamp would blossom into one of the loveliest botanical gardens in the Southeast? At Swan Lake Iris Gardens, visit the swans, the blooms and the festivals.
Photo credit: Sumter Convention & Visitors Bureau

Born of backcountry settlements where early patriots fought for our nation’s freedom, Sumter was named for Thomas Sumter, the Fighting Gamecock of the American Revolution.

In 1941, Shaw Air Force Base, named for WWI fighter pilot Ervin Shaw, was established in Sumter County, and it continues today as an active duty military base.It is headquarters to the Air Force's largest combat F-16 wing, the 20th Fighter Wing, 9th Air Force, U.S. Air Forces Central (USAFCENT), and Third Army/USARCENT (whose commanders have included the legendary General George Patton), as well as home to a number of retired officers who traveled around the world, but returned to settle in the heart of South Carolina.

Nature enthusiasts need look no farther than Poinsett State Park, a 1,000-acre natural wonder with camping, fishing, nature trails, johnboat and paddleboard rentals, rustic cabins and coquina bathhouse. Poinsett features some of the most unique natural sightings in the park system, especially along the Palmetto Trail which winds through the Manchester State Forest. In addition, Manchester also offers more than 50 miles of equine, walking and motorized vehicle trails and is host to the annual Sumter Enduro Race.

Swan Lake Iris Gardens is a delightful 150-acre garden in the heart of the city. It features all eight of the known swan species, some of the nation’s most intensive plantings of Japanese iris and various art sculptures, including the towering “Recovery” sculpture by world-renowned artist Grainger McKoy. Sumter is home to numerous festivals and events throughout the year, but none more popular than the Sumter Iris Festival. The annual event is South Carolina's oldest festival, and is held at Swan Lake Iris Gardens every Memorial Day weekend in May. The gardens also come alive with color during the Christmas season with the nighttime Fantasy of Lights display every night in December, featuring more than 1,000,000 varicolored sparkling lights in an array of colors, characters and shapes.

Sumter also features the Palmetto Tennis Center, one of the largest public tennis facilities in the state, where visitors can enjoy free play or one of numerous tournaments each year, including a USTA Pro Circuit event. The tennis center features 24 courts, offers on-site tennis pros, ball machines, stringing services and a pro shop. Sumter is also home of the champion American Legion P-15s baseball team, which plays at Riley Park, a newly renovated 2,000-seat professional-quality stadium. Riley Park also hosts the USC Sumter Fire Ant and Morris College Hornet teams.

Sumter is home to seven colleges and universities, each offering a number of programs, from associate degrees through graduate offerings. Free tuition is available to area residents over age 60 at USC Sumter. Over the last several years, Central Carolina Technical College has opened its new Criminal Justice and Health Sciences buildings in downtown Sumter, featuring some of South Carolina’s finest state-of-the-art facilities.

Along with streetscape improvements, new restaurants and businesses, construction of upper-story housing and the continued expansion of Central Carolina and Tuomey Healthcare System, downtown Sumter is regaining its stronghold within the community.

In recent years, Sumter has been named by Expansion Management magazine as one of the 50 “hottest locations” in which to expand or relocate a facility. Forbes magazine has named Sumter the top-ranked small metro in the state and Money Magazine listed Sumter as one of the top 200 places to live in the U.S. In 2012 and 2013, the U.S. Conference of Mayors named Sumter as “One of America’s Most Livable Cities.” Their motto: “We are Sumter, South Carolina. Uncommon Patriotism, Progressive Spirit.”

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