Written by Josh Johnson
The Bart Garrison Agricultural Museum of South Carolina, located in Pendleton, SC, is a comprehensive and innovative historic preservation and museum site. We are a different kind of museum because our motto is “get their hands in the dirt.” We firmly believe that agriculture connects people to the land and to a sense of place. South Carolina has a long agricultural history and culture, from Cherokee farmers to tenant farming, to modern-day fields monitored by drones. Through it all, South Carolina has remained an agrarian state with a people connected to the Earth. Our exhibits are more than just static fixtures hidden behind glass.
Initially a small space with exhibits representing the history and future of South Carolina agriculture, the museum opened its doors to the public in June 2013. Since then, it has grown into the state agricultural museum for South Carolina, with indoor and outdoor exhibits, monthly educational programs, tours, preserved structures including a Pee Dee tobacco barn and an early 20th-century schoolhouse, and a large collection of historic tractors.
Named for the son of the late Senator T. Ed and Juanita Garrison, who died tragically in a farm-related accident in 1990, BGAMSC has always been committed to preserving the agrarian culture of SC that he represented so well. Our goal is to showcase the culture and learn about the future by looking at the past. If we can spark curiosity about agriculture in a child, or send an adult home with a new-found skill such as canning, then we have done our job.
The Museum also serves as a base of operations for South Carolina’s Century Farm Program, a statewide program that celebrates South Carolina farms that have been in the same family for more than one hundred years. As of 2021 more than 500 farms are in our database, a number that grows larger every year.
Our parent organization, Lake Hartwell Country, is a regional tourism and historic preservation office for the state of South Carolina that covers Anderson, Oconee, and Pickens Counties. Since 1966, Lake Hartwell Country has preserved artifacts in our archives, saved numerous buildings and cultural sites from decay and destruction, and marketed to visitors who come to see and enjoy the natural beauty of our area. Led by Executive Director Les McCall and supported by grant-writer Andrew Stevenson and the BGAMSC staff, Lake Hartwell Country’s focus is a dual mission of preserving our priceless Appalachian history and culture, as well as one of economic development through tourism in our region.
Our most recent structural addition, the Iron Oak Barn, completed in 2020, serves as our event center. Originally the McGee family mule barn, located in Starr, South Carolina, the barn has quickly grown into a major venue for our region, perfect for reunions, weddings, and parties. The barn has already attracted over 5,000 people since its debut and even plays host to our yearly Farm Day, an annual celebration of local farmers, crafters, demonstrators, and a wide variety of vendors.
Now more than ever, our museum team is dedicated to bringing the community together, be it in Pendleton or across the state. Museum Educator Jordan Bannister delights in giving tours and educating those that come into the museum. Site Coordinator Josh Johnson can often be seen at festivals, fairs, and craft shows bringing our mechanical milking cow Clarabelle and other vintage farm equipment to kids and adults alike. On the first and third Saturdays of every month, the museum is proud to offer a live blacksmith demonstration with Master Blacksmith Griz Hockwalt, and the second Saturday of each month features a combination of nature and historic walking trail along with the museum’s property in a partnership with Woodburn Historic House. At the forefront of these initiatives is the mission of bringing history into the present while also discussing the future of agriculture in our state. We are very proud of the work we have been doing here and look forward to sharing that experience with you.