Not too long ago, I sat at a table with a group of other 20- and 30-somethings who work at the Observer to dish on how millennials get news and what content is needed to keep their attention.
“Obviously, more stories about Rock Hill,” I joked.
It was funny because, minutes earlier, I briefly ranted on how South Carolina – my home for the past 14 years – is sometimes considered the “Wild West,” rife with guns, domestic violence and Confederate flags. Yes, all of that is true (and does make for big headlines), but there are good things about the state that are glossed over.
For years, York County was ranked the fastest growing county in S.C. This year it was outpaced by Lancaster County, mostly helped by the population growth in Indian Land.
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Simply said: Rock Hill is considered a little less progressive and a little more country when compared to your royal highness Charlotte.
But this native New Yorker-turned-South Carolinian ventures to say the critics are mistaken. Rock Hill and the surrounding cities and towns that make up York County are increasingly becoming more cosmopolitan.
As more and more people move there (York County for years was ranked the fastest-growing county in South Carolina until Lancaster nabbed the spot this year), the area continues to deliver a measured blend of down-home Southern charm fitted with some urban aesthetics (see Fort Mill, the land of homes that are built really, really close together).
239,363 York County total population
69,103 Rock Hill population
12,419 Fort Mill population
8,841 Lake Wylie population
Here are some things I think make the county attractive:
▪ Come-See-Me Festival: This annual springtime celebration that features a frog as the mascot is one of York County’s biggest events. Each April, attendees get lost in 10 days of frog jumps at Cherry Park, parades downtown, a bed race for charity, a doggy fashion show, a barbecue cook-off, kayak tours on the Catawba River and a fireworks show at Winthrop Lake.
Rock Hill is the largest city in York County but the smaller city of York, with its charming historic district and antebellum homes, is the county seat.
▪ Baxter Village: Conveniently located off Interstate 77, this planned community/business district in Fort Mill offers tons of treats that fit a variety of tastes.
If you’re shopping for funky and cool women’s shoes, accessories or gifts, stop at Monkeys & Mermaids, too. If you’re in the mood for sushi, go to Akahana, an upscale Asian bistro where you buy one sushi platter and get the second one free. If you’re looking for that special something for that special someone, scintillate their taste buds with handcrafted truffles from ChocolatBoutique.
There’s also a wine bar, TCBY, a spa, a yoga studio, a martial arts academy, an Italian restaurant, a school, a library, ritzy town homes and, of course, a Starbucks.
But if you ask me what I love most about Baxter Village, it’s hands-down Cupcrazed Cakery, the gourmet bakery Heather McDonnell founded and made infamous when she won an episode of Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.”
8,445 Tega Cay population
7,950 City of York population
5,399 Town of Clover population
▪ Historic Brattonsville: So maybe you want a break from the urban sprawl. Never fear, there are some rustic spots in York County that will tickle your fancy. One such pearl is Historic Brattonsville, a 775-acre Revolutionary War-era site on the Bratton Plantation in McConnells. There you’ll find battle reenactments and costumed interpreters who regale visitors with tales of life on the plantation.
Notable parks in York County include: Ebenezer Park, Cherry Park, Glencairn Garden, River Park, the Riverwalk and Harris Street Park.
▪ Higher education: York County’s big on it. The county is home to Winthrop University, a liberal arts university that’s also my alma mater; York Technical College, a two-year vocational school; and Clinton College, a historically black private college.
▪ Giordana Velodrome: Rock Hill was all abuzz in 2012 with the opening of the Velodrome, a 250-meter embanked cycling track that’s part of the Rock Hill Outdoor Center at Riverwalk. Once the track opened, it turned Rock Hill into a destination for all types of big sporting events, including national cycling competitions.
The city now also boasts the Novant Health BMX Supercross Track, the first Olympic-caliber BMX training facility to open to the general public on the East Coast.
York County is home to several smaller towns, including Sharon, Hickory Grove and Smyrna, which according to the 2010 U.S. Census has a population of 45 people.
▪ Parks aplenty: York County has more than 50 public parks and greenways that serve up a mix of adventure and family wholesomeness. My personal favorites are Ebenezer Park, which borders Lake Wylie; the Riverwalk, along the Catawba River; Glencairn Garden, an oasis near downtown Rock Hill; Kings Mountain State Park, which straddles western York County; and Fort Mill’s Anne Close Springs Greenway, where hiking, biking, fishing and horseback riding are on tap.
Jonathan, the Observer’s Mecklenburg County government reporter, has lived in York County for seven years.
Find some water: If you like bodies of water, you’ll find them. The reservoir for which the area is named touches Rock Hill, Tega Cay and Lake Wylie, the census-designated place; the Catawba River runs through the county; and two inlets surrounding the Allison Creek Peninsula border the city of York and town of Clover.
Eat at the Five and Dine in Rock Hill: Located in downtown Rock Hill, this restaurant serves American classics with a twist. I like it because of its history. It used to be McCrory’s lunch counter, where members of the Friendship Nine were denied service in 1961 because they were black. They refused to leave and were arrested, sparking a string of sit-ins throughout the Southeast during the Civil Rights Movement.
Eat at The Yolk in Rock Hill: The restaurant’s tagline is: “A love affair with breakfast.” That’s probably because all the food, with its farm-fresh ingredients, is so darn good and flavorful. Eat here. Don’t question it. Just thank me later.
Spend hours at Camp Canaan: This island on the Catawba River is a great getaway for a couple of hours, if you’re willing to sweat. It offers zip-lining, kayaking, a high ropes course, disc golf and, a new love of mine, archery tag.
Visit Heritage USA: How can you resist touring the site of what was going to be Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Christian theme park in Fort Mill? There’s a dilapidated hotel and castle to behold. MorningStar Ministries bought the site in 2004 and turned it into a retreat and conference center. It’s snazzy on the inside.