Nearly twenty-five miles long and five miles wide at their widest point, this chain of hills is situated conspicuously between the level expanse of the coastal plain to the east and the swampy lowland of the Wateree River valley to the west.
An eroded upland remnant of an ancient seashore, the High Hills of Santee rise on the eastern side of the upper Santee River and run north through Sumter and Lee Counties paralleling the Wateree River. Nearly twenty-five miles long and five miles wide at their widest point, this chain of hills is situated conspicuously between the level expanse of the coastal plain to the east and the swampy lowland of the Wateree River valley to the west. At their greatest elevation, the High Hills are three hundred feet above the level of the Wateree and offer panoramic vistas more typical of the Piedmont and mountain regions of the state. English naturalist John Lawson, one of the earliest Europeans to explore the High Hills, described them in 1701 as “the most amazing Prospect I had seen since I had been in Carolina.”
Eighteenth-century medical theory attributed the fevers and “agues” that ravaged lowcountry South Carolina during the “sickly season” to standing water and the miasmatic vapors supposed to emanate from it. Any environmental conditions that differed from the wet areas of the lowcountry were perceived as healthful. Despite proximity to the Wateree Swamp, the altitude of the High Hills was believed to purify the air and springs. Originally settled by immigrants from Virginia around 1750, by the time of the Revolutionary War the High Hills of Santee were relatively populous and had gained a reputation as a pleasant, salubrious place to spend the summer.
In the early nineteenth century, some seasonal visitors to the High Hills became permanent residents, establishing cotton plantations and erecting grand country seats in place of quaint summer cottages. Although much of the High Hills remained pastoral at the turn of the twenty-first century, certain areas, especially around Stateburg, were becoming increasingly suburbanized.
Brewster, Lawrence Fay. Summer Migrations and Resorts of South Carolina Low-Country Planters. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1947.
Gregorie, Anne King. History of Sumter County, South Carolina. Sumter, S.C.: Library Board of Sumter County, 1954.
Parler, Josie Platt. The Past Blows By: On the Road to Poinsett Park. Sumter, S.C.: Knight Brothers, 1939.