The South is rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. While many flock to famous sites like the French Quarter in New Orleans or Graceland in Memphis, there are countless lesser-known Southern landmarks that offer unique glimpses into the region’s past and present. Here are some hidden gems worth exploring.
Drayton Hall – Charleston, South Carolina
Nestled along the Ashley River, Drayton Hall is the oldest preserved plantation house in America that’s open to the public. Unlike many other historic homes, its interiors remain nearly untouched by modern restorations, offering a genuine look into the 18th century.
Ruby Falls – Chattanooga, Tennessee
Hidden within Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls is America’s deepest commercial cave and tallest underground waterfall. A guided tour takes visitors through the cavern’s winding pathways, culminating in the breathtaking sight of the falls, illuminated in a dramatic display.
Old Cahawba – Orrville, Alabama
Once Alabama’s state capital, Old Cahawba is now an archaeological park. The town was abandoned after the Civil War, and today, visitors can explore the hauntingly beautiful ruins of this “ghost town,” including old streets, cemeteries, and building foundations.
Atalaya Castle – Huntington Beach, South Carolina
Built in the 1930s by philanthropist Archer Huntington for his wife, the sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, Atalaya Castle is a testament to love and art. The Moorish-style mansion, once a winter home, now stands as a monument to the couple’s legacy.
Caddo Lake – Texas/Louisiana Border
Caddo Lake, with its sprawling maze of bayous and sloughs, is the South’s largest natural freshwater lake. The hauntingly beautiful cypress trees draped in Spanish moss make it a photographer’s dream and a haven for nature lovers.
The Windsor Ruins – Port Gibson, Mississippi
Once a grand mansion, the Windsor Ruins are all that remain after a devastating fire in 1890. The 23 standing Corinthian columns amidst the Mississippi countryside evoke a sense of mystery and lost grandeur.
The Lost Sea – Sweetwater, Tennessee
Located in the Craighead Caverns, The Lost Sea is America’s largest underground lake. Visitors can take a boat tour on the lake, marveling at the rare anthodites (“cave flowers”) and learning about the cavern’s rich history.
Discovering the South’s lesser-known landmarks provides a deeper understanding of the region’s diverse history and culture. Each site, whether grand or humble, tells a unique story of the people and events that shaped the Southern landscape.