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Visiting South of the Border: South Carolina's Mexican theme attraction at the state line

Updated on April 23, 2012
State flag of South Carolina
State flag of South Carolina | Source
The South Carolina State Line as seen on Interstate 95
The South Carolina State Line as seen on Interstate 95 | Source
South of the Border Motor Inn sign, Dillon, South Carolina
South of the Border Motor Inn sign, Dillon, South Carolina | Source
Map location of Dillon, SC
Map location of Dillon, SC | Source

Visitor complex on the great Interstate 95, where 'Fed' Chairman Bernanke once worked

Near Dillon, South Carolina, a commercial complex known as South of the Border, has achieved considerable success over its more than 60 years of history.

Close to Interstate 95 and Highway 301

However, even more than its proximity to Dillon, South Carolina is probably the significance of its location next to Interstate 95, at the point where this great road artery crosses the state line into South Carolina, from North Carolina, with the familiar palmetto tree motif on display.

But Highway 301 has also been very important as an access point to South of the Border; indeed, the complex pre-dates the opening of the Interstate System.

Some features

South of the Border has a very large site. It has been described as, where Mexico meets South. Among other facilities, it includes motel and restaurant hospitality services and gift stores. Its 'Fort Pedro' claims to be the fireworks capital of the world. A 66 metre structure known as the Sombrero Observation Tower is one of the parts of this complex especially visible from a distance, and which, from its height, gives visitors a 360 degree panorama of the complex and the surrounding South and North Carolina countriside. Growth of the complex eventually brought the size of the land it covered to a square mile. (By way of comparison, this is larger than the territory of a small, independent state such as the Principality of Monaco.)

Local people — especially employees — call the complex simply 'the Border', and the business developed into an unofficial town in itself. Though technically unofficial, it eventually acquired its own post office, and fire department.

Mexican theme

Some people might ask how 'authentically' Mexican the complex really is. This kind of question is always a reasonable one to ask. I work with many Mexicans and Hispanic people and I am sure that, if they were clients of this complex, their reactions and impressions would vary considerably. But maybe in one sense it is to miss the point. Because any complex this large and this successful is likely to have a some kind of unifying theme, or underlying philosophy and logo.

Or, stated differently, you don't have agree that the Mexican theme aspect is pulled off to a supreme degree of authenticity in order to be able to find things of use and interest, whether from its numerous stores, Mexican restaurants or hotel accommodation.

A more serious underlying point that strikes me, in relation to South of the Border's Mexican theme, is that things Mexican have become, in one way or another, an integral part of North American life. Rather than remaining supposedly 'exotic', the likelihood of Mexican themes arising as a promotional option indicates the Mexican community's abiding cultural presence.

Reptile conservation and lagoon

By way of a reminder of the complex's Southern location and situated close to the swamplands of the Pee Dee River , its Reptile Lagoon claims to be the United States' largest indoor reptile exhibit. Included in this large reptile collection are many snakes, crocodiles, alligators and turtles.

Crocodile and alligator types on display include American alligators, Nile crocodiles and the slender-snouted crocodile.

One of the Reptile Lagoon's acquisitions has been an albino Burmese python. Other snake types include an African Black Mamba, Indian King Cobras and American Diamondback rattlesnakes.

Turtle types include the Fly River and Mata Mata turtles. There is also the Alligator Snapping turtle.

The Reptile Lagoon collaborates with the Crocodile Conservation Institute. Include in the Lagoon's facilities is a gift shop full of reptile themed items.

Noted people associated with South of the Border

These include:

Alan Shafer (1914-2001), founder of the enterprise. From small beginnings in 1949, what was termed 'Schafer Project South of the (North Carolina) Border' in 1954 was later shortened to South of the Border.

Ben Bernanke (1953- ), Chairman of the Federal Reserve, worked at South of the Border, while studying at Harvard.

Also worth seeing

Dillon , South Carolina (distance: 13.3 kilometres); the Dillon County Courthouse, in Classical Revival and Beaux Arts styles, dating from 1911, and the James W. Dillon House, built 1890 and open to the public, are included among local structures of particular, historical interest.

Conway , South Carolina (distance: 109.6 kilometres); picturesque city on the Waccamaw River, along which cruises may be taken.

Myrtle Beach , South Carolina (distance: 132.1 kilometres) is known as the world's Golf Capital. The district's two Tanger Malls give outstanding retail opportunities and it has a very wide range of accommodations. The small Warbird Park will be of fascination to aviation buffs.

Fayetteville , North Carolina (distance: 84.2 kilometres); the Heritage Square area has a number of historic properties dating from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


How to get there: South of the Border is situated where Interstate 95 meets the North Carolina/South Carolina state line, approx. 84 kilometres south of Fayetteville, NC. For air travellers, Myrtle Beach Airport is served by Continental, Delta and US Airways and other airlines from a number of US destinations. Continental flies from New York Newark to Myrtle Beach. Ontarian travellers may find it convenient to use DirectAir which flies from Niagara Falls International Airport to Myrtle Beach Airport, where car rental is available. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.


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