Top Retirement Towns in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida

By Carol Timblin

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In this issue of Retirement Lifestyles,™ we present our annual list of towns in the Carolinas that offer active retirees a quality, affordable retirement lifestyle. We also include a list of towns in Georgia and Florida which cater to active retirees. Some featured towns have appeared in past issues of the magazine, while others are making their debut in our pages for the very first time. If you’re looking for a place to sink down your roots in retirement, one of these gems may be your next hometown. Want to know more? Read on.

1. Lancaster, SC
Lancaster’s location, 40 miles south of Charlotte, NC, and 60 miles north of Columbia, SC, provides access to all the amenities and services of these two exciting urban areas. Yet Lancaster retains its small town culture and charm. Its proximity to Interstate 77, as well as rivers and lakes, also makes it attractive. The original home of Catawba and Waxhaw Native Americans, Lancaster was settled in the 1750s and named for the famous Lancaster family of England. Industrialist Colonel Leroy Springs built Lancaster’s strong textile industry. Lancaster citizens enjoy an enviable quality of life. There are plenty of parks and recreational venues such as the Springdale Complex and the semi-private, 18-hole championship Lancaster Golf Club, educational opportunities via USC Lancaster, York Technical College and the nearly 100-year-old Lancaster Public Library and excellent medical care at Springs Memorial Hospital, known for internal medicine, oncology, urology, coronary problems and other specialties. The town, which offers a variety of affordable housing, has proudly welcomed Sun City Carolina Lakes by Del Webb.

County: Lancaster
Estimated population in 2003: 8,554
Median home value in 2000: $77,800
Contact: Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 430, Lancaster, SC 29721, 803-283-4105, http://www.lancasterchambersc.org

2. Cary, NC
Once a small town, Cary has grown to become North Carolina’s sixth largest city, with nearly 100,000 residents. Located near the Research Triangle Park, it lies within easy distance of Raleigh (the state capital), Durham and Chapel Hill. Because of its outstanding schools, recreation programs, cultural events, great housing and overall quality of life, Cary is considered a dream town for families and active retirees. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Cary was recently named Number 2 in Relocate America’s list of “America’s Top 100 Places to Live.” It’s also no wonder that Del Webb has chosen to build Carolina Preserve in Cary. The site of the new USA Baseball’s National Olympic Training Center, the city has hosted the PONY National Fast Pitch Softball Tournament for several years. Residents are highly educated, with 90 percent of the population having Internet access at home. Median income is higher than the national average and homes tend to be a bit pricey. However, the wide variety of homes appeals to many different lifestyles.
County:  Wake
Estimated population in 2003: 99,824
Median home price in 2000: $196,700
Details: Cary Chamber of Commerce, 307 N. Academy St., Cary, NC 27513, 919-467-1016 or 800-919-CARY, http://www.carychamber.com

3. Bluffton, SC
Serving as the gateway to Hilton Head Island, Bluffton is so named because of its location on a high bluff overlooking the May River. In recent years, development has spilled over from the island to Bluffton, especially along Highway 278. With its population soaring, Bluffton is expected to grow 250 percent over the next decade. Active retirees in search of a mild climate, recreational options, good health care and choices of housing (many of them residents of Sun City Hilton Head by Dell Webb) have already discovered Bluffton. Though the town’s outlets attract many visitors, the Bluffton Historic District offers a unique draw. Here the 1840s Heyward House Historic Center serves as a period-house museum, visitor center, and headquarters for the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society.  The Bluffton Old Merchants Society, also in the Historic District, shelters a number of art galleries, antiques shops and restaurants. The world-famous Bluffton Oyster Factory is still in business.
County: Beaufort
Estimated population in 2003: 1,778
Median home value in 2000: $155,900
Contact: Hilton Head/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 5647, Hilton Head Island, SC 20058, 800-523-3373 or 848-785-3673; http://www.hiltonheadisland.org

4. Seneca, SC
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and bordered by Lakes Keowee and Hartwell, Seneca is surrounded by scenic beauty. And with the town’s year-round mild climate, residents enjoy golf, tennis, boating, fishing, birding, hiking, and other diversions. Another plus is its proximity to metropolitan Atlanta and Charlotte, as well as Anderson, Greenville, Spartanburg and the renowned Clemson University at Clemson. Residents enjoy excellent medical care, cultural venues, educational opportunities, shopping, good restaurants and historical and natural attractions scattered along the Foothills Parkway (SC 11) and the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor. Seneca offers a lively and convenient downtown where residents do their banking, meet friends for lunch, and go shopping. Churches and civic clubs offer opportunities for community involvement. There are many housing options, too, in all price ranges – from older homes in the downtown area to golf villas to lakeside retreats. Many would agree that Seneca is a retirement gem in the middle of the “Golden Corner of South Carolina.”
County: Oconee
Estimated population in 2003: 7,674
Media home value in 2000:  $90,700
Contact: Seneca Area Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 855, Seneca, SC 29679 (864) 882-2097, http://www.senecachamber.com

5. Morganton, NC
A foothills town off Interstate 40, between Hickory and Asheville, beautiful Morganton is throwing out the welcome mat to active retirees. A vibrant downtown with concerts and seasonal festivals, access to a variety of recreation, good health care and older adult programs, affordable housing, and overall quality of life give Morganton great appeal. Attractive shops and galleries are clustered around the Historic Burke County Courthouse, the town’s centerpiece and the perfect venue for the Historic Morganton Festival, Tour d’Art crawl and other events, while the City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium (CoMMA) hosts a variety of programs. Outdoor Recreation is a part of Morganton’s lifestyle, too, with the Catawba River Greenway Park, Lake James and two state parks (Lake James and South Mountain) nearby and several public and private golf courses in the area. Linville Gorge, Grandfather Mountain and four ski resorts are a short distance away. Older adults take advantage of Morganton’s Senior Center, as well as continuing education classes at Western Piedmont Community College. Health and hospital care are available through the Blue Ridge HealthCare System, known for its Phifer Wellness Center. When it comes to housing, residents may choose from golf villas to lakeside homes with mountain views to town homes and luxury apartments in the business district.
County: Burke
Estimated population in 2003:  17,261
Media home value in 2000: $92,300
Contact: Burke County Chamber of Commerce, 110 E. Meeting St., Morganton, NC 28655, 828-437-3021, http://www.burkecounty.org

6. Greenwood, SC
With its location, size, climate and cultural, educational and recreational amenities, Greenwood seems the ideal place for active retirees to live. The seat of county government, Uptown Greenwood is an excellent mix of small shops, great restaurants and businesses offering personal service. The Museum, the Greenwood Community Theater, and the Arts Council of Greenwood County, as well as Lander University and Piedmont Technical College, all serve as cultural venues. The South Carolina Festival of Flowers is an annual highlight for Greenwood area residents and visitors. Lake Greenwood and a state park with the same name, plus the Wilbanks Sports Complex in town, offer a plethora of recreational opportunities. When healthcare is needed, residents look to Self Regional Healthcare, a major referral and medical center.  Homes in Greenwood come in a variety of styles and price ranges, with many geared to an active retirement lifestyle. Greenwood is with easy reach of metropolitan areas such as Atlanta (via interstate highways), and its spot on the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor places it near the mountains, the ocean and Savannah River Basin lakes – Hartwell, Richard B. Russell, and Clarks Hill.
County: Greenwood
Estimated population in 2003: 22,252
Median home value in 2000: $67,700
Contact: Greenwood Area Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 980, Greenwood, SC 29646, 864-223-8431, http://www.greenwoodscchamber.org.

7. North Augusta, SC
Minutes from Augusta, GA, and from Aiken, SC, located off Interstate 20, North Augusta enjoys the best of all worlds – from world-class golf (The Masters Æ Tournament in Augusta) to exciting Triple Crown equestrian events in Aiken.  Its close proximity to these two cities also provides a wealth of opportunities for active retirees – more than a dozen golf courses, almost 20 cultural venues, six colleges and universities, and eight area hospitals, including the Medical College of Georgia and the Eisenhower Medical Hospital at Fort Gordon. With more than 4,000 hospital beds, the area is one of the largest medical centers in the Southeast. North Augusta, which turns 100 this year, was the dream of visionary James U. Jackson.  Built on the bluffs of the Savannah River – with easy access to the river, Lake Olmstead, the Augusta Canal and the J. Strom Thurmond Dam & Lake at Clarks Hill – North Augusta offers plenty of water-related activities and events. The town is also known for its park system; Riverview Activities Center, featuring four gymnasiums and an indoor jogging/walking track; and Greeneway, a 6.8-mile trail built on an abandoned railroad bed. Residents live in a variety of homes situated on the golf course, on the water, in the countryside or in town.
County: Aiken
Estimated population in 2003: 18,413
Median home value in 2000: $90,700
Contact: Greater North Augusta Chamber of Commerce,
PO Box 6246, North Augusta, SC 29860, 803-279-2323, http://www.northaugusta.net/chamber

8. Matthews - Mint Hill - Indian Trail, NC
Though each town in this fast-growing area is unique, they all reap the benefits of being located near metropolitan Charlotte and its wealth of amenities and services – including restaurants, shopping, sporting events, excellent medical facilities, college and university events, cultural venues, parks and greenways, interstate access (including Interstate 485) and an international airport. Yet each town has a small-town feel to it. Matthews is a historic town with a grand town hall, which also houses a branch of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg; a branch of Presbyterian Hospital and numerous medical offices; a community center, which thrives on cultural events and classes; quaint shops and restaurants; and a variety of housing options, including active retirement communities. Once a sleepy farm community, Mint Hill is re-inventing itself by adding new buildings in its downtown area and numerous housing communities in and around it. (Traditions at Lawyers Glen for active retirees is currently under construction.) Indian Trail, which will celebrate its centennial in 2007, is also putting on a different image, as the downtown gets a brand new look and adds housing in surrounding areas, including properties such as retiree-friendly Bonterra. In each of these communities, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for participating in church and civic events, enjoying arts and cultural activities and rooting for your favorite Little League teams.
Matthews
County: Mecklenburg
Estimated population in 2003: 23,436
Median home value in 2000:  $170,700
Contact: Matthews Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 601, Matthews, NC 28105, 704-847-3649, http://www.matthewschamber.com
Mint Hill
County: Mecklenburg
Estimated population in 2003: 16,477
Median home value in 2000:  $143,400
Contact: Town of Mint Hill, PO Box 23457, Mint Hill, NC 28227, 704-545-9726, http://www.minthill.com
Indian Trail
County: Union
Estimated population in 2003: 14,173
Median home value in 2000:  113,100
Contact: Town of Indian Trail, Box 2430, Indian Trail, NC 28079, 704-821-8114, http://www.indiantrail.org

9. Rutherfordton, NC
Rutherfordton’s location in North Carolina’s Iso-Thermal Belt gives it an ideal mild year-round climate. Situated near several major highways, including Interstate 40, the county seat is also convenient to several metro areas, including Asheville and Charlotte. There’s plenty of history here, too. The Overmountain Men, who whipped the British at Kings Mountain, marched through the area in 1780, and the privately-owned Bechtler Mint produced the nation’s first gold coins here during the 1830s. Chimney Rock, one of the most dramatic attractions in Western North Carolina, and Lake Lure, a long-established tourist destination are a short distance away. Both provide an abundance of recreational opportunities. Residents also enjoy cultural experiences such as Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and the Community Concert Series. Isothermal Community College and two nearby universities add to the quality of life. Healthcare is provided by Rutherford Hospital, Inc. Active retirees may choose from a variety of homes, including mountain retreats and lakeside cottages such as the 2006 HGTV Dream Home, a 5,200-square foot home in Grey Rock on Lake Lure.
County: Rutherford
Estimated population in 2003: 4,066
Median home value in 2000:  $100,900
Contact: Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, 162 N. Main St., Rutherfordton, NC 28139, 828-287-3090, http://www.rutherfordnc.org

10. Franklin, NC
Scenic Franklin, located in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina but close to Atlanta, Knoxville and Asheville, is considered the gem capital of the world. At more than a dozen different mines you can hunt for rubies, sapphires, quartz and garnets. Avid rock hounds often seek membership in the Gem & Mineral Society, which meets at the Franklin Gem & Mineral Museum, housed in the old jail. The county seat, Franklin is also the home of the only Scottish tartans museum in the world outside of Scotland – a reflection of the town’s Scots-Irish ancestry and founding in 1855. The Nantahala National Forest, which covers half the county, harbors the Appalachian, Bartram and other hiking trails, and the Nantahala River provides hair-raising white-water adventures. The county library and a state community college and university in nearby towns enhance the educational and cultural life of the area. Local medical facilities offer cardiac rehabilitation, emergency care, cancer treatment, dietary and home health. Franklin’s real estate market attracts many active retirees and second-home buyers, especially from neighboring Georgia and Florida. u
County: Macon
Estimated population in 2003: 3,573
Median home value in 2000:  $88,200
Contact: Franklin Chamber of Commerce, 425 Porter St., Franklin, North Carolina 28734, 828-524-3161 or 866-372-5546

Retiring to Georgia and Florida

Active retirees in search of the good life might also consider relocating to small towns
in Georgia and Florida. Here are a few suggestions to get you started in your search:

Newnan, GA
County: Coweta
Estimated population in 2003: 20,551
Median home value in 2000: $114,200
Contact: Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce, 23 Bullsboro Dr., Newnan, GA 30263, 770-253-2270, http://www.newnancowetachamber.org

Thomasville, GA
County: Thomas
Estimated population in 2003: 18,233
Median home value in 2000: $69,300
Contact: Thomasville-Thomas County Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 560, Thomasville, GA 31799, 229-226-9600, http://www.thomasvillechamber.com

Brunswick, GA
County: Glynn
Estimated population in 2003: 15,984
Median home value in 2000: $61,200
Contact: The Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce, 4 Glynn Avenue, Brunswick, GA 31520, 912-265-0620, http://www.bgicoc.com

Panama City, FL
County: Bay
Estimated population in 2003: 37,085
Median home value in 2000: $75,800
Contact: Bay County Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 1850, Panama City, FL 32402-1850, 850-785-5206, http://www.panamacity.org

Vero Beach, FL
County: Indian River
Estimated population in 2003: 17,357
Median home value in 2000: $44,800
Contact: Indian River County Chamber of Commerce, 1216 21st Street, Vero Beach, FL 32960, 772-567-3491, http://www.indianriverchamber.com

Ocala, FL
County: Marion
Estimated population in 2003: 47,921
Median home value in 2000: $77,600
Contact: Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce, 110 East Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala, FL 34470, 352-629-8051, http://commerce.globalsites.net