I had one day to explore the ghost towns of the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. So far I’d visited several potential locations, including Ella’s Grove, Centenary, and Eulonia. On these trips I always like to stop in at the local museum or historical society to see what additional information they might have. With that goal in mind, I set off for the Marion County Museum in downtown Marion.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve bypassed Marion. Highway 76 is the route to Myrtle Beach and it bypasses the town. I honestly don’t remember ever visiting the town. Back in the early 1980s my brother-in-law was pastor of a Baptist church in Marion. However, that was when I was in college, and I never got a chance to visit my sister and her family in the brief time that they were there. So this would be my first true visit to the town.
My prior research indicated lots of interesting old buildings in the town, several of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. I could spend the better part of a day just photographing these places.
Before visiting the museum I took a quick spin through the town. The old Marion Presbyterian Church caught my eye, but for some reason I didn’t get a photo of it. I did catch the Marion County Records Building.
Next to it is the courthouse with sweeping steps reminiscent of a Robert Mills design. I was informed later that Mills didn’t build this one. Sadly, I missed getting a photo of it, too. There was a bit of traffic and I hadn’t found a place to park and wander. Shooting from the car was problematic.
I drove through the downtown area. As with so many of these South Carolina towns there is a compelling quaintness to the old stores. There are some signs of revitalization, usually in the form of antique and/or art stores, but there are also lots of empty store fronts. It’s a constant struggle for identity and commerce.
On the other end of town I found the railroad depot and a series of old warehouses.
I circled back through some side neighborhoods and I came upon a church with the same unusual paint scheme I’d seen on the church in Centenary. The two churches must be related.
Eventually I made my way over to the Marion County Museum. The museum is housed in an old school, which is one of the reasons this was a must-see on my list.
According to a historical marker on the site, the Marion Academy is the oldest school in the county. It was chartered by the SC General Assembly in 1811. This building was constructed in 1886, and was eventually became the Marion Graded School. It served as an active public school until 1976.
Here’s a photo of the school in its academy days from the National Register:
Before I’d left on this trek I made sure that the museum would be open when I arrived. A sign on the door said they were open, and another handwritten sign said to knock for entry. I was greeted by Rosanne Black, the director/curator of the museum. She graciously gave me a tour of the museum.
Rosanne said that they were in the preliminary stages of a major renovation. Some of the woodworking details needed repair as well as interior spaces. There was a parlor with some museum pieces that also served as her office. She had blueprints and other designs set out.
There was a display honoring the first female sheriff in Marion County, along with other law enforcement officials.
The hall featured items from Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, Revolutionary War hero, and namesake of the county.
One of the items on display was a board game based on an old TV show about the life of Francis Marion. This show, based very loosely on the life of Francis Marion, starred Leslie Neilson as the Swamp Fox, and aired as part of Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in the late 1950s, early 1960s. Recently I stumbled upon an old episode online somewhere. Laura and I laughed because the settings were clearly Southern California and looked nothing like the cypress swamps of our state. I have no idea how historically accurate the game was, but the board featured a semi-accurate map of the state.
Upstairs there was a landing with a few antique artifacts.
One of the rooms upstairs was set up as a classroom. Roseanne said that the furnishings and other articles were collected from various places. She also said that a lady comes in and teaches classes on writing with a quill and ink.
The other large room upstairs featured farm equipment from the area as well as a model of a homestead.
Back downstairs one of the front rooms had been set up with tables for lunch meetings. Around the walls was a series of interviews with local residents that someone had done as part of an oral history project. There was a CD player where visitors could listen to the audio interviews. I suggested to Roseanne that this would make an excellent online exhibit.
As far as gathering more information about the ghost towns I’d visited earlier in the day, there wasn’t much in the public displays. Roseanne suggested that I visit the old records building. While I’d love to do that, I didn’t think I’d have time on this visit. She did have a photo of the old Palmer School, or, at least, a group of students in front of the school.
This photo confirms that Palmer School did serve the white population for at least part of its existence.
I thanked Roseanne for the tour and went in search of lunch. I always prefer some quirky local place to fast food, and Roseanne had made several suggestions. I had a delicious quiche and salad at a place called Raspberries and Thyme, and took a few more photos along Main Street.
Once again I found myself wanting to linger, but I had more to see and lots more driving to do. My car wasn’t racking up the miles fast enough, so I didn’t know if the old Subaru would hit 200,000 miles on this trip or not. I made a quick assessment of my targets, and decided that it was time to cross the Little Pee Dee River into Horry County.