On my way down to Bluffton I passed through twenty-six small towns. In addition to that I’ve visited two ghost towns, and some of those other towns were about to cross the line into the “ghost” category. For the return trip I had a couple of options for avoiding the Interstate. I decided to retrace my way partially on 321, then branch off on 601 northbound to Orangeburg. That would take me through more small towns.
I was leaving Hilton Head fairly early, and even had time for a good breakfast leaving the island. That would give me plenty of time for exploration. That turned out to be a good thing because of some very unexpected delays, but more on that later.
So, on the way back I hit the following towns that I had visited before.
- Hilton Head
I didn’t linger too long in these, but continued on until I reached the turnoff for Highway 601.
The towns of Stokes and De Loach were little more than wide spots in the road. In Google Earth Stokes is shown off the main highway down a dirt road. It is a possible ghost town. I didn’t have that information at the time, so I didn’t venture to check it out. Next up was Furman, which I had visited via detour yesterday.
The next town on the list was Hampton, and here is where I ran into the surprising delay. I could see the main road through town was blocked with a police car with flashing lights. I saw pavilions and food vendors set up, and realized I had stumbled onto the Hampton County Watermelon Festival. It looked like there was no way through the town, so I decided to park and explore.
I first checked out the food vendors. There was typical fair food fare – mostly fried, and very probably bad for you. It was tempting, but I’d had a big breakfast and it was still a bit early for lunch. There were plenty of folks indulging, though.
In front of the Hampton County Courthouse there were all sorts of vendors. Some of these were arts and crafts booths…
Others were a bit more…questionable.
However, there didn’t seem to be much activity in any of the booths. People were beginning to line the streets for a parade. I figured I might as well wait until the parade was over so that I could get through the town. I joined the folks on the street. There were a couple of legitimate journalists out with cameras, and I just pretended I was one of them, going where ever I wanted.
There were lots of interesting characters out and about. Here’s one guy dressed in Confederate Flag garb with a Christian T-Shirt, passing out religious tracts. He/I didn’t get close enough to see what he was really distributing.
Soon the parade got underway. Actually, it had been underway for quite awhile, having started down the road in the nearby town of Varnville.
There was LOADS of beauty queens. Every town and community in the county had a queen, a teen queen, a toddler queen, etc., etc. They all had a ride in the float.
There were floats for various organizations, and all of the local town politicians also participated.
In addition to the Confederate guy, there was lots of other religious sentiment expressed.
That last one I had a hard time figuring out. Is McDonald’s now promoting religion? Fire safety? Both? I guess some see religion as nothing more than a fire escape, but I’m not sure how the clown fits in.
There was a band, and the floats kept coming. I went back to the car to see if I could find a way around the town. Surely there must be some bypass. After taking multiple side streets and backtracking a couple of times I finally found the end of the parade, sort of. At least it was a way through.
Things quieted down a bit as I passed through rural farmland. Soon I reached the community of Crocketville. This was actually on my list of ghost towns to check out, but I had forgotten about it. This was a picturesque community with an old farmhouse, Masonic lodge, old church, old school and historic marker.
I need to find out more about the town before I actually declare it a ghost town. It looks like there is still a viable community there.
The next town, however, does make the list. I saw a sign pointing off toward Miley…
…and decided I had to check it out. I found a tiny post office with an overgrown parking lot. It didn’t look like it had been used in quite awhile. There was also an old depot, and what appeared to be lumber works on the other side of the road. I need to do a bit of research to see what other business had been in the area.
There was one fascinating ruin that actually had large trees grown ON the roof.
I returned to the main highway and continued on my way. I saw a sign for the Miley Cemetery, and probably missed an opportunity by not stopping.
The next town was Erhardt. There was a significant downtown, but it looked mostly dried up. The most interesting building was the old Erhardt Depot.
Next up was the town of Bamberg. However, before I reached it I spotted one of the most interesting church names I’d seen. I was really tempted to go check it out, but kept on the main road.
Bamberg looked like it had tried to spruce up its main street. That still hadn’t let it pull in more business, though. There was some interesting architecture in the town.
The road widened to four lanes, and things picked up a bit. It seemed that I was out of small town territory – almost. I saw a sign for the town of Cope, and decided to check it out. I was glad I did. There was an old depot, Vallentine [sic] general store, and an interesting main street.
Back on the main road I came across two more oddities. First there was interesting old shop with a coffee pot on the roof…
…then there was Zion Methodist Church. I stopped to take a couple of shots, but I would have liked to have had time to explore the cemetery, too.
I passed through the community of Edisto, then drove through downtown Orangeburg. It was the first time I could remember actually driving through the main part of the town.
After that, it was back to the interstate. Here’s the list of towns for the day…
- De Loach
This was an eye-opening trip. So many of these communities are on the verge of being ghost towns. Many larger towns are struggling. However, how do I draw the line? I don’t think a simple store at a crossroads qualifies, unless there had once been something there before.
I think back to my online friend Brian the Red‘s quest to photograph his Mazda Miata in front of every post office in South Carolina. That was a massive undertaking. I’m sure Brian really gained a perspective of which towns in the state are on the verge of becoming ghost towns.
While I don’t think I’ll undertake a quest like Brian’s, I do feel the need to visit more of the small towns. I think I’ll try to hit the far eastern part of the state next.