I was out exploring the Tobacco Trail through South Carolina. So far I had started at the SC-GA border on the Savannah River and had crossed Allendale, Bamberg, and a good portion of Orangeburg Counties. Orangeburg is a large county, and is bordered by Lake Marion on the east. I was ready to check out the rest of the county, and see how far I could go on this day’s exploration.
In Orangeburg Highways 301 and 601 diverge. 601 heads northeast toward Saint Matthews and Camden. 301 takes a turn west, southwest toward Santee and Lake Marion. As I headed out of town I started to pick up some Tobacco Trail pure gold – remnants of mid-century motels and motor courts. Some of these were still trying to make a go of it.
In this day Highway 601 is now the major tourist stop. Modern motels and fast food eateries mark the route. Of course, this is because of the interstate. I-26 crosses 601 northwest of town, and that’s where these businesses thrive.
The 301-I-26 intersection wasn’t as lucky. For some reason that interchange never attracted the same type of tourist amenities. The route out of town was about the same.
The first thing to catch my attention was not a motel, but a restaurant. The Biddie Banquet apparently features fried chicken, but most importantly, it has the classic 1960s drive-in architecture.
It was hopping with a late morning breakfast crowd. I was tempted to stop, but kept going.
There was a motel just beyond that called the Town Terrace Inn. I didn’t have any vintage postcards for this location, and just got a drive-by shot.
The next one just beyond that was a bit more interesting. It had the two-story central office with wings which I’d spotted in other places along 301. The place was closed down, and was for sale. A white cross adorned the central office. I’m sure it wasn’t there when this place was open as a motel.
There were chains across the driveways, so I couldn’t get any closer for more photos. I was able to find this property on the Orangeburg County tax map. It had been a charity called Helping Hands, hence the cross. More importantly, though, prior to 1977 it had been something with the name Azalea. I’ve got a vintage postcard for an Azalea Motor Court, but it doesn’t look quite right. The postcard says it’s on “U. S. 301, 1 mile north of Orangeburg.” That puts it in the correct spot.
On beyond was another small motel. This Budget Motel was still in operation. I wasn’t able to find any significant information for it.
Just beyond, on the south side of the highway, I found a treasure. At least, you would think it was from the number of billboards and postcards I was able to find. Miles south of Orangeburg I started seeing signs for the Slumberland Motel. I came across at least three of these.
As I said, I had found lots of postcards for this motel. These are just a sampling, including a couple of matchbooks.
With all of this build-up I didn’t know what to expect. I was certainly surprised to find it still in operation, but decidedly less luxurious than the promotional materials would suggest. The swimming pool featured so prominently in the post cards had been filled in.
I would have stopped and taken more photos, but I was already getting the serious evil eye from a guy in the office. I circled through and kept going.
About a mile down the road on the right I came across Trumps Inn (I’m sure no relation to the current idiot running for president.) Of course, I had to take photos.
Based on the architecture and described location, , this might have been the Carolina Wren Motel. The layout of the buildings certainly matches.
From here it’s about five miles to the interchange with I-26. There are a couple of truck stops there, but they are fairly modern. On the other side of the interstate is another fairly modern motel. Not much further along is the White House Church. This structure was built in 1850 and is on the National Register, but the congregation was founded in about 1750.
…Then we go from the sacred to the profane. At the next major intersection is a brightly painted building called Mr. Happy’s. Yep, it’s an adult book store. This is the first of several along Highway 301 headed toward Santee, and these lend this section an air of unseemliness.
Across the street is a more legitimate business – a cotton gin.
Further along is another old motel on the north side of the road. This one is actually a small motel with campground called the Mountaineer Motel.
Oaks Crossroads marks the junction of two major US highways, 76 and 301. As you might imagine, there’s a quick shop and gas station on a corner. There’s also this iconic sign for a defunct business:
I glanced to the south, and spotted a fire tower. I used to chase these all over South Carolina until they started pulling them down faster than I could get to them. I kind of got discouraged and gave up the quest. Even so, when I come across one I feel compelled to take a photo. I’m sure I’ve passed, and probably even photographed this one, but I couldn’t remember. This one didn’t even show up on my GNIS sources.
Soon I had reached the outskirts of the metropolis of Santee. There was a major intersection with US 15. Here, officially, 301 continues and merges with I-95. Here, also, were more signs of Santee’s decadence. On two separate corners were two different adult businesses.
I drove past and came to a roadblock. A sign said that there was no access to I-95. Construction actually did me a favor. I had missed my turn onto the original route of 301.
And, of course, there was another “Gentlemen’s Club” on the other side of the highway. That makes three in just a short span.
Back on the correct route I was in abandoned motel heaven, or possibly hell. However, within the context of the Tobacco Highway, Santee is a bit of anomaly. It is a bonafide tourist destination, with Lake Marion and lots of outdoor activities nearby. It’s also a major stop on I-95. Therefore, even with remains of motels dotting 301, there are still larger chain motels along either side of the I-95 interchange just a block or so over.
It’s almost a chicken and egg situation. Which came first, the highways or the motels? If you can’t get to a place easily, the motels don’t come. Witness the communities of Rimini and Lone Star, which have active boat ramps on Lake Marion, but have no tourist amenities. However, unlike Allendale, Bamberg, and other towns along Highway 301 that had a long history before the highway, Santee doesn’t have a central business district or traditional Main Street. Regardless of whether it’s Highway 301 or I-95, Santee’s existence is closely tied to automotive traffic.
As for the plethora of adult businesses, the major draw for Santee is fishing, hunting, and golf, traditionally male-oriented sports. (And before I get taken to task for that comment, I did say “traditionally.”) A bunch of guys come to the lake for a day of outdoor activities, then want to let off some steam at night. Plus there’s the business clustering effect. Businesses of a certain type seem to cluster together, kind of like Greenville’s Motor Mile. The “Strip Strip,” perhaps?
But, back to 301…
I found two old motels side-by-side. They obviously started as different entities. They have different styles and construction. One is brick, with a separate building out front for an office or cafe. The other is painted white with a central office. Checking the tax map, both of these were owned by the same Christian ministry most recently. The first is for sale, but the other is still in use by the United Holiness Church of God.
I was able to find a vintage postcard for the second motel. It looks like this was The Palms Motel. The architecture in the postcard is a bit different, so I’m not completely sure. It’s possible that the church added a steeple-like structure.
Just beyond was another small motel. The Detla Motel looked like it was still in business. I couldn’t find any significant information on this one.
It wasn’t all abandoned motels and adult business. There were several town services, and just down the road was a fairly new, very elaborate water park.
US 15 and US 301 run concurrently along Bass Drive. As the highway approaches the intersection with state highway 6 businesses start to pick up. You’re getting to the heart of Santee, such as it is. Before this intersection, on the north side of the highway sits and abandoned motel that pops up on my list quite frequently.
While the buildings and pavement looked unused and a bit overgrown, it looked like it was in relatively good shape. There was no sign identifying the property. The tall “$18 Motel Food” sign was in front a small restaurant between this motel and the next one up. The $18 may have referred to this motel, but still doesn’t identify it.
This motel has had several identities throughout the years. At one point it was known as the Carolina Moon Motel, with the associated diner.
Before that the property was known as The Congress Inn and Restaurant.
At first I thought the motel next door was part of the same property, then I wasn’t sure.
A postcard seems to show that at least the two-story addition was part of the same property. The postcard also indicates yet another name for the motel – the Mansion Park Motor Lodge. The back of the postcard shows I-95, so it must have been late 1970s or later.
I didn’t get a clear photo of the building next to the two story structure. The awning of that building seems to mimic the stairway cover of the two-story structure. I was able to get a screen snap from Google Earth.
The Orangeburg tax maps show that this is now part of the same property, but it was a separate parcel. Who knows? Might have started out as a different motel, or it might have just been an addition.
Regardless, next door was the Lake Marion Inn with a marquee that read, “Closed for the season.” Must be a long season, because that sign has been there every time I’ve driven by for the past several years.
I thought I had a postcard for this one, but it turns out that it’s for a motel in Summerton with the same name.
Now I was in the heart of Santee. On one corner is the Rivers Country Store, a general store with bait and tackle.
The old route for 301 continues across the intersection with Highway 6. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first I’ll make a quick detour a block to the south on SC 6. There one finds Clark’s Restaurant.
From the vintage postcards, it looks like this Clark’s was rebuilt several times, each new building reflecting the architectural tastes of the time.
Two more blocks over is the interchange with I-95. Lining this corridor are many modern motels doing a very good business. Yep, there was even another strip club. This one was right behind a restaurant. That club had some humorous adventures for some paddling friends because of it’s proximity to the restaurant.
But, back to 301 proper…
Just past Rivers Country Store I found another old abandoned motel.
This was the old Wayside Motel.
Across from that was another Quality Inn with another Ziggy’s. This time it was a restaurant.
There was one last motel on 301 before reaching the lake. This one looked like it was still in operation…barely.
I couldn’t find any postcards, but the tax map identifies this as the Swamp Fox Motel.
And then the road just ended…
In 1987 Highways 301 and 15 were rerouted to run concurrently with I-95. The bridge was closed, but left intact. It’s now used as a fishing bridge. I parked and walked out on it.
Next to the 301 bridge I could see supports for an even older highway. This may have been the bridge for SC Highway 4, the original route over the lake. A pre-I-95 postcard shows the 301 bridge with the old supports.
The old roadbed runs just south of 301. A clubhouse for a set of condos blocks the route.
The bridge leads to Clarendon County, and the next portion of my trip. Obviously, I’d have to backtrack to pick up I-95 to cross the lake.
Even so, I was a bit disappointed. I had several postcards that just couldn’t match with modern locations. It’s possible that these are long gone. I spotted at least one open lot that had concrete pads, and may have once held a motel.
So, without further comment, here are the ones that got away, at least as far as Santee is concerned…