I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I’d had a great day exploring Fairfield County with Houston and Alan, but I had missed some of the locations I’d wanted to hit. It just wasn’t feasible on that trip, since all of us had evening engagements. So, on Wednesday after MLK Day I headed out again, this time to explore a more northerly route than the one the three of us had taken two days prior.
It was the classic dilemma – how do I get to the places I want to go without being distracted along the way? I’ve just about decided that I need to get a VERY early start, possibly before the sun even rises. I need to be arriving at my target destination as the best light hits, rather than driving through it on so-so scenery.
I didn’t get an early this morning, so, of course, I got distracted before I got too far into my journey. At least I made it across Greenville and Laurens Counties before distraction got the better of me. I’ve recently become enamored of several podcasts, and they have held my interest enough for me to get to where I’m going. I made it as far as Whitmire before making my first diversion.
First distraction – Carver Middle School. I spotted it off to the side and knew I had to check it out. The school was originally built as Carver Elementary School, an Equalization School built in 1954 to serve the African American community.
A sign out front indicated that the building was for sale. Tempting, but Whitmire is a bit far for me to drive.
I drove straight on through Whitmire and continued eastward, crossing the Enoree River and Tyger Rivers while heading to Carlisle. It occurred to me that I had either paddled under or taken out at both of these bridges. At Carlisle Highway 121 continues eastward across the Broad River. I saw a sign for the Sandy River Access, and decided to check it out.
The access road was much longer than I remembered. It was dirt, which was a good thing. All of my treks need to include at least one good dirt road. This one was nearly two miles long down to the confluence of the Sandy River with the Broad. The road took me through forests had recently been logged. The view was a bit disconcerting. Fortunately, it was still wooded heading down to the river.
The access point is actually on the Sandy River. I’ve considered launching a trip here, but the next take-out downstream is at the Highway 34 Bridge, which would be a LONG haul. As I was scouting the area a couple of guys pulled up and launched a fishing boat. I asked them about the river, and they said that the Sandy could get very shallow. I don’t know if there would be a suitable put-in upstream.
I made my way back to the main road and headed east on Highway 121. Soon I was on the outskirts of the town of Chester, and my “old school” alert on my GPS starting binging. I found two more old schools. Both of these had found new life as community centers. The first was the old Brooklyn School. This looked like it might have been a former Rosenwald, but I can’t find any record of it. Regardless, it has been nicely restored.
Not far from here was the old Witherall School. This brick building is now known as the Carolina House, and is used as a venue for events.
I headed on into downtown Chester. The town layout is somewhat unique. Main Street runs along a high hill. However, most of the the town businesses are on Gadsen, aka Hill Street, off of Main. The requisite southern town Confederate monument graces the intersection of the two streets. The downtown area has been designated as a historic district on the National Register.
I decided to park and explore on foot. As with most southern towns, there has been a valiant attempt to revitalize. The buildings looked well-kept, and it is an attractive town. There were many active businesses, which is a good thing. So many of these towns get the buildings reconditioned, but lack for businesses to fill them. Chester had its fair share of empty store fronts, but had lots going on, besides.
Going back over the photos I realized I have a bias. As I was walking through the town my thought was, “Meh, nice buildings, but they don’t have anything that really appeals to me.” That made me think that the town was deader than it actually was. What I now realize was that I was looking for cool restaurants and shops – touristy things. Sure, they might not have a lot of that, but what Chester has are viable businesses that are actually important to its commerce and to its denizens. There was quite a bit of traffic and movement through the little town, but I had a blind spot.
Speaking of restaurants, it was a little before noon, and I decided to get some lunch. I retrieved the car and made my way down Gadsen to a little place I’d spotted on my walking tour. Gene’s Restaurant looked like it would have the local flare I was after, and would fit the bill. The bright yellow and green building certainly caught my attention.
There were several tables already occupied by various groups. This looked like a real community gathering spot. In one corner was a meat-n-three counter with trays and silverware, so I headed in that direction.
Everything looked and smelled wonderful. However, what really caught my eye was the chicken pot pie. That was just too good to resist. I got some butter beans and okra with tomatoes to round things out. Sweet tea topped off the meal.
I have to say. It was some of the best chicken pot pie I’d ever tasted. It was marvelous.
A couple of other patrons came in and sat down at tables, and a waitress came over with menus. I think I might have messed up their system by going straight to the counter, but I didn’t know any better, and they were kind enough to ignore my ignorance. Didn’t matter – food and service were still both outstanding.
I did learn one thing. Apparently the city of Chester doesn’t have a no-smoking ordinance. An older man took the table right behind mine and fired up some of the foulest smelling cigarettes I’d ever seen. I took it as my cue to leave. It was the only blemish on an other-wise fantastic meal.
I saw a sign for the Chester Transportation Museum, and decided to check it out. The museum was in the old passenger depot right along the train tracks. Another old freight depot stood on the other side of the road. Unfortunately, a school tour group was in the museum, and it was closed for strangers such as myself. Oh well.
I decided to drive through the neighborhoods surrounding the town. There were quite a few impressive houses.
Little towns like this, though, are what give meaning to the phrase “the wrong side of the tracks.” On the other side of the railroad I found low income housing and the half-torn down textile that seems to decorate so many towns in the state now.
Still, Chester seems like a cool little town. It’s also gotten a reputation for hauntings. Both Tally Johnson and John Boyanaski list several locations in the town in their respective books about ghosts in South Carolina. I didn’t see any when I was there. I was glad I stopped, but it was time to go in search of some real ghost towns.
Next up…the Ghost Towns of Highway 321.