While my brother, Steve, was off wandering around Jerusalem, my other brother Houston and I made a journey to Mt. Carmel. However, our destination was a bit closer to home. Houston and I have gotten in the habit of making these treks of photography and discovery in the winter months. Last year it was around the backroads and waterfalls of Pickens County. This year we had set our sites on Abbeville and McCormick Counties, hoping to explore some areas where our ancestors had lived. The journey was quite successful, and we came back with tons of photographs and tales of those chance encounters that can only happen in small Southern towns.
Our trip began and ended in a Waffle House. First, there was breakfast in a WH on South Pleasantburg on the way out of town The joint was crowded, and there were some unhappy people waiting for tables. I couldn’t for the life of my imagine why ANYONE would want to wait as long as these people did for a Waffle House Table. The kitchen was chaotic, and Houston and I watched in amazement as orders were passed solely by word of mouth, with no paper or electronic backup. Subsequently, some things didn’t come out just right. However, ours was fine, and soon we were on our way.
Our first stop was in Piedmont. The old abandoned train depot first caught our eye, with it’s red-tiled roof and classic architecture. We took photos from all angles. I was especially intrigued by the concrete waiting bench that had been built into the north end of the building. The depot was overgrown and in bad repair. It seemed like such a shame – I would love to see this place saved and used for something.
From the depot, we took a street under the train trestle and encountered roosters wandering in the street. This led us to the town cemetery, and eventually to the town itself. As is the case with many southern mill villages, the textile mill is either being torn down or is falling down. The entire area felt depressed and loaded down with trash. We tried to find a place to view the dam below the mill, but were unsuccessful. We did take some photos across the mill pond of the town itself, then drove back into the town snapping a couple of shots. At one point the smell from garbage on the old mill site became overpowering, and we decided it was time to leave. As we left town we passed a sign that read “Paul R. Taylor Memorial Park.” Paul Rutherford Taylor was the son of Euell Rutherford Taylor – my great-Uncle Ford, and therefore was my father’s first cousin. This was the first of several unexpected encounters with family history.
Houston and I continued southward until we came to the town of Pelzer. We ventured into another mill village, and once again discovered the ruins of a textile mill and little houses surrounded by trash. There was river access to the Saluda River, and it looked like it had been used for a dumping ground. I would hate to think what the water would be like, and I don’t think I’d eat any fish from there. Unlike Piedmont, we were able to get to a place where we could view the mill dam.
Back in town we discovered a twin to the red-tiled train depot we had seen in Piedmont. Pelzer’s depot was even more dilapidated, with the roof caving in on the south end. Despite No Trespassing signs, what we could see of the interior was covered with graffiti. While there might yet be hope for Piedmont’s depot, I’m afraid Pelzer’s can’t be rebuilt. One of my fellow Flickr photographers, Duckhunter, also recently visited this area and wrote a nice article on its history.
Our trek took us on down through Belton and Honea-Path, then to Donalds and Due West. We stopped to take pictures of storefronts in Belton and murals and the grange house in Donalds. From Due West we headed due west toward the town of Antreville. Along the way we stopped at a historical marker for Pratt’s Mill, and the site of a Revolutionary War battle There was lots of sand and some interesting shoals, but no sign of the old mill.
Before we got to Antreville we spotted a sign for “Level Land.” We had to investigate. The community of Level Land turned out to be a cross roads with two country stores across from each other – neither open. One had lots of antique farm equipment around it, so we turn to take a couple of photos. As we did, someone came out of the house next to the old store shouting at us in a very challenging manner. We decided not to stick around.
Just outside of Level Land was a forlorn looking white cement-block building in the middle of a red-dirt field. A sign hung above the door stating “Community Men’s Club – Together as One.” Houston and I had to pose in front of it.
Antreville was another crossroads community with a couple of general stores. We drove through it first on our way to Lake Sessession. The lake was very low, and not very impressive at this point, so we headed back to the crossroads. Antreville’s general store also carried hardware, plumbing supplies and bait. Since this was a Southern Culture expedition, there was only one thing we could do for lunch – RC Cola, Vienna Sausages, saltine crackers, and for dessert Lance’s peanut candies. The RC Cola wasn’t too bad, but the sausage was about the vilest thing I’ve ever eaten. Houston and I didn’t quite make it through one can.
While stopped for lunch we took a look at the map. I have the “South Carolina Atlas and Gazetteer”, which has lots of backroads and the names of just about every little community and crossroad. A couple of them within range caught my eye. First, there was Watts, which looked like it was right next to a railroad. We thought there might be another depot there. Houston had also spotted something called Charleston Crossroads, and wondered if it might be along some old path from that city to the Upstate.
We paused at a neat old steel bridge over a creek, then we drove through forested lands and farms to get to Watts. There wasn’t a depot, but there was an old country store. It didn’t look like it had been open in a very, very long time. We stopped for a couple of photos, then moved along. Charleston Crossroads, on the other hand, was a bust. We aren’t even sure that we really found it.
There were miles more of farmland, and Houston wanted to buy all of it and set up his own conclave out in the wilderness. Eventually we came to a place where there was a dam on Calhoun Creek. The surrounding farmland and area was beautiful. Around the corner we came to another steel bridge even more impressive than the first, so there was another stop for pictures. One more corner on the other side of the creek and we were at Calhoun Mill. A square three-story structure stood on the banks of Calhoun Creek, just below the dam. There was a fence and a Posted sign, but we were very tempted to sneak in anyway. However, we resisted, and had to be satisfied taking some shots of the building from the fence. The mill was originally owned by Joseph Calhoun, and is now owned by the McAllister family of Mount Carmel.
Reluctantly, we left the mill and started out for the town of Mount Carmel. The town has two white frame churches, one on either end of town. There are several other picturesqe buildings, including McAllister’s Store, which has been in operation by the McAllister family since 1888. We took several photographs, and wandered into Earl’s Snackery, the only open store in the town. There we were greeted by Emily Hester, who commented on the fact that we were taking lots of pictures. As we talked, we found out that Mrs. Hester knew several of our aunts and uncles – not only on my father’s side of the family but my mother’s as well. It turns out that my Aunt Sarah taught all three of her daughters in kindergarten, and my Aunt Ann met her for a regular hair appointment at their local salon. Only in the South could we have made such an encounter.
Mrs. Hester suggested that we should stop by the old cotton gin, which was just around the corner from the store. As we left, we noticed that Mr. and Mrs. Hester were in front of us, and pulled into the gin. Mr. Hester’s family had operated the gin for many years, and was glad to give us a tour of the building. We saw the ginning apparatus, as well as a rail car that transferred the ginned cotton to wagons. Also on the grounds was an old pottery plant, which produced salt and alkaline-glazed pottery, as well as most of the bricks used in the construction of many of the buildings around the small town. Of course, we took tons of photos. I only regret that we didn’t get a shot of Mr. and Mrs. Hester together.
Back into Mount Carmel, we paused to take some shots of some old rusting cars, then we headed back north toward Calhoun Falls. My grandfather once pastored a church in this town, and all of my dad’s sisters lived here, at least for awhile. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we would run into someone who knew them. We didn’t linger in the town, but continued northward.
In the town of Lowndesville we paused to take a few more photos. The old bank building was of the same design that we had seen in Mount Carmel and Calhoun Falls. This one still had the old vault inside. The vault was arched with bricks in an identical fashion to the arched window outside. In fact, it lined up almost perfectly, as if that were the opening through which the vault had been brought. However, I suspect that they built the bank around the vault. There was very little room inside the tiny building with the vault there.
We took a few photos of Lowndesville Presbyterian Church located on a prominent hill, then continued on our way. We passed through the towns of Iva and Starr fairly quickly, went around the outskirts of Anderson, then headed back toward Greenville.
We got back around dinner time, and had our dinner at Cafe Paulista Grill, located in a former Waffle House. Maybe there is something jinxed about WH buildings. There were some problems in the kitchen which made this meal almost as chaotic as our breakfast had been. Still, the food was good, and we had a pleasant end to our travels.
I was having a bit of computer trouble, so I didn’t get all of my photos from the trip uploaded to Flickr in time to make it for this post. However, you can view all of the photos from this trip, including the ones I’ll try to get uploaded soon, on my Journey to Mount Carmel set on Flickr.