Boynton House sits abandoned and forlorn in a remote corner of the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area, part of the ACE Basin. It was once the main house for a vast rice plantation. Now the wooden filigree is falling apart, and bat guano fills several of the rooms. On this particular trip, we also found out that it is cursed.
Normally we do a paddling trip the second Saturday of each month with the Lowcountry Unfiltered group. This time we decided to do something different. One of our members, Rob Dewig, has a new job with the Colleton County Museum. We wanted to check out his new digs. We also planned to do a bit of bike riding in the ACE Basin.
I got up far too early on Saturday morning and drove on down to the Lowcountry. Five other hearty souls joined me at the main kiosk for Donelley. It sounded like a disciples convention – Thomas (me), Matthew, James, John, James, and a young guy whose name starts out C-h-r-i-s-t. (Christian, Jimmy’s son). Yeah, we were in for trouble of Biblical proportions.
We drove on into the WMA down to the old Boynton House. The parking area there serves as a great base of operations, with trails heading out in multiple directions across the old rice fields and through the woods. We unloaded the bikes and got ready for adventure.
Every time I’ve been down here I’ve always paused to admire the old house and take a few photos. Framed by live oaks and Spanish moss, it embodies Southern Gothic charm.
I’ve never been inside because of the “Keep Out” signs posted everywhere. This time we walked completely around the house and didn’t see any signs to that effect. Taking their absence as an invitation to enter, and buoyed by guys as crazy as I am, we headed up the back steps and into the kitchen.
“Haint Blue” paint covered the ceilings and the walls. The interior of the house was in bad repair, with bits falling off here and there. Certain parts of the floor looked very unsteady, and there were piles of bat guano in one room. From the fixtures it was hard to tell how old the house was. There were some modern electrical fixtures, but the rest of the house looked quite old.
We left the sadness of the abandoned house and headed on out onto the trail. We first rode out onto the dikes that run between the rice fields. Wading birds, including wood storks, were out enjoying the beautiful day.
Birds weren’t the only critters enjoying the warm sunshine. Alligators were out in abundance. We saw a few small ones along the edges of the path, and one monster stretched across one of the dikes.
We returned to the main path and continued on across the rice fields. When we reached the edge of the woods the first of the disasters struck. Matt had peddled ahead and was getting turned around to take a photo of us leaving the rice fields when he lost control of his bike. He took a tumble.
Fortunately, he was OK, and his bike seemed OK, so we continued on. Not far into the woods, however, he stopped suddenly and Jimmy went crashing into the back of him. Disaster number two. Matt’s chain had come loose, and with that last collision the derailleur was now broken. Jimmy’s bike was OK, but Matt’s was toast. He was dead in the water.
John had ridden on ahead, thinking we would catch up. However, we decided to walk back to the vehicles with Matt. We made our way back down to the dikes and started across the rice fields.
Eventually John realized that we weren’t going to catch up with us, and turned back to find us. He caught up with us at the cross-dike where we had seen the huge gator earlier. We decided to walk back out to check on the big boy (the gator, not John.) Sometime during that period, first Christian, then John fell off of their bikes. There was no damage, but this was getting to be epidemic.
Back out on the dike, it seemed that the big gator’s friends had also joined the party. We were starting to get nervous, with the territorial splashing going on all around us Given our current track record, we could just see another big gator cutting off our retreat. We weren’t sure if we would have to live up to our Biblical names and try walking on water or not. It wasn’t necessary. The gators kept to themselves and we made it back to the bikes.
Fortunately, we made it back safely and were soon back on the Boynton House side of the rice fields. We left the bikes by the trail and wandered into the woods behind the house. Here we found a cypress swamp and an old duck blind.
It almost made me wish we’d brought kayaks instead of bikes – paddled instead of peddled. I’d not been back to this swamp, and I realized that this would be a great place to come this spring to look for warblers.
We got back to the vehicles without further incident. Our modified plan was now to drive around to the old lodge at the Billy Fields home. The ponds there are known to have LOTS of alligators and birds, all viewable from a safe distance. We paused briefly at the old Fields Cemetery…
…then continued on to the pond. There, an island full of gators did not disappoint.
At this point, the fourth disaster hit. I came down with symptoms of a migraine. The visual aura was making driving difficult, and I was worried. There was no pain or nausea yet, which meant I had time to get some medicine in me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my migraine stuff. I downed three aspirin first, waited a bit, then chased it with two Advil that John provided. I took one more photo of birds while the others explored a bit. I rested and tried to let the medicine do its job.
Matt offered to drive, but I figured that as long as I could, I would drive. Being able to predict the twists and turns would help stave off nausea. Plus, the medicine was working. We decided to continue on, ostensibly heading back to the main road so we could find lunch. John took the lead in his truck, and we promptly got lost. Disaster number five.
At one point John was driving like a madman on the dirt roads. It was time for lunch, and he wanted out of the WMA. We did eventually find our way back to a familiar road, but we found a pond with more birds and gators.
In a way, Matt’s accident turned out for the best. We covered much more territory than we would have otherwise. We blamed the disasters on the old Boynton House, though. Entering the old place had violated some taboo, and we paid the price. I don’t know what spirits or haints we disturbed, but if I know this group, we won’t let this defeat us. We will be back.