Thursday, October 16, 2014
It had been a busy week. I had been to Georgia, Laura had been to Florida and returned just in time for her birthday, and now it was time for another ramble through South Carolina. Several weeks ago, before all the craziness began, Dwight and I had agreed to try a phototrek down his way. Dwight said he had never been to Camden, so we decided to head that way. We would also throw in a trip out to Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden.
I picked up Dwight in Columbia, and we headed east out of town in I-20. We passed the exits for Lugoff and Camden, then took an exit we thought might be the correct one. Turns out we still had a few miles to go. No matter, we took two lane roads on into the town of Bishopville. Along the way we spotted a couple of interesting sites, such as an antique hearse and a Hogwarts wannabe. We even crossed the Scape Ore Swamp, home of the legendary Lizard Man.
We entered Bishopville and turned south onto Highway 15. At Broad Acres Road we saw the sign for Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden, so we turned that way.
Pearl has been working on his garden since the 1980’s. His sculpted plants looks more like something out of Dr. Seuss than formal topiary. He imagines a shape, and just goes with it.
Visiting Pearl’s is a bit strange. You drive into a normal neighborhood, and then there is this double lot with a plain looking ranch house. You’re actually wandering through a person’s backyard, and they are obviously inside having breakfast…whatever. Across the road is a large parking area, so it’s expected that folks will visit. It still seemed weird, though.
In addition to the topiary, Pearl has created several folk art sculptures and installed those. These are usually from found materials.
There’s quite a bit jammed into the two lots. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, you round a corner and find more.
Even before the topiary, Pearl began work on his driveway. This is concrete with bits of stuff embedded in it. The effect is that of a large mosaic.
Lee County has built public restrooms on the site. I figure that’s so that visitors don’t keep pestering the Fryars’ to use theirs. There is also a kiosk out front with information brochures and a place for donations.
As Dwight and I were wandering around the grounds a church bus pulled up. About twelve people piled out and also started wandering among the plants. I imagine this place can get quite crowded certain times of the year.
With all of this extra activity you would think that the neighbors would be a bit upset. They seem to have made their peace with their neighborhood celebrity status. Some have even embraced it, and have started topiary displays of their own.
Dwight and I wondered if Pearl did these, or someone else. They don’t look as ornate or intricate. When we left Pearl’s and drove back into town we saw other shrubbery along Highway 15 that looked like it might have been carved by him. Dwight said that Pearl also does the shrubs for the local Waffle House, for which he receives free food for as long as he wants.
Back in town several old buildings caught our eye. There was an old church, and next to that the former post office, which was now Taylor’s Tobacco Emporium. We decided to check it out.
As soon as we entered we were accosted by someone who didn’t seem to be all there. We kind of ignored him and kept browsing. It was mostly tobacco, complete with cigar store Indian. There were a few other interesting things.
Across the street was another interesting old building. This looks like it had been a gas station. A hand car wash business now operated out of it.
We drove through town. Seemed about the same as so many other small South Carolina towns. There was a bit of life, but not much. Efforts for revitalization were making only cosmetic headway against decline in commerce. On the other side of town we saw some HUGE storage silos, and an old warehouse sans roof.
Across Main Street, on the same street as the warehouse, we found the old Dennis High School. This had been a segregation era high school, now closed.
From Bishopville we retraced our steps back toward Camden. Along the way we stopped at a cotton field that was being particularly scenic at the moment. Dwight decided he needed a cotton boll.
In Camden we parked just off of Main Street and began walking through the town. It was getting nigh on lunch, so we were also looking for a place to eat.
We found a small cafe, and had sandwiches. From there we continued onward. A sign beckoned us into one of the many antiques stores along the street. We browsed awhile, but managed to escape. There were a couple of others that also caught our attention.
Back at the car, Dwight wanted to see the historical park just south of town. We headed that way. We walked through the grounds of the Camden History Museum, which includes the actual, or reconstructions of historical buildings from the town. This had been the site of the old town, and had been protected by a palisade wall, with other earthwork defenses.
At the back of the property was the much larger Kershaw House. We could have toured this house…for a price. However, it was closed for one reason or another, so we were spared that disappointment. We were still able to walk around the grounds and get right up to the house.
The Kershaw House was impressive, but I was a bit disappointed to learn that it was a 1970s reconstruction, and not the original home. Even so, it has become an icon of the town of Camden.
We left the history museum and drove through several side streets, admiring the grand old homes. Several were for sale, and we wondered what it would be like to live in a property like this. I’m not sure I want to move to Camden, though.
It was getting on in the afternoon, and I had two more spots I wanted to visit. One of the participants in the Abandoned, Old, and Interesting Places in South Carolina group on Facebook had posted a photo of what she thought was an “interesting old house.” I immediately recognized it as a Rosenwald School, specifically, a two-teacher north-south design. I’d not seen one of these, so since I was in the area, I decided to check it out.
We found the Mount Joshua School on the Ridgeway Highway, just before the Kershaw/Fairfield county line. The view from the road was very good.
Unfortunately, parts of the building were sagging very badly, and I don’t know if it could have been restored.
Not too far from there I had the old Mickle School marked on my GPS. We were able to locate it, as well. While not as architecturally interesting as the Rosenwald School, it was cool nonetheless.
It had been a good day’s outing, but it was time to head back. I had to drive all the way back to Columbia and drop Dwight off at his house, then somehow escape before rush hour traffic so I could get back to Greenville in time for dinner. Even with an abbreviated day, we still saw quite a bit, and now I’d like to head back down to that area.