On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand and cast a wishful eye
to Caanan’s fair and happy land where my possessions lie.
I am bound for the promised land, I’m bound for the promised land.
Oh, who will come and go with me, I am bound for the promised land.
The trip was going to be a ghost-hunting expedition for Eric Rogers and me. Eric and I had finally met offline, and were planning a joint expedition to the haunted Rock House just south of Greenwood. Since we would be down in that area, we had also plotted out some other interesting locations. I had flagged one little town, Promised Land, SC, with the comment, “With a name like that, how could we NOT go there?”
Eric was not able to make the trip, but my brother Houston and sister Glynda were able to go. Houston took on the role of Aaron, the spokesperson, with Glynda as Miriam, and me as Moses, leading and documenting our trip. So early Sunday morning we found a suitable radio evangelist and headed for the Promised Land. We hoped we would make it all the way, further than our biblical counterparts.
Our route took us across the farm country of lower Greenville County to join up with Highway 25, then south from there towards Greenwood. We made a brief stop at Cokesbury College to take a few photos. Several buildings in the area are on the National Register of Historic Places. The village was initially called Mount Ariel, but in 1834 residents changed the name to Cokesbury in honor of Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury, the first two Methodist bishops in the United States. We braved the brisk wind to take a few shots of the main college building, the old store, and the empty Mount Ariel Church.
The cold wind forced us back into the car. We found one rough dirt road with a dead end that distracted us for a bit, but soon we were back on track for the Promised Land. Even the Children of Israel wandered around a bit.
My GPS is on the fritz, so I hadn’t downloaded any of our targets. We managed to find the correct road south, and soon were on our way, following the road signs.
Promised Land is a wide spot in the highway with a couple of churches, one general store, a fire department and a night club. The Promised Land Grocery apparently had anything anyone might want, including “Meats, Beer, Wine to go, Hot Dogs, School Supplies, Fishing Supplies, and Ammunition.” We had to stop and take a picture of the sign and the accompanying monument.
As we were taking our photos, the most incredible smells of fried chicken beckoned us inside. We had planned just to pick up snacks, but since it was about 11:00 am, we decided to get meals to go. In addition to the chicken our choices included meatloaf, pinto beans, green beans, cabbage, squash casserole, macaroni and cheese, and for dessert, homemade banana pudding. We each made our choices and loaded up with some incredibly good eats.
The smells from the feast began to gnaw on us, so we searched for the perfect place to eat. We drove through the little town of Verdery, and missed a couple of great photo opportunities at an old abandoned country store. Our food was getting cold. We drove through the community of Cedar Springs looking for Parson’s Lake Recreation Area. Just when we were about to give up hope, a pillar of fire appeared, well, a sign actually, pointing us the correct direction.
Parson’s Lake is a recreational area located in the Sumter National Forest. This area also includes Parson’s Mountain, a monadnoc about 843 ft above sea level, and the highest point of land in the area. We had our lunch as a picnic on the shores of the lake.
The food was just as good as it smelled. Everything was seasoned perfectly. The squash casserole was absolutely fantastic, and the banana pudding – well, if ever there was manna, we had found it. If you ever make it to the Promised Land, make sure you try the chicken.
It was very quiet and peaceful at the lake. It would have been tempting to stretch out on a picnic table and nap away the big meal. However, we had more to see. We retraced our route back to the community of Cedar Springs. The imposing Frazier-Pressly house had caught our eye on the way in, and we had to go back for photos after lunch.
Cedar Springs is now just an intersection with a couple of houses and the Cedar Springs ARP Church. However, at one time it also boasted a general store and stagecoach stop. We parked alongside of the church and entered the “guest gate” to look at the very old cemetery.
According to the historical marker, Cedar Springs ARP was founded in 1779 by Dr. Thomas Clark, considered to be the founder of the Associate Reform Presbyterian movement. Many of the headstones in the cemetery date back to that time, including Clark’s (1791). These have the unique look of the period – thin slabs with elaborate artwork and engravings.
As we looked at the historic stones, the amount of writing on each really struck us. As we read the elaborate poems and descriptions of the departed’s life, I figured it out. There were no newspapers with obituary columns back then. These lengthy epitaphs were the equivalent of a newspaper obituary, carved in stone for all to see.
The earliest stones were very simple, and almost looked like they were crudely scratched into the granite. Some even had spelling and grammatical errors, such as the one with the words “In Mimory”.
The willow as the Tree of Life seemed to be a popular theme. One other thing that we noticed was that the artisans who carved these stones also chiseled their names at the bottom. There were many by W. T. White, and some others by J. Hall of Charleston. It’s possible that they even composed some of the verse found on the headstones.
From the cemetery we walk over to the Frazier-Pressley house. At the intersection was the original spring, with stonework dated at 1886. Glynda really wanted to go up and knock on the door to see if we could go inside. However, two large Dobermans kept us at bay. We had to be satisfied with photos from the road of the imposing house and its out-lying buildings.
At this point we had to make a choice. We could either head deeper into the Long Cane Creek area and Sumter National Forest, or we could turn northeastward to Ninety-Six and family history. Glynda really wanted to head toward family history, so that’s the direction we chose.
We wound through several scenic back roads with wonderful farms, and eventually found ourselves on Rock House Road, the original target that Eric and I had wanted to visit. We followed the road, hoping to find the eponymous house, but never spotted it. At this point I was really regretting not having input some of the coordinates into my GPS.
Eventually we made our way to the community of Epworth and the Epworth Camp Meeting. The Epworth Camp Meeting was first held in a tent in 1905 by Rev. W. P. Kinard, Dr. John H. Paul, Charlie Tillman, and John Landrum. In 1907 Kinard donated land for the present location of the camp, and the existing wooden tabernacle was constructed. The camp meeting is still held every August.
The tabernacle is open air with a lofty central section to aid in cooling during hot summer services. Houston was disappointed that there was now asphalt instead of sawdust for a floor.
Accommodations include several small white cabins and a couple of newer dormitories. There was also a canteen/recreational center.
This part of the trip was full of nostalgia for us. We had gone to camp meetings for the Pentecostal Holiness Church at Beech Springs Campground near Pelzer, SC. There were similar cabins and dormitories, but the main thing we remembered was the open tabernacle with sawdust floors. There the original wooden structure was replaced with brick and eventually enclosed.
From Epworth it was just a few miles up Highway 247 to the abandoned cemetery of Fellowship Baptist Church and the grave of our great-great grandfather, William Watson Ellenberg. The church is long gone, and the remaining cemetery is now overgrown and falling into disrepair. Houston and I had been here before, and had no trouble locating both the cemetery and headstone.
W. W. Ellenberg had fourteen children with his first wife, Mary Elizabeth Goldman, and an additional four by his second wife, Sarah Sophronia Smith. W. W. is buried here with his second wife, Sarah. We don’t know the location of Mary’s grave, who is our great-great grandmother.
Time for more family history – just north of Fellowship Cemetery is the Star Fort of Ninety-Six. If you follow our matrilineal line back six generations you get to one Samuel Campbell Clegg. Clegg was born in Virgina in 1740 and moved to the Ninety-Six District, where he married Barbara Flick in 1772. In 1779 he was captured at the Battle of Kettle Creek and taken to Star Fort, where he was one of four loyalists who were hanged for their activities as Tories.
We walked the one-mile trail around the fort, but by this time we were getting rather tired. We took a few more photos along the way.
The afternoon light was slipping away and we had one more stop to make. Our final destination was the old home place for our grandparents and their graves at Siloam Baptist Church. After making one wrong turn, we soon found our way on the familiar path. Although my grandparent’s home is long gone, the old pecan trees remain, and the area has not been developed. Glynda wanted to buy up the property right then and there.
Right behind the Ellenberg homeplace is Siloam Baptist Church, and across the road from it the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. I remember the old white frame church, with its slave galleries across the upper level. That structure is gone, replaced with a more modern brick structure.
We turned into the cemetery and after some searching, found our grandparents’ graves. My Grandfather Ellenberg passed away when my mother was 15, so I never knew him. My grandmother passed away in 1975, when I was 14.
By this time we were completely exhausted. We crossed from Ninety-Six through Coronaca and back to Highway 25, north towards home. We had seen lots of family history and had been to the Promised Land. It was a good day.