The day had already started out well. I’d made my debut with the Musician’s Circle at the Pickens Flea Market. There was still a lot of daylight left and the weather was beautiful. I felt the urge to ramble. In the course of the afternoon I found three historic churches and one old school, all of which were new to me.
I’d had a great lunch in Pickens, which allowed me to catch my breath and plan my next steps. I’d seen photos of the old Pickens Chapel recently on Facebook and figured that would make a nice target. When I found it on the map I was surprised that it was much further south than I thought. Google Maps had two routes, the fastest was down SC 9 through Easley. US 178 would get me there in about the same time, but went through the town of Liberty. I decided to take the 178 route.
US 178 is actually rather scenic as it heads south out of Pickens. The highway gains several ridges with views of the mountains and foothills. As I ascended one of these I spotted an old white frame church. I circled back around, turning onto Bethlehem Ridge Road. There I found the church with an old cemetery across the street.
Bethlehem Methodist Church
The church and cemetery were on Bethlehem Ridge Church Road, so I assumed that was the name of the church. The sign let me know that this building had changed hands at least once, and it was now known as the Living Water Church.
The church is a simple wood frame construction with a small fellowship hall. According to a history I found this church was built in 1904, and the fellowship hall added in 1967. The congregation was formed in 1802 as a “union” church with both black and white congregants. These also share the adjoining cemetery.
I took a few minutes to explore the cemetery. Some of these were quite old and in a state of deterioration. Even so, it appeared well-kept and it looked like there had been some restoration.
Others were hand carved, complete with misspellings and reversed letters.
There was a more recent section indicating that this was still an active cemetery. This guy not only loved his children and grandchildren but apparently had a thing for his tiller. Nothing like a little post-mortem advertising.
I lingered for a minute enjoying the view, but it was time to keep moving. I drove on down through the town of Liberty and across US 123. I left 178, taking Flat Rock Road to Calvary Church Road. That’s where I made my next discovery.
Calvary Presbyterian Church
The unusual brick structure immediately caught my eye. It was obvious that it had been modified, with awnings covering the dual entrances and a newer education building addition. The fact that it had two entrances, one for men and one for women, as well as the old bricks tagged this as an old building.
The congregation was formed in 1787 and this building was built in 1856. It is a simple rectangular construction. High windows above the doors indicate the presence of a balcony, possibly an old slave gallery. A plaque noted the number of Revolutionary soldier buried in the cemetery. I assumed it was the one next to the church, so I headed in that direction.
The cemetery was rather small and I wasn’t able to find the aforementioned Revolutionary War soldiers. There were some old headstones, including even more hand-carved stones than I’d found at Bethlehem Ridge.
There was even an unusual iron headstone.
According to SCIWAY.net, the cemetery wasn’t laid out until 1845. The folks that donated this land for the church didn’t want to live next to a cemetery, so the church used the cemetery at its original location until the land became available. More on that in a bit, but it explains why I wasn’t able to find the Revolutionary War soldiers.
Unlike Bethlehem Ridge, Calvary has remained a Presbyterian Church, and is still an active part of the Foothills Presbytery, PCUSA.
I continued on to my original destination. I found Pickens Chapel not too far from Calvary Church. The small building was set off of 3 and 20 Road. The drive was gated, and there were ambiguous Posted signs. I couldn’t tell if they applied to the church property or to the wooded property next door. I started by just taking some shots from the road.
A historical marker out front describes Pickens Cemetery. The church is actually in Anderson County, not Pickens, and the site is named for Robert Pickens, a cousin of General Andrew Pickens.
I decided a bit of trespassing might not be too bad, so I walked past the gate. I got a closer shot of the church, but for some reason the chapel didn’t strike me as being particularly “historic.” It actually looked like the church I grew up in, Long Branch Pentecostal Holiness near Clinton.
I looked around a bit but could find no indication of a cemetery. I was a bit baffled. It wasn’t until I got back home that I found that this church and Calvary Church have a shared history. THIS was the original location of what was to become Calvary Presbyterian Church, and the Revolutionary War soldiers on its memorial plaque are the same referenced in the historical marker. The actual cemetery is a half mile behind the church. I would have to trudge through the woods to find it (which I may do at some future point.)
According to the information on SCIWAY, in 1787 Carmel Church was formed from several smaller congregations in the area and a small church was built on the Pickens Chapel site. Shortly thereafter the church split, with half the congregation following the Methodist tradition and half remaining Presbyterian. The Methodists built their own church closer to the original cemetery, naming it Richmond Methodist. In 1802 Calvary moved to its present location, but both churches continued to use the original cemetery until Calvary got its own cemetery in 1845.
Richmond Church eventually moved back to the original site of the congregation and became known as Wesley Methodist Church. The current building was constructed in 1888. In the 1920s the Methodists disbanded and the church was used by the Lighthouse Baptist congregation until they relocated. I’m not sure who designated the building as “Pickens Chapel” and put up the sign.
So far I’d found three churches on my ramble, only one of which I’d planned to find. I wasn’t done with discoveries, though. I took a zig-zagging route back toward Greenville. This brought me back into town along the old Anderson Road. On Anderson Street I made a discovery – an old school in the city of Greenville of which I was completely unaware! How could this be?
Anderson Street School
At first I had no clue what this school was or even if it really was a school. The architecture certainly looked right. I only took a couple of photos. It looked like the building was occupied, but was for sale.
Finally back at home I began a search for the school. GNIS had no name for this location, which I found odd. Greenville County has almost no schools listed in the School Insurance Photographs at the SC Archives, so I got no help there. Greenville County Library has started a collection of historic school photographs, but it didn’t include this one. I was stuck. I even checked Greenville GIS for property ownership history. It listed “City School District 17” as the owner. Another mystery.
I decided to go for the obvious and do a search for “Anderson Street School.” That’s where I finally found some hits. I also found that this was one of the first battlegrounds for integration in Greenville county. Mixed in with the usual notices and announcements about bake sales and PTA meetings was a 1963 notice about a lawsuit filed against the school and “City School District 17”, which eventually became part of the Greenville County School District.
Abraham Jonas “AJ” Whittenberg came to Greenville from Fork Shoals and opened Whittenberg Service Station and Garage. At a Democrat precinct meeting at Anderson Street School he strolled through the building looking at the classrooms. He was struck by the stark differences resources available to students this school and his daughter’s resources at the all-black Gower Street School.
“I’ll never forget this. I was walking in the hall of Anderson Street School and in the corner was a stack of shiny, new books. No names in them they were so new. I thought when I saw those books, Elaine, my little daughter, never had books like that. The books she had were torn. Pages were missing. They’d been used for years in the white schools and passed on to the Negro children.”
Whitten began to work registering black voters, hoping to initiate change that way. The legislative process would be too slow for his daughter, though, so in 1963 he convinced five other black parents to enter a class action suit against the school district to allow their children from Gower Street to attend Anderson Street.
In the heated climate of the 1960s Whittenberg did suffer. White customers stopped coming to his service station. Black customers stopped coming because they were afraid of being fired. Whittenberg’s family received many threats and were even under FBI protection. In 1964 the courts refused a school district motion to drop the case, so the students were allowed to attend Anderson Street School. All schools in Greenville as well as South Carolina were integrated by 1970.
In 2010 a new elementary school was named for A. J. Whittenberg focusing on technology and engineering. Here’s the school district’s announcement video:
Georgia State University did extensive interviews with Whittenberg prior to his death in 2001. Here are those videos. They are rather long:
So, even the half day after my Pickens Flea Market adventure proved to be a day of discovery. It was the most excellent sort of ramble, stumbling upon new (to me) and significant places.