I had come to a roadblock on the Tobacco Trail, quite literally. The Highway 301 bridge across Lake Marion still exists, and still connects across the lake. However, in 1987 it was closed to automotive traffic, and now serves as a fishing bridge. If I were going to cross from Orangeburg into Clarendon County, I was going to have to do some backtracking.
For some reason the town of Santee intrigues me. It’s something of an anomaly compared to the other cities on the Tobacco Trail. There is no main street or central business district. Those features make me think that the town as, say, Orangeburg, Allendale or Bamberg. I decided to find out more about it. In the process of that research I discovered a new ghost town.
I was out exploring the Tobacco Trail through South Carolina. So far I had started at the SC-GA border on the Savannah River and had crossed Allendale, Bamberg, and a good portion of Orangeburg Counties. Orangeburg is a large county, and is bordered by Lake Marion on the east. I was ready to check out the rest of the county, and see how far I could go on this day’s exploration.
I was out exploring Highway 301, the Tobacco Trail. I had driven down early in the morning, trying to resist distractions along the way. Once I finally reached my starting point I visited two old welcome centers, one still in operation, and one finding new life. Now it was time to continue eastward. However, my day was running out, and the trip was much quicker than I would have liked.
It was time to explore Highway 301. I had done the preliminary research and discovered the importance of The Tobacco Trail as a major route through South Carolina. I was ready to get out and actually take photos of some of these locations. However, I still had a bit of research to do.
The first thing I did was begin collecting old postcards and images from eBay and other sources. This would give me a comparison of what had been with what I would find. The next step was to mark potential locations in Google Earth. I traced the route of 301 through the state, marking motel and other locations as I spotted them. I also added any National Register or other interesting sites I found along the way. These were then uploaded to my GPS so I’d have them for ready reference.
On our last Lowcountry Unfiltered kayaking trip on the Savannah River Larry Easler and I drove back along Highway 301. We were amazed at the number of old motels and abandoned tourist spots along the way. I knew it had to have once been a major thoroughfare, now bypassed by I-95, but I wanted to know more about it. What was its history? How did this highway through one of the most desolate parts of South Carolina become such a major route? The answer turned out to be much more interesting than I could have possibly imagined.
In a previous post I wrote about the old auto trails that predated the US Highway System, and the business associations that promoted these routes and the tourist amenities along them. Here’s the story about how Highway 301 became known as The Tobacco Trail, one of the most important north-south routes along the Eastern Seaboard.