After our Saluda River kayaking trip and post-paddling excursion to Chappells, I became somewhat obsessed with the ghost town and its history. Several left comments on that last post also expressing interest in what happened to the town.
Ghost towns fascinate me. At one time this street was bustling with traffic and activity, and now it’s completely overgrown and deserted. The how and why towns die out are varied, but in this case there are some straightforward reasons why Chappells didn’t survive. It appears that weather and bad luck dealt the worst blows.
Thomas Chappell settled in the area in the 1700’s. In 1756 he requested and was granted permission to build a bridge across the Saluda River to connect his plantation with the Culbreath plantation on the south side of the river. Whether or not that first bridge was ever built is a matter of dispute, depending on the source. If it was built, at some point there was no longer a bridge there, because Chappell began operating a ferry at that location. He built a store nearby, establishing the first commerce in the area. Operation of the ferry and the store were eventually taken over by Thomas’s son, John.
The area was known as “Chappell’s Ferry” through the Revolutionary War and on past the Civil War. In the years after the Civil War the ferry was operated by William Smith, who donated land to (re)built a wooden bridge across the Saluda.
Sometime after the Civil War in the late 1800’s the Columbia and Greenville Railway came through, and instead of Chappell’s Ferry, the area became known as Chappell’s Depot. The thriving community had several stores and commerce was starting to take off when the first of several calamities struck. According to John Abney Chapman in the “Annals of Newberry:”
Efforts have been made to make Chappell €™s Depot, on the G. & C. R. R., a place of business, but with only moderate success. There are some stores there and considerable business is done. On the 19th of February, 1884, the great cyclone or tornado struck it and swept the whole concern away. Some persons were killed and others very seriously injured.
The tornado of 1884 demolished all of the businesses as well as most of the residences. It toppled a train that was also at the depot at the time of the storm.
The town was rebuilt, though. Eventually there were several stores, a cotton gin, post office, and even a doctor and a bank in the area. Unfortunately the area wasn’t done with disasters. Fires in the early part of the 1900’s destroyed some businesses, and other technological factors came into play, as well. In his book “The History of Newberry County, South Carolina: 1860-1990,” Thomas Pope states that “the improved roads then being constructed proved to be the death knell of the little villages” in Newberry County. A 1926 Sanborn Insurance Map of the area indicates several places of business, as well as the depot. However, much of the area is listed as “vacant.”
The final blow came shortly after this map was made. In 1926 there was a catastrophic flood that wiped out most of the remaining businesses. In 1929 the bank closed in the midst of the stock market crash. In 1931 Highway 39 was moved to the west and a new concrete and steel girder bridge was built over the river.
This routed traffic off of the old Main Street, effectively bypassing the remaining businesses. Eventually all closed, leaving only the remnants seen today.
I would still love to see some photographs of the town in its heyday. I’ve sent a request to the Newberry County Library, and I spoke with Earnest Shealy from the Newberry County Museum. He gave me a couple of names of long-time residents of the community, and said they might have some old photographs. However, I’m guessing these are not in digital format and probably not readily accessible.
Even though I don’t have photos, there are plenty of online newspaper accounts of what happened. Apparently over its history Chappells was a violent place, and the Chappell family was right in the midst of the fray. In 1867 the Daily Phoenix in Columbia reported a “fatal affray” between “Stanmore Chappell and a man named Payne.” Chappell and “a freedman” were killed instantly. Payne was stabbed by Chappell, and died later.
The Charleston Daily News reported another incident between members of the Chappell family and the community in 1880. Bill Harp made the mistake of winning a cockfight with Press and Jim Chappell. The Chappells didn’t take the loss very well, and started a fight. Harp fatally shot both men in the fray, but was mortally wounded himself.
So, it sounds like shades of the Wild West were present in early Newberry County, too. And, like many of those Wild West towns, nothing is now left of Chappells except a ghost town – an interesting remnant of a wild and woolly time in our state.
Bibliography and Further Reading:
Payne, Thomas H. The History of Newberry County, South Carolina: Volume Two, 1860-1990
O’Neal, John Belton and John Abney Chapman. The Annals of Newberry.
Revels, Jennifer. Historical and Archeological Survey of Newberry County, South Carolina. Palmetto Conservation Foundation.
Shealy, Earnest. WKDK Road Trips
South Carolina Archives – Sanborn Insurance Maps – http://digital.tcl.sc.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/SFMAPS&CISOPTR=3484
Chronicling America, Library of Congress – http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov
Chappells Bridge Photos – American Memory Project, Library of Congress –