Crossing a Great Divide

Chapter 11 | Once, the trains stopped

From the moment there was a lake, there was talk of other bridges.

May 17, 2007 

Once you could buy a slice of hoop cheese, a horse collar or a dress on Lone Star Road. Now, tin roofs curl on empty buildings; a gas pump says 63 cents a gallon.

PHOTO BY GERRY MELENDEZ

Where there's water, people find a way to cross it.

A wooden railroad trestle crosses the Upper Santee Swamp and Santee River, connecting Lone Star and Rimini since the mid-1800s. Once, trains stopped in each town, to load timber and cotton and mail. Whenever the trestle burned, it was important enough to rebuild.

Today, Lone Star and Rimini seem ghost towns, but four times each day CSX sends trains across that trestle, carrying coal, cement and other freight.

Thirty miles or so downriver, people drove their mules and wagons across a rattling wooden bridge built around 1927. Later, travelers crossed the U.S. 15-301 bridge, completed in the mid-1940s. In 1987, that bridge became a fishing pier, and U.S. 301 became part of I-95, now the passage over Lake Marion.

But, from the moment Lake Marion existed, there was talk of other bridges.

The route between Sumter and Orangeburg could have been less circuitous. But in the '30s, U.S. 301 was extended south to Summerton, then in the ‘40s, south again along U.S. 15 to Santee and Orangeburg. So instead of a direct route, there's an arc. In 1949, above Lake Marion, wooden bridges were replaced with four causeways, elevated roads across waters or wetlands. The causeways cross Bates Old River and the Congaree River on U.S. 601.

In the 1950s, Orangeburg Sen. L. Marion Gressette, busy with the Legislature's Segregation Committee, squelched conversations about another bridge.

In 1968, the S.C. Legislature created the Orangeburg-Calhoun-Sumter Toll Bridge Authority to construct and operate a toll bridge across Lake Marion, connecting Lone Star and Pinewood.

This time, a route was determined, and a survey right-of-way was cut across the swamp, close to a fish camp called the Rimini Hilton.

A 1969 Wilbur Smith and Associates study noted that crossings existed at Bates Ferry on the Congaree and at Santee, but "For some time, interested parties have felt a need for an additional crossing between these points or in the vicinity of Lone Star and Rimini."

No bridge was built, though. The legislation also said the state would not operate the bridge unless it were free of debt. The report concluded the project had merit, but tolls would not raise enough revenue to cover the cost.

In 1996, Fluor Daniel Consulting investigated the need for a regional alliance of five counties — Clarendon, Calhoun, Lee, Orangeburg and Sumter — to promote development. A bridge was needed at the northern end of Lake Marion, the study advised, calling this "the most important single project which would allow for greater access."

In 1997, during a meeting of the Lake Marion Regional Water Project, David Summers resurrected the idea yet again. The chairman of Calhoun County Council told Rep. Jim Clyburn the story of his father's death en route from Sumter to Cameron.

Clyburn, who grew up in Sumter, had heard the talk of another bridge and was intrigued. So the men got a map out and laid it on a table. "We laid a ruler down," then drew a line across Lake Marion, connecting Lone Star and Rimini, recalls Summers.

"I think I'll work on that," Clyburn responded.

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