This is the first in a summer-long series looking at trips from Columbia taking roads far less traveled. Have a suggestion for a road trip? Send it to jholleman@ thestate.com
A sign at the used car business at the fork in the road where S.C. 23 comes to life in Batesburg-Leesville hints at the highways quintessential Southern feel.
The first line of the sign reads Clean Low-Mile Cars. The next two lines: Have Faith in God, Ask in Prayer & Believe.
For the next 40 miles, S.C. 23 exudes classic Caroliniana. Paralleling a railroad line, the highway is lined by fields of peach trees interrupted by rail station towns peppered with stately homes.
The peach trees take over the landscape as you near Monetta. The fields on the high ridge bisected by S.C. 23 have long been an agricultural gold mine. Asparagus gave way to peaches in the 1920s. Collards and strawberries now supplement the peach income for the large farm operations.
Among the large operations is Jerrold A. Watson & Sons, in its fourth generation as a peach grower. You can stop at the Watson compound for a quick meal, a peach or strawberry ice cream cone or other peach-related products at Peaches N Such.
Ridge Spring offers the first taste of a real downtown on the highway. Like many rural towns these days, the main drag is peppered with antique and novelty stores. Unlike many such towns, Ridge Spring has an upscale bistro. You can stop by Juniper for yummy sandwiches during the day or in the evening for high-end cuisine concocted with local ingredients by Chef Brandon Velie.
If you appreciate old churches or contemplative strolls through old cemeteries, stop at Spann United Methodist Church in the tiny community of Ward. Built in 1873, the church, a simple, local take on Greek Revival architecture, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Services are still held at 9:45 a.m. each Sunday except the fifth each month. The oldest tombstones date to the 1840s with names that long dominated in the area the Wards, the Readys, the Butlers. And these are people who take pride in their grave monuments. Youll find statues of people, a deer, a tree and a dog.
Actually, an online stop at the National Register website is a must before or with a smart phone, during a trip down S.C. 23. The Spann church is just the first of dozens of structures along the road in the National Register. Its fun to stop to admire the old homes while reading the historic details. Even more fun is checking the real estate websites for inside looks at the dozen or so of the old houses on the market. Some are both on the market and on the National Register.
Johnston features a classic small-town main drag, in this case named Calhoun Street, and it has undergone the classic modern evolution. A former bank building on the National Register is now a coin-operated laundry. Theres a Chinese take-out place and two Mexican tiendas. Bland Furniture sells everything from sofas to lawn tractors.
The town has more than its share of grand homes. The grounds of the Crouch-Halford House (ca. 1912) are rented out for private functions. If you especially appreciate the architectural details of old homes, park at the far western edge of downtown and stroll down the sidewalk west of town through two blocks of beauties.
Welcome to Edgefield, Home of Ten Governors. Yep, the history and architecture grows thick in the Edgefield County seat. Just after S.C. 23 take a right turn in town, pull over at the Joanne T. Rainsford Discovery Center, which itself is a historical home moved from out in the country to a site on Main Street. It has a small, professionally done museum that helps you get your bearings. Walk a few blocks of the town square, where signs explaining the history are conveniently posted on the exterior of many buildings. Again, many of the old stores now sell art and antiques. The deli at Park Row Market No. 1 has scrumptious chicken-salad sandwiches, or head across the square to the Edgefield Billiard Parlor if you want standout hamburgers with that special pool hall taste.
Before you get back in your vehicle, look across Main Street for a man sitting in the jumbled area in what looks like a former gas station a block down and across the street from the Discovery Center. If Ike Carpenter is on duty at his shaving horse (hes there many afternoons), youre in luck. Sit a spell and watch this master craftsman scoop wooden spoons out of a cherry log while offering his knowledgeable take on the history of the area. It doesnt matter who you are, if you have some sense, Ill talk to you, Carpenter says before re-thinking his statement. Really, it doesnt matter if you have any sense.