Surprises mark drive down S.C. 6 to Santee

jholleman@thestate.comJune 29, 2013 

Ah, the oddities hidden along S.C. 6 – a natural sandstone sculpture shaped like a peach tree; a multi-week, multi-acre puff of pink in the sky; a museum devoted to teapots; a renovated small town Main Street that’s really a restaurant.

The highway stretches 115 miles from Ballentine to Moncks Corner, too long for a probing one-day excursion. So I focused on the between-the-interstates section from I-20 in Lexington County to I-95 in Orangeburg County, a more manageable 62 miles.

(If you prefer to start in Ballentine and put up with downtown Lexington traffic, the payoff is the view of Lake Murray as S.C. 6 crosses the dam.)

The highway narrows from four lanes to two about four miles south of I-20, where it begins its trek through truly rural South Carolina with plenty of manufactured homes, farm fields and the occasional crossroads community.

If you’re into history, there are four homes in the National Register of Historic Places either along S.C. 6 or just off it in St. Matthews. (Turn right off S.C. 6 a couple blocks past the Hardee’s, park your car and stroll.) Three great small-town museums also are near the highway in Lexington, St. Matthews and Elloree.

If you’re into nature, Shealy’s Pond Heritage Preserve near Edmond or Santee State Park near Santee offer sweet hiking trails.

But I was in an odd mood this day, and S.C. 6 was the perfect road trip for my attitude.

Peachtree Rock

Just past Edmonds, a mile after southbound S.C. 6 ends its brief flirt with S.C. 302, you have to pay attention to notice the small parking area for Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve on the left side of the road. If you have all day, the preserve has 7.5 miles of trails. Or you can stretch your legs and your mind at the start of a road trip simply by taking the half-mile hike to the bowl that features the namesake rock and a small waterfall.

Some say the most impressive of the sandstone formations, formed over thousands of years by erosion, looks like a peach tree. From other angles, it looks like a map of South Carolina. Journalists might call it an inverted pyramid. Regardless, it’s not what you expect to see on a hike through the woods in the Midlands.

Paulownia Plantation

The paulownia is a fast-growing tree, imported from Asia for ornamental use in yards or for its timber value. Buck Mizzell grows them on a large farm fronting along S.C. 6 between St. Matthews and Elloree. Eleven months of the year, passers-by might glance at the Paulownia Plantation sign and wonder what it means. For a couple of weeks each March, they just stare in wonder as the trees’ tall trunks support a canopy of flowers in the lavender to fuchsia range.

It looks like a pink cloud has settled over neighboring farm fields. On my recent trip, I noticed a pile of fallen and cut tree trunks on the property. Mizzell says that’s debris from a damaging storm, but enough of the trees survived to produce the pink cloud again next March.

Teapot Museum

Elloree has a classic Main Street – actually named Cleveland Street – with a couple of restaurants, some antique stores and a pharmacy. The oddity is what’s behind Boland Pharmacy. It’s called J’s Tea-rific Teapot Museum. Other suitable but less punny adjectives – amazing, astounding, wonderful.

Pharmacist Julian Boland began collecting teapots more than 20 years ago after buying a Royal Doulton set as a gift for his wife, Sybil. She now jokes that the porcelain vessels “really aren’t my cup of tea. … This is his obsession, not mine.”

Boland picked up new teapots on trips overseas, or to local flea markets, anywhere he could find something new for his collection, now numbering in the thousands. Eventually, the Bolands had to find somewhere other than their house to store them. They hired a craftsman to build a teapot-shaped room on the back of the building housing the pharmacy. The wooden structure is the museum entrance, connecting to two large rooms full of more teapots at the back of the pharmacy building.

The teapots are displayed in categories based on their motifs – those with fruits are on the fruit stand, vegetables in the vegetable garden, animals are on a large Noah’s Ark. There’s a wedding section, a Christmas section and tables adorned with flags to note the country of origin of some teapots.

“He’ll collect anything with a spout on it,” Sybil Boland said.

The items in the museum aren’t extremely old or remarkably valuable. It’s just a whimsical collection. “It makes me feel good to share them with other people,” Julian Boland said.

The museum, which opened to the public last summer, has limited hours. Sybil comes in Wednesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. to provide the tours, and she’ll come in others times by appointment. There’s no charge, though the Bolands accept donations.

Lone Star Barbecue and Mercantile

The four simple buildings a stone’s throw from S.C. 6 near Santee look like a 1900s small town Main Street. In fact, they are former crossroads stores lovingly moved from nearby communities. Two of them once composed much of the commercial section of the Calhoun County community of Lone Star, thus the name of the restaurant.

Pat Williams is the history lover who moved and restored the buildings. His son, Chris, is the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef who takes the standard barbecue buffet to another taste level. The oak tree-shaded, dirt parking lot is the kind that would scare away most tour bus drivers, yet they flock from I-95 to Lone Star daily.

The only problem with a road trip to Lone Star Barbecue is you don’t want to just plop down in a seat and ride for an hour after gorging on that food. You could detour a few miles down the road and take a hike at Santee State Park. But on this trip of oddities, I took the less traditional hiking trip on the old U.S. 15/301 bridge over Lake Marion.

Just hop back on S.C. 6 and head into Santee. Turn left just past the Lake Marion Inn. You’ll pass the past and present of tourism – the Swamp Fox Motel from the pre-interstate age and the new Wyndham Vacations Resort. Just past the second set of “Road Ends” signs, pull to the side and park.

The old highway bridge is open only to pedestrians, anglers and cyclists now. It provides a spectacular view of Lake Marion on one side, while 18-wheelers roar past on I-95 on the other side of the bridge. The best part is it’s one of the few summer hikes in South Carolina where mosquitoes are seldom a problem. They don’t like heights.

A summer hike in South Carolina without mosquitoes – that’s an oddity.

Reach Holleman at (803) 771-8366.

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