It is the Lord who goes before you; he will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you. So do not fear or be dismayed.— Dt. 31:8 (NAB)
History … And Some Imagination Too
It’s not a shrine; nor should it be! It’s just an old building. But it has a great history. Let’s talk about the Old Swansea Depot.
The people know that this building is the old railroad depot for the town and farm community of Swansea. Swansea is located in the far eastern corner of Lexington County. It’s probably more connected to Calhoun and Orangeburg counties in many ways than it is to Lexington County, but that’s another story. This story is about the old railroad depot.
It wouldn’t be hard to find more facts, but as folk artists, we enjoy using our imagination along with the facts! So sometime around 1890, the railroad companies got busy in central South Carolina. They had built a railway from the Midlands to the Lowcountry. Now they had to make it profitable to operate.
The rails generally followed a path which parallels (roughly) Highways 321, 301, and a few others today. But perhaps more important, it also followed the flow of water from the Bull Swamp to the marshlands on the coast.
The Bull Swamp
You can’t really understand the story of the Old Swansea Depot without knowing a little about the Bull Swamp. And yes! The Bull Swamp really does exist — it’s not “bull”!
The Bull Swamp gets its life from the watershed created by the Congaree National Swamp. That’s just outside of Columbia near Hopkins. Those waters drain along a natural path which was surveyed around 1780 by old Colonel Bull (think Bull Street in Columbia). The Bull family were big landowners, and Colonel Bull was the Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina too. He led teams that surveyed the Carolinas and Georgia. In fact, Colonel Bull was instrumental in helping to establish the city of Savannah along with James Edward Oglethorpe.
But for the sake of this story, Colonel Bull surveyed land along the Bull Swamp, including land that would later be owned by the railroads (think the Old Swansea Depot). In a very real way, he helped open the door for the railroad and the many towns along its path.
The Bull Swamp collects amazing, pure water from artesian wells that come to the surface near the Bull Swamp Creek. These waters are legendary (think Healing Springs near Blackville). The Bull Swamp Creek eventually dumps its beautiful, refreshing water into the Edisto River, which meanders through other bodies of water to its final place at the Bull Swamp Landing (north of Mt. Pleasant and Awendaw).
Let’s get back to the Old Swansea Depot.
The Old Depot
The railroad is credited with incorporating most of the small towns that dot the highways and connect many of our towns today. Most of these incorporations occurred within a relatively few years. It happened so the railroad would have the infrastructure to supply the bigger cities with produce and goods. They also did it to ensure that they could procure lucrative contracts to move the U.S. mail around quickly and efficiently.
The Old Swansea Depot was a mail drop for the railroad. It was also an important resource for local farmers and merchants too. Gins and grist mills got “new legs” because trains gave local communities access to larger markets. They also helped rural people get from point A to point B .
Of course, the Old Swansea Depot created new jobs too. The Post Office became more viable because it was easier to move larger amounts of mail in and out. The gin mills and grist mills hired more people since the rails expanded their markets. And the farmers had more customers because trains could carry their produce into the cities.
The Old Swansea Depot was a central part of the community once — a long, long time ago.
The Old Swansea Depot Today
Today the Old Swansea Depot sits idle. Time and the elements have taken their toll on this historic, old place. A few more good storms, and it might even fall right over, though a lot of people hope that never happens.
But there’s more to our story.
The lure of the railroad has always been accompanied by tall tales and impossible dreams. One old-timer told us a year ago or two ago, “Everyday saints once worked in that building. There were others who worked around here too. But now, there’s nothing left but the angels.”
He continued. “The saints are at rest, but the angels are still on duty. After midnight, they pray for the community where the saints once worked and now they have their sleep.”
Well, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it! It’s cool to be in Palmetto Places. COOL2B!
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We also hope that, every once in awhile, you’ll get off that crowded interstate highway! Take a highway like the 301, 321, 378, 601, 6, 9, 76, or 17 (to name just a few). You might be surprised how well those roads travel. And if you don’t get in a hurry, you’re going to be amazed at what you discover!
There are small, locally owned, boutique stores with friendly people and one-of-a-kind treasures to be discovered. There are also hardware stores where people actually do sit around the pot-bellied stove and talk together. They know their merchandise, and they give great service when you need some help.
And don’t forget the terrific “mom and pop” restaurants. They cook real country food using recipes that are generations old.
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