I prefer to think of all of our travels as road trips, even mini road trips. We always enjoy the roadside scenery and we are doing our best to avoid interstates whenever possible. The generated directions would send us on I-26 to I-95 in order to get home from Folly Beach. However, too much of our lives have passed on I-95. Aside from South of the Border billboards, there is no entertainment. On this trip, we chose to drive only state highways for the ride south and the ride north. On this route we encountered no traffic, very few traffic lights, interesting communities and towns along the way, and we saved on gas mileage. The trip only took 30 minutes extra, though we had expected it to take one hour extra, which we wouldn’t have minded anyway.
South Carolina Highway 41 to Highway 57 proved to be a more direct route to Folly Beach than the interstates anyway. Highway 41 was the majority of our travels. It takes you through the Frances Marion National Forest which means lots of trees, very few towns (and the few there are happen to be very small settlements), few cars passing by, and a pleasant drive.
Some adventures can be qualified as a true road trip experience. Stopping by Watford’s Grocery / Exxon Gas Station proved to be such an example. On a road trip I’ll generally stop anywhere when nature calls or when we need a cup of coffee or some water. I have been in many gas stations on my American travels. This gas station was marked pay first, so Vinny and I both went inside. Imagine walking in to a store with a plain poured cement floor, slightly smoky air, and a poorly lit atmosphere. Refrigerators and freezers lined the back walls and the rows were stocked with typical on the go- gas station – convenience mart food. Vinny figured he’d buy water and I looked around for the restroom. Without luck, I asked the woman at the counter and she directed me to go around the side, outside. That didn’t bother me; many places have bathrooms from the exterior.
These bathrooms proved an exception to the rule. One door was closed so I peered into the other one, immediately noting the disgusting, beyond old look of the toilet bowl, the lack of toilet paper and the worst smell I’ve ever experienced from a restroom. It took a few seconds but I walked away and went inside to find Vinny. I told him I could not use those bathrooms, they were the most disgusting things I had ever seen. Very few locations in my life have convinced me not to use a restroom. On family road trips, one of my sisters was terrified of automatic flushing toilets, but as for me, I didn’t mind.
Vinny put the water bottles back in the refrigerator. We started to walk out, Vinny saying that we’ll just stop at the next one. Before we left, an old man in a white and red striped vertical striped shirt asked me if I needed a restroom. He apologized for the condition of the exterior ones and said I could use the one in the store. He pointed to a door in the nearby corner and kindly said, just go on through there and all the way back. I was very grateful since the next stop in rural South Carolina could have been in the next county.
I walked into a living room/kitchen of sorts. One child was watching television in this large, dark room. A woman stood at the yellow laminate counter-island separating the kitchen and living area. An older child stood near her. They may have been cooking. Unsure of what exactly I was walking into, I didn’t dare stare so I said an appreciative thank you and walked to the bathroom.
I have never seen such a scene as this bathroom. I closed the door and I may as well have stepped into a movie set. This was not just any movie set either; it looked like something with good country western music tales about girls getting all dolled up, bright lipstick and big hair, either getting ready to perform onstage or going to the rodeo. I wish I had my camera to photograph the sight. Make-up, hair products, cleaning products, paper towels, all sorts of things lined the shelves high above the toilet. An extremely large mirror hung above the counter sink, upon which also sat make-up and hair care products and lotions. This bathroom clearly could suit all of your beauty needs of some decade, but it was not a modern glamorous place. It held stories, dirt, and probably smoke lingering in the air. When I turned on the faucet to wash my hands the entire faucet shook back and forth. I was in awe. Before leaving I said thank you, again, and silently marveled at the sight I had just seen. Vinny bought water and gasoline and we were on our way again.
Further north on Highway 41, this time near Centenary, I noticed something that caught my eye on the way down. Luckily I had been looking out the window and I quickly asked Vinny to pull into the next dirt road. However, slow reaction times on both our accounts called for a U-turn and then pulling into this dirt loop off the highway. I had noticed these buildings that appeared to be a collection of store buildings, abandoned and neglected, leftover from an earlier time of local commerce.
It’s not often that you easily see a collection of buildings from the highway, but I had seen a few while traveling Route 66 and now such things pop out to me. What we found were three buildings and nearby visible houses that appeared inhabited. (Had there been no houses nearby I would have gladly jumped out of the car and peered in the windows of these buildings. However, I do try to avoid trespassing, especially there are possible witnesses.) We snapped a few photographs from the car and continued on our way.
One week later, I’m still thinking about these buildings and still wondering who the Davis Brothers were. Preliminary internet research looking for the Davis Brothers or B.F. Davis near Centenary, SC has yielded no results. The records are likely in the Marion County Courthouse and just not digitized yet. I would like to know if they were part of a family business, the nearby railroad, or the main street of a small rural community. I don’t know if these buildings are related to the houses nearby or with which community they were historically associated. Information would make this find all the more meaningful, but for now it will have to stay in the collection of roadside mysteries. I hope somebody knows the stories to these buildings; they must be great. I love these buildings.