South of the Border and a Playground

Traveling down (or up) I-95, you cannot miss the South of the Border billboards. At one point there were 250 billboards from New Jersey to Florida! These signs tell you that you’ll find souvenir shops, food, lodging, amusements, and fireworks at this roadside rest stop. Kitschy Americana or useful rest area? You be the judge. Before you decide – do you know the history of South of the Border?

In 1949, Alan Schafer, who owned a distributing company, opened the South of the Border Beer Depot in Hamer, South Carolina. This small cinder block building sat just over the Robeson County, North Carolina border, which was then a dry county. Within a few years, Schafer added a motel and dropped “Beer Depot” from the name. Schafer decided to outfit South of the Border with a Mexican theme and over the next decade it grew to 300 acres and included a motel, gas station, campground, restaurant, post office, drugstore, and other shops. (Read more about the South of the Border in this article.)

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What about those billboards? While a number of billboards have faded, some have been updated in the past few years (to include South of the Border’s Instagram account, for example, @sobpedro). It seemed to me that a lot of the obviously questionable (some racist) billboards had been removed. Had they? According to this 1997 article, the Mexican Embassy complained, in 1993, about the “Mexican speak” billboards and other advertising materials. Eventually Alan Schafer agreed to take down the billboards, though it took a few years. For that reason, you will no longer see them on I-95. Some people have documented them. See D.W. Morrison’s website for the billboards. Good news, the billboards that remain are still quite entertaining! I laughed at quite a few.

If you’re a regular Preservation in Pink reader, you know that I cannot resist a corny joke or roadside America (and thus, I cannot resist South of the Border). And I love to share roadside America with the ones I love. On our family’s recent trek from Florida to Vermont, we stopped at South of the Border. After all, we had to introduce the baby flamingo to some crazy flamingo ways. We posed with a flamingo statue and a large concrete Pedro statue. She was unimpressed. Since she’s an infant, I assume she’ll grow to love it like her mama. (Fingers crossed.)

As we drove around, we found South of the Border surprisingly busy, yet still maintaining its eerily-sort-of-rundown vibe. The amusement park is shuttered. We couldn’t decide if one of the motels was open. The restrooms were clean. The worst part is that South of the Border sits on either side of US Highway 301, and lacks adequate pedestrian crossings or sidewalks, so it’s a nightmare attempting to cross. Hold your children and look both ways!

And now my favorite part. On our drive-about, much to my surprise, we found an old playground behind one of the motels. I’ve been to South of the Border a few times, and have never spotted this before. I had to get out and snap a photographs, of course.

Most, if not all, of the playground equipment is Game Time, Inc. equipment and remains in good condition. This equipment dates from the 1970s. Here is a tour of the playground.

These are called Saddle Mates.

 

More saddle mates on a merry-go-round

“Game Time / Litchfield Mich / Saddle Mate / Pat Pend” – Always check for the manufacturer’s stamp!

Saddle Mates on the “Buck-a-bout” from Game Time, Inc., ca. 1971

Single Saddle Mate, Donkey edition

The Stagecoach, a popular playground apparatus.

The Clown Swing, Game Time, Inc., ca. 1971. The Clown Swing would have had two swings. Other versions included the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion.

View of the Rocket ship slides and the Clown Swing. These rocket ship slides were often made by Game Time, Inc., though other companies manufactured them as well. If you’re wondering, I did slide down the slide.

View of the playground, as seen from the parking lot behind the motel. The road behind is I-95.

Looking to the motel

Good stuff, right? Hopefully some kids still play on the playground. A bit of Google searching led me to find images of an abandoned hotel & playground near South of the Border. Comments lead me to believe it no longer exists, but it used to be a part of the Family Inn. It looks straight of a 1970s Miracle Recreation Equipment Company catalog to me. Check it out. And remember, if you come across an old (historic?) playground, snap a few photos and send them my way. I love old playgrounds!

Preservation Conferences All Around

Spring is conference season! Everywhere you look, there’s a new conference. Get ready to be invigorated by preservation and inspired by colleagues. Check out this brief list below. Add your own in the comments:

I’m excited to announce that Preservation in Pink will be featured at the Rhode Island Statewide Historic Preservation Conference as part of the session “Getting Social for a Cause: Social Media and Historic Preservation.” (See the conference brochure, page 12, session C2.) With a theme of “Pride in Preservation” and an opportunity to share my love of social media and historic preservation, I’m honored to be included!

Session C2: Hope to see you there and meet new faces.

Session C2: Hope to see you there and meet new faces.

RIconfbrochure

A great program. Click to read about the conference.

Will you be there?

Preservation Photos #71

Charleston, SC. Photo taken April 2007 by Kaitlin O'Shea.

I love winter and the north, but today something about the warm southern weather and early spring is calling me. How about you?

Preservation Photos #18

A bit of roadside architecture love this week: the giant peach water tower in Gafney, South Carolina. Photograph taken while driving by on I-85, March 2009.

South Carolina Road Trip

We said our goodbyes to Folly Beach at the Lost Dog Café, our favorite spot in this surfer-hippie run down beach shack meets modern, wealthy beach mansion town.  As the name suggests, dogs are welcome to join their owners, but only on the exterior porches.  Inside, the walls are covered with framed photographs of dogs.  Best of all, the food is delicious from the pancakes to the iced lattes to the lunches we had before leaving.  Vinny’s lunch sandwich seemed appropriately southern with fried green tomatoes, bacon, feta cheese, and mushrooms. (It was southernly good.)  An iced latte with espresso promised to fuel my sun drenched self with energy for the road trip home.

 

iced latte at the lost dog cafe

iced latte at the lost dog cafe

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. 

 

Driving through the Frances Marion National Forest

Driving through the Frances Marion National Forest

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. 

Watford's Grocert

Watford's Grocery

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.

No name road off Highway 41.

No name road off Highway 41.

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.

 

B.F. Davis, a mystery building

B.F. Davis, a mystery building

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.

Davis Brothers. What could this have been off Highway 41? How old is it?

Davis Brothers. What could this have been off Highway 41? How old is it?