Driving east on Pickens Highway, you’ll eventually come across a road leading to what little remains of Pickens Court House, a somewhat forgotten settlement. All that’s left of the town are a church and graveyard with a few plaques offering visitors background into what it once was.
Across the Upstate these forgotten settlements linger. Beneath Lake Keowee, there is Keowee Town. The community had been a major trading spot for the British and Cherokees in the 1700s. The remnants of the town can now be found in the depths of Lake Keowee, where it was flooded in 1971 for Duke Energy’s use and for recreational opportunities for the community.
Some don’t even have to be forgotten, merely swept up in the growing bustle around it — like Little Texas, where the Bon Secours Wellness Arena stands now.
These communities were once populated locales where people ate, slept and went about their days for years, even decades. Now, some of these settlements only have a historical marker or two to remind passersby that they did exist.
Much of the reason these towns have faded is economic, said Mike Bedenbaugh, who serves as president of Preservation South Carolina.
“The reason there are so many abandoned towns — and there are a lot of communities that used to be a lot more thriving than they are now — is the loss of railroad access,” he said. “Many of these towns really grew up around railroad access.”
The communities that couldn’t keep up with the new trade routes faded away. Another factor was farmland. The Upstate was based on farming, Bedenbaugh said. As global economics shifted, newer generations went for better-paying jobs in the urban areas.
Greenville was able to grow, thanks to various mills and the railroad — specifically cotton mills, said retired Furman professor Judy Bainbridge in an email. But the unlucky communities that went silently into the history books — if they were so lucky — did so because of a variety of reasons.
“Sometimes it was lack of natural resources,” she said, explaining that some property had no wells or had land in which it was very hard to dig wells. Some communities had “land that wore out from generations of corn and cotton (without fertilizer),” she said. “Some communities died when the railroad didn’t come through them — people in some cases just packed up and moved where the railroad was.”
Bainbridge said some communities, like Little Texas, were destroyed to make way for other buildings.
“That spirit is still there. That’s why they’re called ghost towns,” Bedenbaugh said. “I see it in a term where the spirit of the place can still be alive in the hearts of those who have the memory.”