Society Hill Town Council approves haunted house

Group photo of Society Hill Town Council with many of the St. David’s Asylum volunteers. Photos by Jana E. Pye

Group photo of Society Hill Town Council with many of the St. David’s Asylum volunteers.
Photos by Jana E. Pye

By Jana E. Pye, Editor,

Rather than being known as a speed trap, the little town of Society Hill may be known in the future as the home of the best haunted house attraction in the Carolinas.

After an hour long public forum prior to the monthly council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 8, council voted to approve a plan to allow S & S Productions to enter into a long-term lease agreement to renovate the old St. David’s Academy into an attraction used year-round for events both inside and on the grounds.

The plan is contingent on formal estimates on upgrading the interior to meet building codes and the addition of sprinkler and fire alarm systems as mandated by the South Carolina Fire Marshal. If the project deems to not be cost effective, they will not pursue the plan.

At the forum, citizens of Society Hill were given the opportunity to ask questions and raise their concerns about S & S Productions (Darlington County Fire Chief Kenny Stratton and friend Dr. Stephen Skipper) leasing the St. David’s Academy for use as a haunted house venue.

Many volunteers were in attendance. Stratton told council that the venue was rated #3 in both North and South Carolina by a haunted house expert, who went on to recommend the venue on his website

The group approached council earlier in the year, and secured the location for their first ever “St. David’s Asylum” which was manned by volunteers from the community, and many firefighters and volunteer fire department. Proceeds from the event go to assist the Santa’s Fund for needy children in Darlington County. Originally planned to be held for 11 weekends, the venue was closed due to flooding, and again just before the Halloween weekend due to new ordinances in place by the South Carolina Fire Marshal, which requires all haunted houses to have sprinkler systems. They are deemed a “special assembly” which has many requirements, similar to public schools.

Kenny Stratton volunteered to share details about their plan, and answered questions from citizens that attended the meeting.

The group has not gotten firm estimates on what would need to be done to the building pending council approval; preliminary research said that they will not only need a sprinkler system and a fire alarm, they’ll also need a voiceover paging system that tells people to move to the exits. Verbal estimates were from $150,000 just for the sprinkler system and fire alarms only, not including any building code requirements.

“We had a very successful event,” said Stratton. “As far as the community is concerned, we had a few negative comments about the noise issues; there was a speaker (on the roof) that was pointing back towards the Markette, so we went up and disconnected that so the sound wouldn’t carry. We took care of that issue. But overall it was a success. We had a lot of the community come out and many volunteers. The Halloween carnival and Trunk or Treat on Saturday was phenomenal. We had a really good turnout. We gave out over 200 hot dogs and candy.”

Stratton said that if council approves, they would like to do more than just Halloween and host multiple events during the year. For example, something in February, like a Valentine’s Day haunted house – which would be either a two-day, or a two-weekend event. They also talked about doing a Christmas event on the grounds that would be non-scary, more of a traditional Christmas hayride and Christmas carols, and in the spring a big Easter egg hunt for the community. The haunted house event will end prior to the Catfish Festival.

“We won’t ever compete with that, I assure you,” said Stratton.

When asked about the benefits to the town, Stratton continued: “As far as the benefits, I guess it would be the number of people coming to your town and spending money in the businesses. I know one of your local service stations said they had an increase in their revenue was pretty phenomenal, people coming through and buying gas and food. The other benefit is having the event and encouraging anyone in the community or surrounding community to come out and be a part of it on a volunteer basis. We have an application process to go through, a screening, an orientation on what we allow and what our expectations are. Why we are doing this, part of the proceeds are going to the fund the Darlington County Fire Department Santa’s Helpers, the charity part is helping our needy kids. Last year we helped over 200 children in Darlington County.”

Another unexpected benefit was with an ambulance on site, and so many emergency responders working as volunteers, an emergency call was answered to a Society Hill home in a record 3 minutes versus a normally 20-30 minute time.

All insurance will be paid for by S & S Productions.

Police Chief Matt Hill said that there were no traffic issues during the event, and the volunteers had he parking well organized.

The large building, which is between 14,000 to 15,000 square feet, sat virtually unused by the town except for storage.

In other agenda items, the financial report update caused a round of applause as Mayor Bradshaw announced the town is finally catching up on paying their assessments and are now out of the garnishment rule and in the “90-day” late bracket. A check for $23,000 was sent to the town as a result. Bradshaw said it’s taken two years for the town to get to this point, “And we are real close to getting to the point where we can pay all our assessments on time.”

Council approved a Christmas bonus for the police team of Chief Matt Hill and Officer Gillespie, and Town Clerk Brenda Nettles.

Sabrina Derry of the Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce addressed council, and approved the appointment of councilwoman Deborah Harrell as the town’s representative on the Board of Directors for the Chamber.

Charlene McDonnough, director of the Society Hill Library, announced that the Friends of the Library will be hosting a fundraiser in February, a mystery dinner theater set for February 22nd at 6 p.m. Tickets will go on sale in January. Each attendee of the theater will be “part of the show”, and the event will be held at the Town Hall.

Council member Carolyn Oliver told council and attendees that the Christmas Decoration Competition judging would be held on Thursday, December 17. The competition has no entry fee – anyone with Christmas decorations in the Town of Society Hill will be considered for the prizes. Categories include:

Southern Elegance: Prize of $50
Best Use of Lights: Prize of $50
Most Original: $50
Honorable Mention: $25
Best Decorated Business: $50

“I hope to get folks to drive to Society Hill and enjoy the Christmas decorations,” said Oliver. “Most people know us as just Main Street, but there are lots of beautiful decorations on the side streets, so tell everyone to drive through all the neighborhoods.”

The next meeting for the Society Hill Town Council will be January 12, 2016 at 6:30 p.m.

Author: Duane Childers

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