The Ruins of Chappels
By Tom Poland
Highway 34. It’s my route east to places like Ninety-Six, Abbeville, and Greenwood. When I drive Highway 34, I’m in my element—the back roads, but some back roads don’t easily give up their secrets. I’ve written that you can drive by a place 1,000 times and be unaware of its history. Such is the case with Chappels, South Carolina.
In the early 1990s, I’d drive Highway 34 to Highway 72 to Greenwood, making my way to Blazer’s Restaurant to meet family. Known for its shrimp and cheese dip, Blazer’s had great seafood and a view of Lake Greenwood. We met there often. I came to know Highway 34 quite well … I thought. Truth is I didn’t. As evidence, I present Exhibit One, Chappels, and the word “unincorporated.” You see that word attached to small communities, and that’s Chappells, this place where Highways 34 and 39 intersect. Still, as small as it is, two counties claim it—Saluda and Newberry.
The Saluda River, free of the Buzzards Roost Dam just upstream, runs close by. It winds southeast around The Territories intent on getting as close to Chappels as it can. And you better believe it’s been close.
When driving, if you pay attention, the land has a way of telling you things. Abandoned tenant homes, old barns that lean with the wind, kudzu-covered structures, and the remnants of vanquished country stores say two words. “Things change.”
Blazer’s closed, my parents died, and the book world found me. Some thirty years later I find myself driving Highway 34 again. Along its route, quite by accident, I learned the ruins of Chappels were down Old Main Street, a street I’d passed many times. July 4, I turned onto Old Main Street and found the remains of Chappels in woods. Brick walls, heaps of bricks, and trash piles peeking through vines attested to the life that once existed here. I could hear trucks rumble over the bridge that did its part to finish off the place Thomas Chappels founded in the 1700s.
My friend, Ralph Scurry—co-author of “Touring Greenwood County” with Jodie Peeler—shared The Story Of Old Chappells, his cousin, Barbara Holloway Smith, had written. “Downtown Old Chappells was the gathering place for the men of the community. After they had checked on the fields and the hands in the morning, they would go to Chappells to sit around the stores, talk and play checkers. There was a ‘special bench’ that they had rigged up with an electrical current that they would invite strangers to sit on and then be shocked. They went home for dinner (lunch), took a nap, came back to town for a few hours, then headed out to the fields to check on the day’s work before going home for supper.”
I came across a Chappels video by back-roads adventurer Carolina Tony. In the 1700s Chappels was known as Chappells Ferry. When the railroad came through it became Chappels Depot. And then over the many years calamities destroyed what had become Chappels. A tornado, fire, and flood laid waste to the town. The Great Depression closed the bank. In 1931 the powers that be relocated Highway 39 to the west and a new Saluda River bridge bypassed Chappels. That was all she wrote, as Dad used to say.
I visited the ruins of Chappels, a magnet for bad-luck if ever. I stood among its brick walls and tried to imagine what the small community had meant to its residents. It’s described as unincorporated but “vanquished” comes to mind. Old bench sitters from yesteryear might say that all in all it was a shocking turn of events.
Note—If you want to take a virtual walk through old Chappels, find Carolina Tony on youtube.