by Tom Taylor
Vienna, Merritsville, Andersonville, Jocassee...all of these place names have something in common. Each was once a thriving town, now covered by the waters of a South Carolina lake. Perhaps the most compelling story, though, is that of the ghost town of Ferguson, once an active logging town with modern amenities along the banks of the Santee River. Remnants of the old town can still be seen on Ferguson Island in Lake Marion.
I was just returning from a kayaking trip on the Savannah River. Our return trip took us on US 301 through Allendale and Barnwell. As we passed through these towns, we were amazed at the number of old motels, some abandoned and some still doing a bit of business, as well as abandoned tourist spots along the way. I knew it had to have once been a major thoroughfare, now bypassed by I-95, but I wanted to know more about it. What was the history? How did this highway through one of the most isolated parts of South Carolina become such a major route? The answer turned out to be much more interesting than I could have possibly imagined. Here’s the story about how Highway 301 became known as The Tobacco Trail, one of the most important north-south routes along the Eastern Seaboard.