South Carolina Preservationists in a Race Against Time to Save the State’s Crumbling Ghost Towns
Each day brings new fears that long-forgotten places hidden in the backwoods of the Palmetto State will be lost forever.
Preservationists across South Carolina are locked in a race against time. Each day brings another battle against the relentless march of the future—new fears that long-forgotten places hidden in the backwoods of the Palmetto State will be lost forever.
But thanks to a growing market for historical tourism, and ghost towns in particular, one group of dedicated preservationists has been getting a lot of publicity lately. Preservation South Carolina is a nonprofit that uses tax credits and advocacy to save abandoned Lowcountry buildings from extinction and breathe new life back into decomposing ghost towns.
But as Preservation South Carolina executive director Michael Bedenbaugh explained to The Post and Courier, the race is on. Crumbling ghost towns like Ferguson, Chappells and Mayesville are now just one natural disaster away from disappearing forever.
According to a recent Fox News story, all that’s left of Ferguson, a former lumber-mill settlement founded in the late 1800s, is an island dotted with broken brick, mangled wire and shells of destroyed buildings.
“The water is tearing it down, the sand is being washed away by the water,” Edward “Cannon” Taylor, a local resident, told Fox. “One day it’ll just be a pile of nothing...and no one will ever know it was here – if we don’t do something.”
And Ferguson is far from alone. Fox News reports that the number of applications for preservation projects in South Carolina has increased over the years. Renovation costs vary from about $250,000 for the Wyche Derrick House—a stunning Queen Anne Victorian in the small town of Prosperity—to as much as the $5.5 million required to fund the recent restoration of the Carolina Theater in Durham.
The state offers two kinds of tax credits—under the Abandoned Buildings Revitalization Act and the National Register of Historic Places—to help preserve abandoned sites. Both provide incentives to private investors to help resurrect old buildings, thereby boosting their local economy. For the work Bedenbaugh does, they’re essential.
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According to The Post and Courier, roughly 70% of the funding for Preservation South Carolina’s latest project, a nearly $3 million restoration of the Plantation House, a 30,000-square foot hotel in Edgefield that dates back to 1787, comes through a combination of these credits.
But the Abandoned Buildings Revitalization Act, which received unanimous support when it was signed into law in 2013, is up for renewal and under threat.
“This tax credit is too important to be lost,” Bedenbaugh told the paper. “Our small communities that have been bypassed by capital investment desperately need this incentive.”
Another local, Richard Sanford, told Fox News that he thinks it is important to do something to remember the past, even if it’s just a plaque or small memorial.
"They can learn more history about it and appreciate what our ancestors have done for this country,” he said.