Forget that Sherman burned it to the ground. And while you’re at it, you should also forget that the rise and subsequent decline of the cotton industry in South Carolina put entire extended families in this town out of work. Because life goes on in this one tiny town in South Carolina, in spite of whatever fate is bestowed upon it.
Even after Allendale, South Carolina was cast into the dismal national spotlight of author Paul Thoreaux in his 2015 book entitled,
Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, this small town remains stoic and determined to prevail. A year earlier, Smithsonian Magazine published an article that appears to be a preview of the book. In the article, Thoreaux creates a dark melancholy canvas of Allendale, painted in browns, greys and intense blacks leading readers to believe that Allendale, South Carolina is all but dead.
Exploring the American Experience: The Soul of the South
, seems mostly based on a drive Thoreaux took on US Highway 301. The journey carried him into Allendale where he made visual observations and stopped to talk to a few of the town's people.
Thoreaux, born in Massachusetts, has a unique perspective on towns like little Allendale here in the South. It's the perspective of someone from the North. (Not that there's anything wrong with being from the North...) Thoreaux's Wikipedia page lists his current state(s) of residence as Hawaii and Massachusetts.
Sure Sherman burned her to the ground, and yes the decline of the cotton industry has taken its toll on Allendale. But an even bigger and more recent turn of events really did the damage that is taking decades from which to recover.
Before Interstate 95 opened in the 1960s Allendale was about halfway in distance for snowbirds up north and summer vacationers making their way to Florida for some R&R. US 301 was the main north/south route and it cuts right through the heart of the town. Tiny little Allendale was once a hotspot for tourists. In fact, prior to the opening of I-95 some 30+ miles to the east, Allendale had a thriving tourism industry.
Think about what would happen to our beloved Myrtle Beach if all the roads leading into the Grand Strand were suddenly gone. Such has been the fate of Allendale as they continue to struggle from the loss of their mainstay.
Buildings are closed and yes, some are abandoned. But what would you expect? Should Allendale disassemble the buildings or destroy them just because they're empty? And does having empty, decaying real estate put Allendale in the category of "ghost towns?" We think not.
The fact is, in the last 20 years Allendale has made great strides in bouncing back from the dismal conditions resulting from the loss of tourism in the 1960s. And although Allendale County ranks in the top 10 poorest counties in South Carolina, the Town of Allendale also has a cost of living that is 20% lower than the rest of the state, according to the website city-data.com. It costs less to live in Allendale than most any other place in South Carolina. This may be evidenced in the fact that in spite of the financial ruins suffered by the people in Allendale throughout the 20th century, the population continued to grow until the year 2000, according to U.S. Census figures.
Additionally in 1998, as part of their planned recovery, Allendale created the Salkehatchie Leadership Institute. According to this
, the institute has trained more than 2,000 people who have since become elected officials or are serving in roles of economic development throughout the U.S.
The real story of Allendale, South Carolina is not one of a dismal dark image painted on a canvas of words; it is one of a town rising from the ashes of Sherman's march during the Civil War. Of families who, due to financial circumstances in the early 1900s, were forced to sell their cotton fields to big corporate growers. It's the story of gracious business owners and their families who welcomed northern tourists with open arms as they made their way to and from the sunny beaches of Florida.
The real story of Allendale is the story of generations of families that have time and again lost it all - but have prevailed through both faith and determination.
Who in their life has never been thrust into a situation of "getting by" or riding out a storm? The town of Allendale has been riding out the storm for many many decades, but the town is a far cry from dead. No, Allendale, South Carolina is very much alive.
There are many towns in South Carolina that have the heart and soul, dedication and determination that you’ll find in Allendale. Do you know of one? Tell us in our comments on Facebook.