“The Branch” of the small Orangeburg County] town of Branchville originally was the point at which a Native American trail from the coast split into a northern trail and a western trail.
The Branch was home to three Native camps in the early 18th century and became a point where traders would gather their goods before hauling them south to Charleston
Settlers soon followed the traders, and in the 1730s, a group of mostly German and Dutch settlers led by Andrew Frederick of Prussia made the Branch home.
They built a log meetinghouse for church services and many acquired land grants to start building homesteads. In 1767, Colonial Gov. John Rutledge was granted a tract on Penn Branch and the Edisto River.
The area was the scene of Revolutionary War skirmishes as Gen. Francis Marion and his men traveled through the cypress swamps of South Carolina, harassing the British.
After the war, the community continued to grow and maintained its status as a junction of a northern trail and western trail that led traders down to Charleston. The trails became so well traveled that the stagecoach arrived in the early 1800s, followed in 1832 by the railroad.
It was then that the Branch became Branchville, with a depot and wide streets. But it still served as a junction for travelers to the north and west. At one point, more than a dozen trains passed through the junction each day, and a local restaurateur was convinced to move his business from the fork of the original trails to the railroad depot.
The high times lasted as long as railroad travel, and the birth of the interstate highway system put an end to Branchville’s place as the “World’s Oldest Railroad Junction.”
But those times are remembered fondly each September with the Raylroad Daze Festivul
. Bad spelling aside, it is one of the state’s oldest festivals at 45, and is going strong.
This year’s festival officially runs from Sept. 27-29, with a parade starting at 11 a.m. on the Sept. 28.
But the festival actually kicks off Sunday, Sept. 22, with a coal toss competition from 3-3:30 p.m. and the Edisto River Cloggers performing from 3:30-4:30 p.m. That is followed by a gunfight at 5 p.m. and church services at Crestview Baptist Church starting at 5:30 p.m. (There are so many things to say about a gunfight followed by a church service, but I’ll leave you with your imagination here.)
There are a handful of events during the week, but the festival is in full swing on Friday with carnival rides, arts and crafts and food vendors, and a couple more gunfights. Street dances start at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The parade kicks off Saturday’s events, which include costume contests and a spike-driving competition. Based on my performances in the seed-spitting and watermelon eating contests, I probably will pass on this one. I’d hate to hurt someone with that sledgehammer.
On Sunday, all visitors are welcome to attend area church services. Sunday’s events include hay-bale stacking and, of course, another gunfight.
There is still a restaurant in the old depot, called appropriately, Eatery at the Depot
(803) 274-8001, 7501 Freedom Road (U.S. 21) at the rear of the Depot. The Eatery is open for dinner (6-9 p.m.) Thursday-Saturday.
The depot also is home to the Branchville Railroad Shrine Museum
. This restored building is filled with antiques and memorabilia. The museum is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2-5 p.m. Sunday. For information, call (803) 274-8104 or (803) 274-8934.