What struck me the most on those two recent trips to Denmark and Columbia, SC, was how much the local economies have changed, over the past thirty or forty years.
What were once bustling small towns are now mostly economically depressed areas. Many of our formerly vibrant local customers are now long gone, their storefronts vacant, boarded up or repurposed into something totally different. Some towns no longer even have a local hardware store to serve their community’s needs.
Such a shame. Along the roadsides, one sees mostly farm fields, pine forests, and the occasional wetlands.
The newer businesses are usually convenience stores and banks; the old downtowns are now half-vacant and sad-looking. A big lumber yard and a grain mill in Estill, SC, are two of the biggest businesses visible from the roadway there; although a federal correctional facility is nearby, and provides some employment besides the school system. But that’s about it. Thankfully, our long-time customer, Wiggins and Son Hardware, is still in business, serving the community.
Farming and logging seem to be the prime economic drivers today, and aside from school activities and church functions, little seems available for social activities. It makes me glad I grew up in the “big city” of Savannah, where we at least had movie theatres and parks, a couple of museums, putt-putt golf courses, and the nearby beaches to provide entertainment, back in the days before cable TV and movie rental places like Blockbuster took hold.
Voorhees College in Denmark is set on a large tract of land about a mile east from the main highway, south of Denmark’s small downtown. Not much to do in Denmark after hours, which perhaps help focus those students on their studies, and keep them from temptation to get into mischief! But not much else is there.
A nice-looking campus, however, if small. At least they have the college library as a resource, and perhaps internet access. But life there is undoubtedly far different than it would be for students at Savannah State or Armstrong University in Savannah, who have many more opportunities for both employment and entertainment.
I am very glad that Denmark has this institution of higher learning. No doubt it has had, and will continue to have, a major impact on the lives of the students who go there, as well as the town itself. It is amazing to see how much has changed, over the last 30-40 years, and not always for the better, at least for some people. But people are resilient, and change is inevitable. We just have to deal with things as they come, and make the best of the hands we are dealt.
Rafe Semmes is a native of Savannah and a proud graduate of (the “original”) Savannah High School on Washington Avenue and the University of Georgia. He has resided in Liberty County since 1986, where he and his wife share their half-acre with six cats and assorted wildlife.