Saturday, December 04, 2004

Honky Tonk Hell

I've been in a lot of abandoned buildings. It's normal--in fact, it's downright useful--to feel at least a little fear when you explore a new place. However, I've never been in a building that gave me the creeps as badly as this building, located in the now-non-existent town of Hamburg, SC. What's strange is that this building is only one story tall, made of sturdy concrete, and has numerous holes in the walls, providing many possible escape routes (and light/oxygen) in the event a hasty getaway is required. So, what gives? Is it the history of this place, set back in the woods above the Savannah River, that accounts for the bad vibes? Well, let's go inside and see.

Henry Shultz came from Hamburg, Germany to Augusta in 1806 and, after being involved in riverboating and bridge-building, decided to build a town to compete with Augusta. Right across the river, on the bluffs, he scouted a location that he believed would provide excellent access to the water and enable Hamburg to usurp Augusta as a mover of goods up and downstream. When construction began in about 1821, Shultz issued a statement saying that Hamburg would be "a place of great importance." For awhile, he was right.

Hamburg grew quickly and began to drain trade from Augusta and even Savannah. However, by 1827, trade was shifting far downriver toward Charleston and Shultz dug himself into debt, attracted a manslaughter charge, and attempted suicide. The town struggled on and was the site of a riot in 1876. I'll return to the "Hamburg Riot," which was more a race-based massacre, in a later post. Following two floods in 1929, all remaining citizens were relocated. Virtually nothing of the town remains--except this place. Rumor has it that this was once the location of a honky tonk frequented by workers on the river. Clearly, its last incarnation was as a mission. So, good versus evil. But who won?

The mission must've served mostly women and children, as the floor is littered with women's and children's clothes, dolls, and toys. There are dozens of dolls like this one all around, which is pretty creepy all by itself. We tip-toed from room to room as cautiously as possible, even though it seemed unlikely anyone would be there. The whole joint just felt wrong. My companion actually had nightmares about the place.

But it gets worse. There is a small access road near a deserted bridge that leads down a hill to this building. Some years ago, at the top of this road, a man, who had been kidnapped from a Wal-Mart, was apparently burned in the trunk of his car. While we were exploring, we found someone's eyeglasses lying in the grass near the building. They looked new and reasonably expensive. The glasses hadn't been there long and whoever lost them probably needed them. I have no idea how anyone could've lost their prescription glasses in this particular spot, unless they were out-of-their-minds like us and thought the concrete and steel wreckage looked worth investigating.

This is one of the strange outbuildings beside the mission. It looks like it might've been a chicken coup at one point. Someone had been living in it and they'd even set-up a tape player so they could listen to cassettes. But they hadn't been back in some time.

Lots of things were still in place, including chairs, boxes of clothes, old matresses, and this coat rack. Magazines on the floor dated back to January 3, 1955, and an old semi-trailer outside was filled with rotting toys. As in many abandoned buildings, you're left wondering why everyone took off so quickly. The toys really didn't go well with the pornography, also strewn about here and there.

I like old buildings and I hate to see them destroyed, even when they're clearly structurally unsound. In this case, I make an exception. This building might as well be torn down as quickly as possibly. It is the most unsettling, unpleasant, and evil-feeling abandoned building I've ever been in. And, hey, as we've seen so far, that's sorta saying something. If they were all this bad, I'd find a new hobby. I always recommend that people don't explore abandoned buildings. If this one doesn't convince you, I don't know what will. Remember, we go there so you don't have to.

After this light-hearted post, there'll be a break while I head back down to the South to take care of some business for a couple weeks. I'll bring my camera and hit some new locations, including an airplane junkyard. Next post won't be nearly so dark, I promise. Until then, enjoy the run-up to the holidays. It's always such fun.


Anonymous said...

You are fairly brave. Every time I poke around this place I end up scooting out, especially when I remember the Walmart guy found near there. I heard from the guys at the concrete block plant that these buildings were built in the 1950's for use as honkytonks for the Savannah River Plant construction workers, and the gal from 'Three Faces of Eve' danced on a stage there. Anyway, aside from a few bricks I have never found anything of the original Hamburg, even though much of it was very solidly built buildings with some still standing as late as 1950. There is a long mound between the abandoned causeway and the clay pit, north of the golf course maintenance shop, that I think is the original 1833 South Carolina Railroad. But there was some bum's camp there and I stayed away from it until I can come back with some friends. There was a bigger camp under the bluff, near the highway bridge where the railroad tracks come together. I stayed away from there too, didn't want anything hurtling in my direction. Thanks for the great post.

Anonymous said...

Great report ,but I am like anonymous, these buildings were from the 50's. I live not far from the river in N.Augusta...Never found anything too spooky. People come in and live in these places, people who have no homes. I think the clothes and dolls ,etc come from that. The only thing I found spooky is the place where the manager of "Sams Club" was killed.But things are building up around there and all of it will soon be gone. This is just another "opinion" and I loved yours. And the pictures are great.My husbands grandfather lived in Hamburg and we would love to find out more about it. Thank you again......Come back to see us again

jmhouse said...

Thanks for your comments! If you'd like to find out more about Hamburg, I highly recommend visiting Mr. P. Hughes site dedicated to the old town. It can be found RIGHT HERE. It's possible you already know about it, but, if not, I'm sure you'll find the site fascinating. Mr. Hughes does occasional presentations around Augusta disguised as Henry Shultz, Hamburg's founder. I only wish I would've seen one of those! Thanks for your kind words--I'm sure I'll show up in town again some day.

Anonymous said...

Just like what has been said before this was from the 1950's but if you go to the other side of hwy 1 before the housing development there ...there are two old buildings still standing from what era I dont know but it does look like they date back way before the 1950's .... I also had the chance to talk to a river golf course employee and was told that all over t6he whole course when they go to re-work the greens and such they find a whole lot of brick ("whats left of hamburg") A group of us are looking further into the back ground and Mystery that surounds hamburg and I'll keep intouch with what we have found!

jmhouse said...

Thanks for the info! I did cross the street one time and headed toward the housing development, but it's a little rough down there. I also got chased out of that burnt out club (Jack of Diamonds?) by some guy down there who said he was the owner. I wouldn't actually bet that he was though. Anyway, keep me posted on what you find as I'd be really interested in hearing about it. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

The spookiest thing is, reportly, Mr. Shultz's body was buried, at his request, sitting in a chair with his back towards Augusta. He is reported to be buried in a cave or someplace in his beloved Hamburg.

A majority of the cobblestones from Augusta's streets were deposited in Hamburg. Subsequently, these have been covered with several feet of dirt.

The old train depot of the SC Canal and RR was, until several years ago, located on the grounds of the Augusta Concrete & Block Company.

Anonymous said...

I am researching ancestors who were property owners in Hamburg, SC, around the 1830s and 40s. I can't help but be interested in the town itself since it has such a strange history...worthy of a novel! I would love to hear from you if you have additional information on Hamburg and its citizens during this era or would like to describe your spooky encounters at the site of the old town more in depth.

jmhouse said...

Hi Shannon,

Thanks for your comment. There is really nothing left of the old town of Hamburg. I've heard that there may be an old building foundation or two and possibly the remnants of an old cemetery, but that's about it. Even the honky-tonk/mission post-dates Hamburg, as was pointed out to me. However, if you haven't already, far and away the best resource for Hamburg is this website:

Mr. Hughes has published lots of history and stories. If anyone knows anything about Hamburg it's him. And, if he doesn't know, he probably can find someone who does. If you wish to contact him, let me know and I'll put you in touch. Thanks again for stopping by!


ezmark said...

Unless I have overlooked it, you folks have missed the real importance of Hamburg. It was at this small village that the beginning of the end of occupation in 1875 by the Yankees started.
Grant, who hated South Carolina, posted black troops to keep the SC
men under control. He had little to worry about. Only a few thousand Southern men survived the civil war.
Nine or 10 black soldiers were posted at Hamburg near the bridge. Two North Augusta men were harrassed by these men when they tried to return home across the bridge and through Hamburg. They got through but the treatment of these soldier incited some of the locals who converged on Hamburg. Shooting started and a young man named Meriweather was killed. The soldiers barracaded thems selves in a brick building so someone sent for an old cannon in Augusta. I understand the soldiers panicked and ran out, some were shot and some captured. There was a trial at the scene which must have lasted almost 5 minutes and the soldiers were executed.
No one was convicted of a crime. Read "Hamptons Red Shirts" written by a Charleston SC reporter who
was there was this occurrance and several following. Hamburg, indeed, has history and its share of ghosts.

jmhouse said...

Hi ezmark,

Thanks for your comment. Indeed, the Hamburg Massacre is an important part of the CSRA's history. I did do a post on it, which can be found here:

In fact, the Hamburg Riot has become big(ger) news recently. A book has been released, The Bloody Shirt, by Stephen Budiansky that contains a segment on the Hamburg Riot. I have not had a chance to read the book yet--I've been traveling for some time now--but will as soon as I get a chance. I have watched this lecture by the author though, and the Riot and the monument subsequently built to commemorate it are dealt with in some detail:

Note that the author references local historian Peter Hughes, who runs the Hamburg/Henry Shultz website:

Thanks again for your comment. I'm always glad to know when folks are aware of their local history, even (or especially?) when it involves a few ghosts people might wish to ignore.



Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff. My cousins live in N. Augusta. Can't wait to go visit them this weekend and see if they know anything about Hamburg and it's history. Thanks

jmhouse said...

Thanks for your comment! I appreciate it. The history of Hamburg is not well-known, but it is very interesting. You probably already know about this site (I've referenced it in this comments section over and over), but by far the best resource on Hamburg's history is:

Thanks again!


Anonymous said...

The old casino right by the 5th Street Bridge was apparently called the "Double Diamond". The fireworks building north of Greg's Gas was apparently called "Treasure Chest". I'd seen this building in aerial images, and thought I would explore at some point, but now I don't have to. I wonder if it is still there. Regarding the railroad, from old images it appears there was a huge wye just east of this place. The curve in the tracks is the south curve of the wye. The north curve would be in the golf course, and no longer there. The straightline portion going "north" is along the present-day alignment of the Augusta Greeneway.

jmhouse said...

The Double Diamond does sound right. I met the owner under less-than-ideal circumstances, but he wasn't too hostile. He knew lots of folks were going in and out of the property when it was derelict. I believe it was torn down several years ago.

I'd be surprised if the mission is still standing. It was in bad shape when I was there. It's not a real pleasant place, either. But, if you have a look, please send in a report.

Thanks for the comments and railroad info. I didn't know what the old rail configuration had been.


Anonymous said...

My great grandfather and his brother left a memoir that they remembered that the canon fire actually came from across the river from a Federal garrison, which they suggested was support from white Federal soldiers. That is what I remember reading, anyway. I do not see any reason they would concoct that, and the memory of the event is otherwise commensurate with mainstream history of the riot/massacre. They were big time Red Shirts. This is presented as oral tradition, not fact. Who knows?

jmhouse said...

Very interesting information. The most recent and possibly most detailed account of the Hamburg Riot, in Stephen Budianksy's "The Bloody Shirt," says only this about the cannon itself:

"...Another said, 'Bring a cannon with you (from Augusta)'...A half hour later the the air was rent by the bass report of a cannon and the rippling rain of shrapnel...The cannon fired a couple more times and then the rifle club men down by the river realized there was no return (fire)...from the building any more."

Budiansky's account, which appears to be very thoroughly researched and is extensively footnoted, makes no mention of where the cannon came from or exactly who was firing it. Presumably it was armed civilians gathered from Edgefield and Aiken.

However, while I am not aware of the location of the Federal garrison within Augusta, it is not out of the question that Federal troops who were sympathetic to Tillman and the Sweetwater Sabre Club commanded the cannon. And then perhaps the cannon was not actually brought over the bridge and thus the shots did come from the Augusta side. It's possible.

Again, very interesting information and, while somewhat at odds with what has been written, it could very well be true. If so, it would indeed add a new dimension to what is known of the Hamburg Riot.

Thanks for your comment!



I have a brick made somewhere in the area, with the inscription "STARR" on it. Don't know if it came from Hamburg or not.

I've always wanted to jump off the road at the bridge where the island and jungle is below bridge level and drive down into that Hamburg area and explore, but it seemed even far too ghetto and dangerous for my fortitude, and I'm pretty brave. I prefer to do my exploring however in wholly abandoned areas.

When my parents first moved to Augusta, they attempted to just for kicks homestead on one of the islands in the river, and built a little hut on one of them. There were piles of roofing shale near by on the island, which they hauled home, and later became part of our patio. Kids broke into the little camping hut, so it was abandoned. I still have a piece of our concrete patio with the roofing shale tiling it however.

In Columbia, SC... up until not too long ago, as you crossed the river going into the city, there was the old prison... next to the park on the river... overgrown with vines. Lot of blacks were mistreated there.

With some digging you can find pictures of it... before it was shamefully demolished.

Here's a PDF on its history and of the prison cemetary or what's left of it near by:

Another interesting thing to visit in Georgia are the old coal towers... there's one in Sparta, and Macon, and many other places... as well as the old rail tunnels:

Also, you can find old train stations.... like the yellow building in Mathews, if you know what you are looking for.

in Augusta, on Old Hwy 1 / Deans Bridge Road south, from the Walmart, go down the hill, past the McDonals and Burger King, and right before you go over the bridge, hang a right onto the Old Hwy 1 that has been bypassed and you'll find what's left of Lombard Mill, which they made into a park recently but few know about... for years it just quietly decayed in the woods:

Also worth visiting... Redcliffe Plantation in Beach Island...

And my most recent find, in Jackson, SC... 3000 motorcycles rotting away in the woods (don't get too excited, the guy will only sell parts, not whole bikes, but you can look at picks online:)

Those picks are old, he is since now up in his years and his operation has fallen into somewhat of a decayed condition.

I use to explore old sharecropper houses all the time when I could spot them under the kudzu, but now it seems most have vanished away... with vanishing Georgia.


Here's some more interesting vanished towns around Hamburg:

List of Ghost Towns in Georgia:

Ghost Towns of South Carolina:

PineTucky, absorbed by the building of Fort Gordon:

Ellenton & Dunbarton, SC, absorbed via similar eminent domain ex-appropriation by the building of SRS

Petersburg, GA (third largest city at one time in Gerogia behind Savannah and Augusta)

Now mostly submerged by Clarks Hill / Strom Thurmond lake (probably several other towns as well),_Georgia


Not many know of it, but there was a town named Adventure just south of Hephzibah off the railline... I once saw on a topo map and remembered it for its name... it may have been nothing more than a train stop.

Probably the coolest way to find lots of these little towns, is by looking at very old topo maps. Augusta State University Library, somewhere on the upper floor, has a map section with USGS topo map reponsitory most of which were bought I guess during the 70's and still have a lot of old stuff on them, that is now erased and forgotten. Its what I used when I went hunting for abandoned mines.

jmhouse said...

Many thanks for your comments, Unknown! I never knew about the penitentiary cemetery in Columbia, SC. I must've gone right past it without realizing it was there under the vines.

I spent a lot of time in Jackson and never knew about the motorcycle recycle center either. Things do seem to get hidden away in the undergrowth out there. Even 3,000 motorcycles, I guess.

It wasn't so bad under the bridge near old Hamburg when I visited years ago. This old mission was definitely creepier. I did once have a run-in with a property owner while exploring the old club on the SC side of the bridge (was it called the "Jack of Diamonds"?) but he calmed down pretty quick once I pointed out that I was far from the only person that had been in there and not nearly the most destructive.

Now to properly digest your next post... JM

jmhouse said...

Thanks for your second set of comments, Unknown! Old Pinetucky is a great name for a town. I guess there's nothing left of it now besides the cemetery.

I used to work on the Savannah River Site, so I do know a bit about Ellenton and Dunbarton, SC. For example, I know there's essentially nothing left of them beyond old curbs and overgrown vegetation. I used to drive by both now and then when on-site. I did a post in their honor called Dead Towns, South Carolina years ago. A lot of folks were sad to have to leave those places.

Thanks again! JM