Antiquated sign reflection of state of rural South

Bank of Ridge Spring 009 a

It’s difficult to tell not only the last time the Ridge Café’s sign was operational, but when the restaurant itself, located in Ridge Spring, SC, was even open for business.

Nevertheless, the sign is a classic:

“Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner”

“Steaks”

“Restaurant”

“Air Conditioned”

“Main St.”

“Open”

That’s a whole lot to pack in, as it appears every thing except perhaps “Steaks” once could be lit up with neon. There are even arrows along the front edge of the sign that would have pointed prospective diners to the entrance.

An indication of how old the sign itself is can be seen in the words “air conditioned.” Today, we take for granted the existence of air conditioning in any dining establishment in this neck of the woods. There was a time, however, when being able to boast of such an amenity was no small deal, especially on a scorching summer afternoon in the Deep South.

The opportunity to gather and discuss cotton prices, the weather or what the yahoos running the state in Columbia were up to would have been especially welcome in a nice air-conditioned café before taking to the fields or after a day spent working under the sweltering sun.

Sadly, the town has seen better days, much like the café.

At one time Ridge Spring had its own bank – the People’s Bank of Ridge Spring – where farmers could deposit earnings from cotton sales and borrow money for seed for the coming season. Now it’s just one of hundreds of branches of a North Carolina-based financial institution.

There were general stores, “drinking establishments,” cafés and a variety of others businesses, including cotton gins, sawmills and even a local telephone company.

Map of South Carolina, with red dot showing location of Ridge Spring.

Map of South Carolina, with red dot showing location of Ridge Spring.

The decline, as in so many small towns, began in the early part of the 20th century, when many younger people forsook farming and headed to the big cities to earn a living. Southern Railway’s decision to  stop passenger service following World War II also hurt towns like Ridge Spring, which were off the newly constructed Interstate Highway System.

Today, like many small US communities, Ridge Spring has a handful of antique stores, along with a few other small businesses such as a funeral home, a convenience store, an insurance agency and a smattering of other enterprises.

Agriculture remains important, but peaches are the cash crop these days, although cotton is still grown in the area.

The town’s population has increased by just 205 individuals over the past century, to 737. In recent years, Ridge Spring has benefitted from an influx of immigrants from Mexico, who take on agricultural work in the area.

As for the Ridge Café, It’s difficult to tell how long it’s been since its doors were shuttered. When Mauricette Smith died in 1993, a nearby newspaper described her as the “former owner and operator” of the establishment.

It’s likely that the café operated at least for some time afterward, judging from the condition of an awning below the neon sign, but in our fast food-oriented society, establishments like the Ridge Café don’t stand much of a chance.

Like Ridge Spring itself, time and tradition have left the Ridge Café behind, unfortunately.

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2 thoughts on “Antiquated sign reflection of state of rural South

  1. This makes me think of the old transport caffs which served the lorry drivers for years on the main trunk roads before the motorways arrived with their service stations offering slick, tasteless fodder….
    Nothing like their all day breakfast of fried bread, fried eggs, sausages, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes (tinned) with cups of trawler tea to keep the wolf from the door.
    But their trade had gone and they went with it…as did that world of two drivers to a lorry for long distance work…drivers known as ‘the knights of the road’ for their courtesy and helpfulness on encountering a broken down vehicle…
    These days the poor devils are not so much the drivers as the driven..subject to strict time controls in the interests of the ‘just in time’ supply chain.

    • In my early teens I lived for a couple of years in a rural town in western Colorado. Population was about 3,000 and there were no fast food establishments. They still had the old time café where locals would gather to sit, eat, drink coffee and talk. I remember on one of my cross-country drives stopping at a couple similar places 20 years or so ago. Now, many of these towns either have fast-food restaurants or they’re so far gone they don’t have much of anything.

      And long gone are the days when individuals like the ones you describe could stop and take an extended break and “chew the fat,” so to speak.

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