Meet five residents who make this historic town a great place to live, work and visit
When you venture off the beaten path in South Carolina, you’re often rewarded with a little piece of the past, a place that seems to have materialized from a black-and-white TV rerun to take you back to a sleepy, easy, ambling time.
I stumbled upon just that kind of “Mayberry USA” recently when my husband and I veered off Highway 52 to the town of Cheraw. This picturesque gem of a city, nestled on the banks of the Pee Dee River, is rich with history, architectural beauty and a friendly, Old South manner. Spend a day here, and you will be smitten. Spend a long weekend, as we did, and you’ll fall positively in love with the place and the people who call it home—including these local characters who help make Cheraw so charming.
Simply Southern Bed & Breakfast
Angie Smith has more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality business, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that being a gracious host is something that just comes naturally for her.
Smith took a leap of faith in 2010, purchasing a stately brick home with wrap-around porches and a prime location right in the heart of the town’s historic district. “When I saw the house, I could instantly visualize it as a bed and breakfast,” she says.
Two weeks after she closed on the property, Smith was in business. Today, Simply Southern is a popular spot for wedding parties, business travelers and tourists alike. Smith runs the house in the comfortable manner of a favorite aunt, inviting guests to help themselves to beer, wine or anything else in the kitchen, and she delights in sharing the home’s unique architectural features. Built by the founder of the Cheraw Brick Company, the 100-year-old residence was completely restored in 2004, and today it has four guest rooms, each with 12-foot ceilings, interior walls made of solid brick, detailed moldings and lots of antique and reproduction furniture.
In the best tradition of southern hospitality, Smith enjoys interacting with her guests, whether it’s over a glass of wine on the porch or at the dining room table where she serves up gourmet breakfasts each morning. “All the guests sit around and talk and share each other’s stories—it’s just a real neat experience,” she says.
“It’s great to be able to share this home,” Smith continues. “I get to meet so many different people from all different walks of life. “
Simply Southern Bed & Breakfast is located at 504 Kershaw St. in downtown Cheraw. Phone: (843) 921-4579.
Weaver’s Barber Shop
When Wayne Weaver relocated his two-seat barber shop from Chesterfield to the heart of downtown Cheraw, he brought with him a loyal clientele and a long tradition of hospitality.
Inside the front door of his shop on 2nd Street there is an old-fashioned Pepsi vending machine that’s always stocked with ice-cold sodas, and Weaver invites “anyone who wants a drink” to help themselves, free of charge.
“I couldn’t afford a Coke when I was little, so now I give ‘em away,” he says of a ritual that began more than three decades ago.
“One day in my shop in Chesterfield, a customer wouldn’t buy his two kids a drink,” he recalls. “It was 10 a.m. and 100 degrees, and we were all sweating. I asked if I could give the kids a drink, and I haven’t sold a soda since.”
Before opening the shop in Cheraw, Weaver spent considerable time restoring the hardwood floors, installing a new ceiling and generally making the place a comfortable home away from home. “It’s a place people can come and just sit and talk,” he says. “If they need a haircut, fine. If not, that’s fine too.”
Between haircuts, you might also find the barber and some of his regulars in the middle of a jam session with Weaver playing rhythm guitar and chiming in on vocals.
“When I’m not busy, we’ll just sit around and play country, western, bluegrass, gospel—whatever they want to play, we’ll play,” he says.
Weaver’s Barber Shop is located at 167 2nd St., in downtown Cheraw. Phone: (843) 537-4154.
Mary ’s Restaurant
Cookie Herndon is the smiling face behind the counter at Mary’s Restaurant, a family-owned eatery where the local news and gossip is as fresh and tasty as the house specialty, stew beef and rice.
“We have one ‘local’ table where ‘everydayers’ talk about politics and stuff,” says Herndon. “Everybody has their own chair, and don’t you dare sit in that chair!”
With a diner-style menu that includes everything from breakfast favorites to classic “meat and three” combos, the restaurant is a Cheraw institution. It’s owned by Herndon’s mother, 82-year-old Mary Hilliard, who still comes in every day to greet customers at the door, just as she has for the last 32 years.
“Sometimes she yells across the room at me,” Herndon says with a laugh. “She’s a good boss lady.”
Manager, cook, waitress and busboy, Herndon does a little of everything alongside the staff at Mary’s, a simple, no-frills space where the light streams in through big windows and the tables fill to capacity on Saturday mornings. She started helping out at the restaurant when Hilliard was hospitalized for an illness 30 years ago—and never found a reason to leave.
“I thought it was going to be temporary, but here I am,” Herndon says. “There’s nothing more rewarding than working with your mom.”
Mary’s Restaurant is located at 134 Market St. in downtown Cheraw. Phone: (843) 537-6790.
Southern African-American Heritage Center
As a funeral director working in her family’s funeral home, one of Felicia Flemming-McCall’s jobs is to compile information for obituaries, and she has always been fascinated by the stories of the local African-American men and women who overcame slavery, segregation and racial prejudice to achieve a better life and build a stronger community.
This love of history, combined with a passion for collecting artifacts from the 1800s and 1900s, led her to publish the 2008 book, African-Americans of Chesterfield County, and two years ago, she and her husband, Norris, opened the Southern African-American Heritage Center in downtown Cheraw.
The museum is a labor of love for McCall. It includes hands-on exhibits like a 1900s classroom and an old-time kitchen that demonstrate what everyday life was like for to the personal histories of individuals who “although they may have had difficult lives, still made contributions to this area.”
She cites as two examples John McCall, Chesterfield County’s first African-American lawyer, and engineer Horace King, a Cheraw District native who was born into slavery, yet became one of the most respected bridge builders of the 19th century.
“I want people to connect the artifact with the person,” she says. “I have an opportunity to continue their legacy by telling their story.”
You say Chuh-raw, I say Shuh-raw …
The proper pronunciation of Cheraw is open to debate, but according to David Sides, the town’s director of tourism and community development, it’s properly pronounced Chuh-raw. “Town council has even adopted a policy on how it’s supposed to be pronounced,” he says. In practice, however, many residents and visitors pronounce it Shuh-raw.
The museum is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., by appointment and during special living history events. On June 16, the center will host re-enactors portraying the Union soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts, the celebrated African- American infantry regiment that fought in South Carolina during the Civil War. On July 28 , the museum will feature a kids’ program with slave re-enactor and storyteller Tyree Rowell from York County.
The Southern African-American Heritage Center is located at 125 Kershaw St., in downtown Cheraw. Admission is $5 for kids, $7 for adults. Guided tours are $8. Phone: (843) 921-9989; southernaaheritagecenter.org.
Sarah Spruill didn’t grow up in Cheraw, but when she married into one of the town’s oldest families, the rich history of the area became one of her life’s great passions.
As the city’s former director of tourism and the longtime president of the preservation group Historic Cheraw, Spruill is widely recognized as the town’s unofficial historian, and she is a font of interesting facts and historical gossip. One of her favorite Civil War stories deals with the reaction local residents had to the arrival of Gen. William T. Sherman and the Union army in March of 1865.
Sherman took as his quarters the home of Henry McIver, a Confederate officer who was away at war.
“Mrs. McIver and her children were relegated to the upstairs when Sherman commandeered the house,” Spruill says. “General Sherman invited one of the young McIver boys to dine with him, and Mrs. McIver let the child go. When the little boy stared intently at Sherman’s head, the general asked, ‘What are you doing, son?’ The child replied, ‘I heard that you were an old devil, and I am looking for your horns.’ As the story goes, the general found this very funny.”
For more information on things to see and do in Cheraw, contact the Town of Cheraw Office of Tourism (843) 537-8425 or (888) 537-0014; cheraw.com
For visitors to Cheraw, Spruill recommends touring Old St. David’s Church, the Town Green (see “Four things you must do in Cheraw”) and a stroll through the neighborhoods of the downtown Historic District— a place she’s proud to call home.
“It’s basically the nucleus of the old town of Cheraw,” she says. “It’s 213 acres, it has more than 50 antebellum buildings and a remarkable collection of historic churches.