Sandlapper Slept Here. . . .

Sugarfoot Castle, Honea Path

by Dan Harmon

EDITOR'S NOTE: "Sandlapper Slept Here" is a column that appears in each issue of Sandlapper Magazine, featuring bed-and-breakfasts and historic inns throughout the Palmetto State. Here's an example. If you find it interesting, you may want to peruse our back issue listings for information about previous columns.

When Cecil and Gale Martin Evans moved to Honea Path in 1974, a local asked them which house they were living in.

"The one across from Watkins Elementary School," Gale said.

"Oh, you mean The Castle."

The Evanses hadn't thought of it in such grand terms. Empty for more than a decade before, it was in decrepit condition and had been scheduled for bulldozing. But with its turret, 14-inch solid brick walls and intricate interior architecture, it is in some ways reminiscent of a compact European castle. So when they opened it as a B&B five years ago, they officially adopted the nickname that long before had been bestowed by townsfolk.

But that was after substantial preservation toil and tedium. Happily, with her husband frequently on the road with his job and her last daughter married and gone, Gale needed a project. She sure found one.

It also was after they'd proved to themselves Honea Path was the right place to be. Cecil is from Florida, Gale from Kentucky, and they've lived in such diverse locals as California and New England. This, they decided, beats them all. "We love this little town," Gale says. "We left for several years, and came back when we retired."

Honea Path clearly is off the beaten travel path. As Gale puts it, "The people we have as guests have to be in Honea Path for a reason. We're not on the tourist circuit. We're answering a need for the community."

With a seemingly limited clientele, why did they venture into the accommodations business?

"The town asked us to," Cecil says.

"To meet people," Gale adds.

Sugarfoot Castle is, in fact, considered part of Honea Path's downtown redevelopment. And it's serving a vital purpose. Rather than having to stay in another town, business guests now have a charming option locally. Area churches refer guest speakers there, and wedding parties are common, especially this time of year. Large families coming into town for weddings and reunions can throw the vicinity's lodging business into instant overflow status. "We had one party talk us out of our own bedroom," Gale says.

Cecil notes, "When we get honeymooners, we don't rent out the other rooms. We let them have the whole upstairs."

Sometimes executives from area companies rent meeting areas of the home for business retreats. Occasionally there's a passing tourist. The Evanses never advertise and are kept as busy as they want to be by word-of-mouth referrals.

Room choices include the luxurious "King Room," where I stayed, the "Grandchildren's Dormitory" (they have six) with its twin beds and antique trunk, and the "Mary Room," featuring a white brick fireplace, double bed and minitub. (Whence the name? "All the furniture was owned by a Mary and it will be inherited by a Mary," Gale reveals.)

The guest quarters all are upstairs and share a common reading area; guests also may use the hosts' spacious book and video library. TVs are available in the guest rooms, and you'll find such courtesies as terry robes in the closets.

The house was built more than a hundred years ago. It's on a four-acre lot surrounded by towering pecan and oak trees where squirrels and birds play. Two doors greet you in front. In the rear, the Evanses' screened porch has become a favorite gathering place for neighbors.

Displayed about the house are antiques and curios such as a yuet chin (Chinese "moon guitar") and some of Gale's mother's smoking pipes. The big kitchen table - once used for slaughtering hogs - has rollers and a "trap door" where a naughty young relative used to dispose of her unappreciated beans at dinner time.

Cecil will have a tray of coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice and flowers waiting outside your room in the morning. Breakfast is heavy continental and may include Gale's buttermilk biscuit toast. It's not uncommon for friends and neighbors to stop in; a pleasant surprise for me was sharing breakfast with my dear friend Ruby Black, a member of the Evanses' church.

Honea Path is a town full of friendly faces and relatively free of dramatic worries. Gale likes to tell about the two elderly guests who wondered if it was safe to go walking downtown at night. She assured them it was - but later got to questioning the wisdom of her own advice. When she chanced to see the police chief a couple of days later, she asked his opinion.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "We caught that dog."

Sugarfoot Castle (211 S. Main St., Honea Path, SC 29654; (803) 369-6565) has three guest rooms sharing two-and-a-half baths, $48-51. Children older than 10 okay. Smoking outside only. No pets. ty once a year.

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