Discover Main Street Walhalla: Garden of the Gods

By:Page Ivey

Date:8/8/2016

Walhalla, SC, is a classic small Southern town with a wide, lovely Main Street filled with shops and restaurants and ideal for exploring on foot. The Upstate town, founded by German immigrants in the 1850s, is one of the best places to celebrate Oktoberfest in the state.

The town's founders were so taken by the area's beauty that they named it Walhalla, which translates to Garden of the Gods. The foothills reminded them of the landscape back home in northern Germany.

The town was near an outpost known as Oconee Station, which was home to the South Carolina militia in the years immediately after the Revolutionary War and acted as a protective fort against raids by Creek and Cherokee tribes in the area. The Cherokee had lived in the area for generations and their history is preserved in a museum in Walhalla.

In 1805, the William Richards built a home on the land and converted the stone blockhouse at Oconee Station into a kitchen for his home. Richards’ home and the blockhouse remain on the outskirts of town in the Oconee Station State Historic Site.

Also on the outskirts of town are the Stumphouse Tunnel and Issaqueena Falls, which are tied into the area’s Civil War and Indian histories. The falls are named for an Indian maiden who, according to legend, warned settlers of an Indian attack. As she ran away from her Indian pursuers, she appeared to jump over the falls, but actually hid behind the wall of water, eluding capture. The Stumphouse Tunnel began as part of a railroad project to connect Charleston to Knoxville and eventually Cincinnati. The tunnel was only partially completed when the Civil War began, and it was abandoned when funds were never available to finish the project. In the 1950s, nearby Clemson University bought the tunnel and found it maintained a constant temperature and humidity that was an ideal for ripening blue cheese.

Today, Walhalla has all the things you want in a small town, and then some. Some say you'll find the best fried chicken in the state here. And the annual Oktoberfest held on the third Thursday in October honors the town’s German roots and offers lots of fun for kids and adults alike.

Here's a virtual stroll down Main Street and beyond.

Main Street from east to west:

Warther’s Antique Market & Auction Co.; 321 E. Main

This warehouse gets so full of consignment pieces that it holds weekly auctions. The first weekend of each month is the Saturday night “quality antiques” auction. On the fourth weekend of the month is a Sunday afternoon general merchandise auction. Check out a more detailed schedule at Auction Zip. If auctions are not your thing, you can always browse the merchandise 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.

Steak House Cafeteria; 316 E. Main

An institution here since the 1940s, the cafeteria has been owned by the same family since the 1970s. It is a classic cafeteria-style restaurant, so each item has its own price. Most meals will probably be around $10. Fried chicken and coconut cream pie are the specialties. Open for lunch Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday and for lunch and dinner Thursday-Saturday.

Jim’s Pool Room; 228 E. Main

This is a classic pool hall with few frills, but a great way to spend an hour or two indoors, especially if it’s hot and shopping for antiques is not your thing.

Carolina Pizza Co.; 124 E. Main

The food here is great—try the tree hugger—the beer selection includes craft brews, and it’s also a great place to bring the kids. What more could you want? Oh yeah, the pizza maker sometimes serenades the customers while he’s making their pie. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday.

Palmetto Sweets & Co.; 115 E. Main

Don’t let the name fool you, this shop—known locally as Kay’s Bakery—also serves sandwiches and salads as well as the sweet stuff. Stop in for breakfast or afternoon coffee and scones. Definitely give the turkey and brie sandwich a try and don’t skip the pie. Open Tuesday-Friday 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Pete’s Drive In; 107 E. Main

Let’s be clear, Pete’s isn’t really a “drive” in, but it has a definite 1950s vibe, with hundreds of old album covers decorating the walls. The service here is very friendly and the cheeseburgers and Calabash chicken are favorites, but it also is known as a classic meat-and-three restaurant. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

Oconee County Veterans Park; 205 W. Main

As you stroll past the Oconee County Courthouse, you will see a park dedicated to the county’s estimated 8,000 veterans of wars from the Revolutionary War to the Persian Gulf War. A Purple Heart monument was dedicated in 2012 and the Patriot's Hall: Oconee Veterans' Museum is just around the corner at 13 Short St. behind the courthouse. The museum has military artifacts, documents, photographs and artwork that tell the personal stories of veterans. The museum is free and open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

St. John’s Lutheran Church; 301 W. Main

This church sits on a hill overlooking the small town and was organized in 1853. Construction began about six years later on the building, which was designed by John Kaufmann, who had never built a steeple. To meet this challenge, he built a four-post support using timbers that were 60 feet tall. The church building housed its first meeting in 1860 and was formally dedicated the next spring. The first bell in the church was from a ship and placed here in 1868.

Off the main drag:

Oconee Heritage Center; 123 Browns Square

Located in a 19th-century tobacco factory, this museum features the history of the northwestern-most corner of the state, referred to by at least one previous politician as the “dark corner.” Exhibits include a replica of the Stumphouse Tunnel and a tenant farmer’s house. Admission is free, but a donation of $3 per person is suggested. Open 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday.

Museum of the Cherokee; 70 Short St.

The Cherokee in South Carolina lived very much like the settlers who would follow them. An agricultural people, the Cherokee lived in small communities or towns of a couple dozen buildings, surrounding a central plaza area. Oconee was considered the town from which other towns sprang up in the lower Cherokee Valley. But settlers and natives did not share the land for very long. By 1816, all Cherokee land in South Carolina had been appropriated. The museum is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday. Most of the artifacts in the museum, including pottery, arrowheads and jewelry were “finds” in backyards, fields and along the river and lake beds in the area.

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