“The safety and security and all that you feel, gives you the confidence to seek out any opportunity that comes your way.”
That is how Allison Darby, the volunteer educational coordinator for the Belton Area Museum Association describes living in Belton, South Carolina.
But, before that, she said, “It’s home.”
And though less than 5,000 people call Belton home, this small town holds many stories, and even more history.
“Well if you look at Belton, it is a microcosm of what was going on in the entire United States at any given moment,” Darby said.
With artifacts dating to pre-Revolutionary War times, Darby says the Ruth Drake Museum allows Belton to not only cherish its history, but to represent it on the national stage.
A pea sheller, one of the few left in the country, sits on display at the museum. The Smithsonian saw that artifact, and now wants it for itself.
Darby says, they declined that offer. The museum association wants to keep it as a part of their agricultural collection.
A piece of parachute fabric, made in a mill in Belton, on display in the museum was once a part of the parachute that brought Ham the chimp safely back to Earth after his orbit in space in 1961.
It represents another piece of history originating in Belton, affecting the nation. History that Darby says, makes Belton a special community.
“And so because of that and because people in Belton really cherished their history, they kept their history,” she said.
Proof of that “kept” history shows in where the museum is located. In 1910 “The Depot” — what people call the museum — started as a train station in Belton.
Now, it holds not only the Ruth Drake Museum, but also the South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame.
Darby calls it the hub of the town.
Whether it is a genealogy class teaching Beltonians how to preserve photographs, or an old-fashioned turkey shoot, Darby says there is always something going on at the Depot.
“It’s just a lot of fun to know that a hundred years ago there were 84 trains, trolleys or electric trains coming through Belton. Going right past that depot and now a hundred years later it’s still the center of the activity,” Darby said,
Right across the street from that activity sits the Belton Center for the Arts. Another staple in the historic town.
A staple that Betsy Chapman, the center’s executive director, says opened because the town wanted something new.
“We basically opened as a community gathering. So a group of people got together and said, ‘We want an art center’,” Chapman said.
After a community member donated their first space, the arts center outgrew it, and moved two doors down to a bigger space. Which Chapman says, is amazing for an art center in a small town like Belton.
Even though the space was new to them, it had been there for much longer.
Chapman says their building originally served the community as a hardware store in the late 1800’s. Evidence of its history can still be seen on one of the inside walls. Where the center’s neighbor used to be the end of the square, patrons can still see the remnants of an advertisement for flour.
Much like the town itself, Belton’s art center has history coming out of its walls.
And coming up on the center’s 20th anniversary, Chapman says she can still see the importance Belton puts on art.
“It’s also educational for people, but I think it’s more for the fellowship and enjoying each other and seeing amazing art we have around this county alone,” Chapman said.
She says she would still like to see more political support from the town, not only for the arts, but for the entire downtown area. She says she wants to see Belton grow and every storefront filled.
Not too far from those storefronts is The Mercantile, a newly opened family business, that owners Jim and Rebecca Bright say is more than a restaurant, it is an experience.
“Somebody said, ‘Now you’re gonna do what, what and what now?’,” Jim said.
“Guns, furniture and ice cream,” Rebecca said.
And The Mercantile is just that.
When you first walk in, guest can see tables and chairs scattered in front of the ice cream counter, where other assorted food and drinks are sold.
If you walk straight back, a large room opens up with hundreds of antique items. And to the right, anyone can take a look at the firearms the Brights have for sale.
The Brights say this idea, and the name, came from watching old shows like Little House on the Prairie, where they always had a store that had just about everything.
With several other restaurants opening up around Belton, the Brights say Belton did not need another restaurant, it just needed the Brights.
“We just want our little niche,” Rebecca said.
“And we wanna be special about what we’re doing,” Jim said.
The Brights have called Belton home for over 20 years, and Jim even joined the city council. Still, as self-proclaimed foodies, they said it was time to do something different.
The Brights say they are willing to be open to what the public wants, as the town grows and develops. But they want to keep faith, family and friends at the center of their ice cream shop with a twist.
Belton — a town with history, art and new places to eat and shop — might not seem that way at first.
At least, it did not seem that way to Sarah DiLella, New Jersey native and current school counselor at Belton-Honea Path High School.
“I remember driving down the highway like coming in and I was like there’s nothing around. I was like oh my God what did I get myself into,” DiLella said.
But DiLella quickly learned that Belton would become a special place to her.
“Belton means like just so much more than I ever really thought it would,” DiLella said.
Still DiLella, much like Chapman, says she would like to see the downtown area grow.
But after three years, DiLella says she feels more a part of the community in Belton.
A community that Darby says embraces their history, that Chapman says keeps her from wanting to retire and that the Brights say made them realize there is nowhere else to live like Belton.
A town that the museum association calls, “a historic heart with a new beat”.
A town looking to the future, while remembering their past.