In as much as Branchville’s famous Raylrode Daze Festivul always falls on the last full weekend in September, it’s not surprising that hurricanes are an issue. Late September is the prime season for the big storms in South Carolina. Again this year, eyes are on the ocean.
After South Carolina was spared the worst of mega-storm Irma, there are new worries about Hurricane Maria. Though forecasts indicate the storm will not impact the Palmetto State, one has only to look back just days to the history of Irma. The forecast changed markedly over the storm’s history. No one will feel secure until Maria passes by and heads for oblivion.
No matter, in Branchville the show will go on.
Few of South Carolina’s celebrated festivals can match the tradition and longevity of Raylrode Daze – a reunion that is taking place for the 49th year. The big days are upcoming – and it won’t matter about the weather forecast.
Consider the past.
In 1989, 28 years ago, Hurricane Hugo delivered its blow to South Carolina. It was a time of recovery after the overnight storm of Sept. 20-21. Many people were without power. Damage in Branchville and surroundings was very real.
But the festival, albeit in an abbreviated and different form, went on anyway that Saturday.
Call it the spirit of Raylrode Daze, that kinship that makes the festival one of the largest and most popular in what is a sea of festivals in the state.
Fast forward to July 18, 1995. In the early morning hours, tragedy struck in Branchville when fire ravaged the historic railroad depot that is the symbol of the town's claim to fame as "The World's Oldest Railroad Junction."
Again, even the loss of the festival's very symbol did not spell demise for Raylrode Daze. Thanks to the leadership and continuing involvement of a long line of Branchville citizens, rebuilding ensued and the festival went on that September.
Another huge test came in March 2008 when a tornado went through the town. The twister left major destruction, including at the festival’s center, Branch Junction. But by the time for Raylrode Daze in September, even though rebuilding and repair were not complete, the show had to go on.
Branchville is not going to miss Raylrode Daze. The town and its people are proud of their festival and their railroad history, which began in 1832 when the South Carolina Railroad’s tracks reached the settlement. It became the world’s first railroad junction when the company extended tracks that paralleled the Indian trails to the west and north. The western route reached Hamburg, a small town outside of Augusta. The other track went north to Orangeburg and Columbia.
Today Branchville is not daily the hub of activity it came to be more than 150 years ago via the railroad, but if you want to experience a festival with the hometown feel of a reunion, complete with lots of people who want to be part of it, check out Raylrode Daze this weekend – rain or shine.