Two years ago the town of Elloree set out to resurrect its economic and aesthetic appeal by embarking on a $1.1 million streetscape project.

Deemed by many as an ambitious effort to transform a community which had been losing residents and businesses, the intention of the project was to preserve the town's history and the culture of its surrounding areas.

With the impetus of a few concerned citizens and the support of Elloree Town Council, revitalization efforts have continued to blossom and have brought an increase in tourism to the once dying town.

As a result, those associated with the endeavor have been selected by the Community of Character committee as best exemplifying the month of June's character trait of judgment.

"We thought it really took a giant step of faith to pursue the revitalization of the Elloree downtown area," said Dede Blewer, Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce president. "Good judgment was utilized in the project's timing and its expanse. They have seemingly done everything they needed to accomplish."

Defined as the "capacity to form an opinion by distinguishing and evaluating", judgment has been at the core of Elloree's revitalization efforts.

"We really began to examine ways to help ourselves and little did we know the answer was right in front of us," said Maggie Griffin, former town administrator and one of the forerunners of the project. "We noticed the tourism already in place and tried to expand on that."

As part of the effort to attract tourists, the streetscape project has included the implementation of lights, brick crosswalks, new streets, sidewalks, trees, flowers and meters, and benches.

In addition to street beautification, building renovations have also played a significant part in the project. To date, private investors have purchased 18 buildings in town with two buildings currently in the process of being sold, said Griffin.

"Our town was just about dried up, so we either had to do something about it or bury it," said Elloree Mayor Vernon Shirer. "Through a lot of hard work, it has really come full circle. Anybody can see that project was a good thing to do."

Linked with the building renovations, the Elloree Heritage Museum will be relocated to the old Brandenburg building built in the early 1900s. The renovated building will house a farm and agricultural wing.

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The old Elloree Depot will be used as a cultural center. The center will provide visitors and residents alike a pictorial journey into the heart of the area's rich agricultural and religious heritage.

When initially begun, officials examined the town's assets, its vision and its leadership to determine the feasibility of the project.

Through assessment, the city determined location, uniqueness of the town's architecture, its wide streets and proximity to the Santee State Park as pertinent in the initiation of revitalization.

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While city leaders expressed interest in the project, it was not until a group of citizens approached town council with plans to purchase and eventually sell some of the town's buildings to private investors, that the endeavor took off.

It was then that Elloree Town Council issued bonds for $176,000 so the town could purchase the buildings, allocated approximately $60,000 for the Streetscape project and purchased more than 2 acres of land for public parking.

With the funds in place, officials proceeded to share their vision with private investors and the community.

At first, hesitancy in approving the project on the part of certain private sectors caused some concern for city leaders, but Griffin credits a "focused determination" in bringing the project to its completion.

"We would take a little time out for a pity party, but as with any adventure one cannot stop moving," Griffin said. "When one phase of the project fell through, we did not slow down."

Describing the initial stages of the project as filled with anxiety, Griffin said city leaders have fulfilled their intentions.

"Business and jobs have increased helping to create a larger tax base," Griffin said. "It has really breathed life into this community."

T&D Staff Writer Gene Zaleski can be reached by e-mail at gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or by calling 803-533-5551.

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