It was on a visit to Conway and an afternoon of exploring the history of the area with local friend Larry Biddle that I become aware of the Travelers Chapel on Hwy. 501.
I have known Larry for some time, and he always has something new for me to see and learn about when I visit. That’s just one of the reasons I like Larry and his wife Ginny, they celebrate life every day, and they also place a high value on an awareness of history.
On this trip, I had a business meeting, and afterward, Larry and his friend Mike joined us at Eggs Up Grill near Horry-Georgetown Technical College and Coastal Carolina University (I’m a fan of both schools). I remembered meeting Mike and his wife a few years earlier in Murrells Inlet. Larry invited Mike to share information about the history of the Travelers Chapel.
As the story goes, Conway chiropractor Dr. Gaylord Kelly was traveling in Washington state in 1972. It was on that trip that he come across a small chapel and he thought it would be an excellent thing to have the same thing back home for travelers and locals alike.
Dr. Kelly returned to Conway with a postcard about the tiny church, and he visited with the Rev. Emory Young. He too liked the idea of building a little chapel. Before long, the idea was shared with others in the community, and it would eventually become a community effort to build what is believed to be the first tiny Travelers Chapel in the Carolinas. Today it is reported to be the second smallest in the nation.
I was fascinated with Mike’s telling of the story. However, it was when I had the opportunity to read some of the notes and letters from travelers that I realized just how special the stop on 501 had become for so many people.
After eating, we followed Mike to the Travelers Chapel to see for ourselves. I was surprised that I had not noticed it before. I am sure I had driven by it many times over the years. I suppose we see things when we are supposed to. It is very well maintained, and I would guess about 150 square feet.
The chapel is always open and free for all. The chapel and grounds are maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers who care deeply about the cause. There have been many weddings and even a funeral in the space that can seat up to 12, but for the most part, travelers seem to stop for a time of quiet reflection and meditation.
Many people take the time to write a letter to God. I must admit that I felt a bit odd reading letters that I knew were not addressed to me. However, it was not long before I began to connect with some of the words.
Some notes expressed gratefulness, some were to benefit others, some were funny, and some were tearful. Maybe that’s a bit of what it’s all about. Connecting and relating to each other. Maybe that’s what happened to Dr. Kelly when he visited Washington state in 1972, perhaps the words and the purpose of the place got to him, and he just had to tell others about it. Maybe that’s what inspired the Rev. Young and the community to come together, and maybe that’s what has inspired the volunteers over the past 45 years.
Just maybe that’s what happened, and if so, I think I understand.
Thanks Larry for introducing me to yet another great adventure!
Carl White is the executive producer and host of the award-winning syndicated TV show “Carl White’s Life In the Carolinas,” which can be seen on WLOS ABC at 5 a.m. Saturdays, and 1:30 p.m. Sundays at WMYA My 40. Visit lifeinthecarolinas.com, email White at Carl@lifeinthecarolinas.com.