Originally created 07/14/97

Petticoat Junction a crossroads to past, present



PETTICOAT JUNCTION, S.C. - At the crossroads of U.S. Highway 278 and Silver Bluff Road, the faded sign with block letters hangs from the low-slung, white brick building like a signpost to aging memories.

In the 1940s, there was a juke joint called Bradley's Grill; in the 1960s, a gas station and general store renamed Petticoat Junction.

It's the name on the sign - Petticoat Junction - that has lingered as a reminder of sweeter times when communities came together around family-owned businesses. And, it's the name that stuck in people's minds and turned a store into a landmark on the map, Petticoat Junction, S.C.

Hattie Bradley, who with her husband George owned the store, chose the name from the popular television show that aired in the 1960s. Coincidentally the matriarch on the show was Kate Bradley, who ran the Shady Rest Hotel with her three daughters and Uncle Joe.

The Bradleys had three daughters of their own, Sarah, Shirley and Priscilla.

"Mention Petticoat Junction and Highway 278 and people will know where you're talking about," said Horace Richardson, a retired maintenance worker at the Savannah River Site.

Mr. Richardson stood at the rear of his pickup truck last week, picking out parts to repair the air conditioner at Holley's Grocery, another relic of times when "Mom and Pop" stores were plentiful. The grocery with its hinged, double screen doors is still open for business.

The Bradleys built their store in the 1940s. It was one of the few black-owned businesses in the area when segregation was the rule.

The store had everything: Gas, hamburgers, hot dogs, pin ball machines, a juke box, pool tables, soda pop and beer.

For Sarah Brown, the Bradleys' oldest daughter, the store was like a second home. She was about 4 years old when her parents opened Bradley's Grill.

"It sort of became the focal point of where people stopped off, especially coming down Silver Bluff and Highway 278. It was the only gas station at the time," she said.

Ada McDaniel, 77, lived in the community when Bradley's Grill was open.

"It was one of the main little places that was there," she said. "There was the grocery store across the street. (Petticoat Junction) was a bit livelier. They sold everything. You'd see people down there sitting under the porch roof on benches.

"Wherever you were in the Central Savannah River Area, if you said Petticoat Junction, people knew where you meant. You could tell bus drivers that you wanted to stop there, and they knew," she said.

Despite the success of the grill, Mrs. Bradley decided to close her business as her daughters got older. The store remained shuttered for about eight years.

"She figured she didn't want to raise us in a juke joint," Ms. Brown said. When the store reopened in the 1960s, Ms. Brown, now 52, was in her early 20s.

She and her sisters, now Shirley Coleman and Priscilla Langford, still live near Petticoat Junction. All of them helped tend the store with their mother.

By the 1960s, Mr. Bradley was employed as a construction worker for Du Pont at Savannah River Plant. He also built or rented houses to SRS employees who moved in from other states like Alabama or Tennessee and sometimes gave rides to shift workers to and from the plant in his panel truck.

Greyhound and Trailways buses stopped at the crossroads for passengers or to pick up packages.

"Ladies would get out there and flag them down with their handkerchiefs," Ms. Brown said. Petticoat Junction was an easy landmark to remember, she said.

In four directions, there was Aiken, New Ellenton, Jackson and Beech Island.

Ms. Brown said, "Everyone came there, children, old people, young people. On Saturdays people would come to sit around inside the store with her. It was a focal point for the neighborhood. Shift workers at the plant would stop by waiting for their shifts to begin."

Mrs. Bradley - known as Aunt Bush to her family - watched out for children in the neighborhood, many of whom were picked up for school outside Petticoat Junction.

"A lot of kids would stay around the store until their parents got off from work," Ms. Brown said. On cold days, Mrs. Bradley gave shelter to children when they waited for the school bus, she said.

On occasion Ms. Brown said she and her sisters would be left to tend the store. "She'd go off fishing and leave me saying she wouldn't be gone long," Ms. Brown said.

But that wasn't always the case, Ms. Brown said. In those days, pumping gas was a chore that meant giving full service to customers, she said. Store hours were long, usually from 6:30 a.m. until Mrs. Bradley shooed away her last customer at 11 p.m.

With the new name, customers jokingly began calling Mr. Bradley, Uncle Joe. But Ms. Brown said her father enjoyed the good-natured ribbing.

Ms. McDaniel remembered the neatly kept yard Mr. Bradley had at the family home behind the store.

"In his garden, he had a little sign that said "Shady Rest," she said.

Today the dirt road behind Petticoat Junction is named Shady Rest Road.

"She loved that show," Ms. Brown said of her mother.

When Mr. Bradley became ill in the early 1970s, the store was closed again. Mr. Bradley has been dead for some years; Mrs. Bradley died only last year. But the store remained vacant for many years.

Then, three years ago, Ms. Brown became concerned about the deterioration of the building and decided to rent it the Rev. Essie Owens, of Augusta, who started the Mt. Hope Baptist Church at the site.

Ms. Brown had only one request.

"I asked her not to take the sign down. It's a landmark," Ms. Brown said. "It's really a good feeling to know that my mother did that. It sounds kind of funny to say I'm from Petticoat Junction. But I feel proud of the fact that the name stuck."