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The YMCA Camp (The 'Y' Camp) / R. G. Bell Camp / Bell Camp, Mallet Hill Road: Mid 1980s   51 comments

Posted at 11:12 pm in closing

The following essay is one of the things that, very gradually, led to the creation of Columbia Closings. I wrote it in one draft (apparently without even having my hands on the home keys at some points) to try to quickly get down what I was feeling at the time. I had some vague idea about polishing it up and trying to place it in the Neighbors section of The State or in The Free Times, but in the event never submitted it anywhere as I realized that even if it were accepted, it would have to go through a dis-enchanting number of edits for length and content. Certainly if I had actually submitted it, I would have toned down some of the over-sharing. (I have even done a bit of that in today's edit).

Anyway, this sat for years on my hard drive and was one of the things I had in the back of my mind as I gradually came up with the idea for a site of What's Not In Columbia Anymore. It would have been one of my first posts except for the fact that all the photos it mentions were missing. I'm still not entirely sure they are any of the ones I've found, but at least I have now found and digitized a good number.

Looking back from 50 at what I wrote as a 29 year old, I have to shake my head a few times and hope I save my outrage for bigger targets now, but I have refrained from doing any major edits:

Bell Camp, Oct 15 1990

I pulled into the parking lot of the McDonald's at Clemson Road. I went in and got a cup of ice tea, making me an official customer. I left the tea in the car, and picking up my small disposable camera and set out across the road. The sun was bright and the air was warm and clear. There was no sign of the record breaking rains that had deviled the state on Friday and Saturday. It was a good day for a walk.

As I made my way over the ugly bank of pushed up dirt, I could suddenly see into the slight valley that cradled a placid rectangular lake in its gently sloping walls.

The lake itself used to haunt my dreams. Momma had taken us there once or twice when were were little, and then never mentioned it again for years and years. Several years ago, while walking at Bell Camp, I noticed that the "No Trespassing" signs in the woods behind the park were gone, and kept walking where I would normally have turned back. I had come out on a rise overlooking the lake from the end opposite where I was now. It had been an intense flash of deja vu, and one of those moments when the years drop away and you can imagine your mother coming up behind you with a gaggle of cousins and a picnic basket. Later I told Momma how I had found the lake, and she told me its name, which I cannot remember. She didn't say why we had stopped going there. I imagine it was the "No Trespassing:" signs. I never dreamt of it after finding it again. Lately it has been "discovered" and a housing development is being build around it. Either the houses are not selling, or are home to sedentary people -- I never see anyone out around the lake.

I missed the place where the dirt road that runs along the lake bank closest to I-20 joined the clear-cut I was walking down, and so had to slog my way through a brief copse of woods and underbrush to find it. I doubt there's any vehicular traffic on it; there's a three foot gash cut through it at one point that's been there several years, but I did see signs of horses. Almost stepped in them, actually. I walked alone, the sounds of westbound traffic on I-20 an occasional roar, muffled by the embankment and brush.

When the road ended, I found myself on the "cliff" overlooking the west end of the lake. I walked carefully along its edge until I found the trail leading to Bell Camp.

Soon I saw the brick and cement of one of the old charcoal grills. There had been picnic sites on this side of the Bell Camp lake for as long as I could remember, and in all those years, I couldn't ever remember us using one -- We always set up on the side nearest the lodge. The old bridge leading onto the south lake bank was in bad shape, just a buckled sheet of plywood over the brick edges of the cut-through, but it held my weight.

What struck me most as I stood on the bank, with my first good view of the Bell Camp lake, was the shame of it all. This was a Swimming lake, with sand specially laid down to avoid that slimy bottom that often mars freshwater swimming. It was a good lake, even if the water would turn your bathing suit yellow, and here it sat with weeds growing on the beach and in the swimming area.

I suppose I should have sen it coming. In the old days, the place was always packed in the summer, there was a floating raft out in the deep water that was sometimes empty and sometimes had a sliding board or trampoline. University students essentially ran the place, with the kind of uncritical attitude you might expect, and the lifeguard was only on duty until 5. We would always try to come after 5, because after the lifeguard left, we could really have some fun. In the beginning, nobody had pools, and a trip to the Y Camp as we called it then, was a major expedition down dirt roads far out in the country.

Gradually, things began to change. More and more people had access to pools, and the incredible vise that is the American Insurance/Litigation syndrome began to clamp down on the University. As the 80s drew on, fewer and fewer people wanted to come swim in a lake, and the University banned first swimming after the lifeguard left, and them swimming altogether. The territory changed too. What was the deep boonies in the 60s was now prime Columbia Northeast territory and the University got greedy. I should have seen it coming when Holderman sold the camp, but I didn't, and it had shocked me.

I walked across the bank. The old bathhouse, which had become the concession stand, the new bathhouse and the lodge all had No Trespassing signs. I stayed well away from them -- if anyone stopped me, I intended to say I thought it applied only to the building. It might even be true. I went across to the old playground area. Things seemed to have been dismantled to the point that no child might accidentally have some fun.

The picnic shelter at the start of the nature trail was still there. The last time I had used that was for the ACM cookout in College, seven or so years ago. I remember I rode back to campus with a pretty girl in my lap. Unfortunately, her boyfriend was driving -- They do make a nice couple.

There was grape vine near the shelter. It was a bit late in the season, but there were still a few grapes on it. I tried them -- Sour! Sour! I started around the nature trail. In even the few years the Camp had been closed, the brush had begun to close in on the trail, and in one place there was a tree down across it, probably a memento of Hugo. I generally try to walk the trail in grape season, because there are usually more of the large green scuppernongs, but I saw none today.

When I got to the break for the "meadow", I left the trail. As far as I know, I'm the only one in the family who knows about the meadow. It's a place where the woods stop and give way to bushes and erosion trails in the sandy soil. In season, it's full of blackberries. In the fall, there's a persimmon tree that is always loaded with persimmons. That's what I was looking for now.

It was still there, with much of its harvest under it, but a lot still on the limbs. I pulled gingerly, taking only those fruits that dropped readily into my fingers. You do not want a persimmon before its time, ever. I tried several. Thery were the first I had had in probably 15 years, and were better than I remembered. I ate several and picked some to carry out.

I got back on the path, and walked until I got to the little wooden foot bridge over a swift stream that always reminded me of a mountain brook. I never figured out where it came from -- perhaps the other lake. I took some pictures of the stream rolling through the mossy banks into the lake. I had gotten a wide-angle disposable camera, and I knew they wouldn't come out right but there was nothing I could do about it.

Past the stream, they had done a clear-cut through the woods, and some sort of excavation for sewer lines, power lines, drains or some such. At any rate, after all the rains, I didn't want to slog through that soggy mess, so I turned back and retraced my steps. This time, when I got to the shelter, I headed up the hill towards the cottages.

There used to be a little putt-putt course on the hill, In real terms, it never was much good, and vanished long before the Camp closed, but we used to have a lot of fun, hitting balls around on those off balanced, crack-sided, worn carpeted, pine straw strewn holes. I think we had some kind of rule that applied if your ball turned aside after hitting pine straw, but I'm not sure anymore.

The cottages themselves were simple one room affairs. You could rent them to stay in, I think by the week. It was always something were were going to do "next year", and while I doubted my sister ever thought about it after the first or second grade, the idea had always fascinated me. Now they sat there, with broken windows and open doors, all the mystery gone. There wasn't going to be any next year. I was mad for a few minutes, then I was sad.

I looked at them for a while, and took some more pictures.

The caretakers' house was empty too. I hoped they had had someplace to go. As far as I know, the same man and his wife were caretakers all the years we went to Bell Camp. Momma know them, and she used to stop and talk with them on our way in sometimes. Gradually, as we grew and got more insistent that we start swimming now, we saw them less and less. Now I can't even remember their names.

Behind the house, across an over-grown lawn was a shed I couldn't ever remember seeing before. I walked over to it, and saw there, leaning against the wall, the most melancholy sight of the whole day. It was a "Stop" sign, mounted in a wooden frame, with a placard that read "Members Only".

There's a long winding driveway leading into Bell Camp, and on that drive there is a little shelter where they used to pay students to sit with this sign and come out and check your ID as you drove in.

The whole thing was a joke, because they weren't there at all after 5, and half the time before 5 they had something better to do. When they were there, they would wave an essentially unlimited number of people through on one ID. It was part of the casual "Good enough" atmosphere.

I looked at the sign for several moments, then turned and walked off. As I headed down toward the main parking lot, I started to get mad again. I thought of entertainingly amateurish Fourth Fireworks displays, of swimming and canoeing, of Momma going up to the lodge and telling the students running the PA to Please turned down the music, of picnics and cookouts, Sus breaking her collar bone jumping off an inner-tube, Sir Cow and Sir duck, playing putt-putt, and of how the fish would come bite you if you stood still long enough, of playing pom-pom and chicken-fighting. And now, here it all was not being used for anything. Not for houses, a country club, anything. I was mad enough at Holderman to spit. What can you do when someone has sold your childhood?

Nothing, you can't do anything. But I can remember, and I can write it down. And if you read this, then there are two of us who remember. And they can never take that away.

I looked for grape in the vines around the lot. Too late in the season. I started back to McDonalds.

On reflection, I believe the caretakers were the "Shealy's". Also, the Clemson Road lake is (at least now) called Hughes Pond.

The note I wrote on the Wolfpro envelope dates this photoset to Fall 1991 "probably" (all photos are clickable). Note that the lake is still filled, and the cabins are still standing as are the Concession Stand (old bathhouse), the new bathhouse and the lodge. Also most of the playground equipment is still in place and upright, including the swingset arch, the obstacle course,the monkey-bars and the see-saw. The final picture is of the second lake, off the camp property and closer to Clemson Road:

This set is from Sunday 6 March 1994. Notice that the lake is drained at this point, and the raft is aground. Somebody has tipped over the see-saw, but the lodge is still standing. I later "liberated" one of those wooden slat trash cans though I haven't yet done anything more than set it on the carport. The first three pictures are of residential water infrastructure going in. The next two are of the Clemson Road lake, and walking that lake bank towards Bell Camp:

This photoset is from Saturday 23 August 1997. We start with the ruins of the caretaker's house and the outbuilding behind it. The piano was once inside the lodge, and people (with varying degrees of skill) would bang on it every now and then. The rope of floats divided the little kid area of the lake from "the deep end". Note that the lake has been re-filled again to some degree. Also, the bath house has been taken down -- the stairs now go to nowhere. I don't know what was going on with my light-meter, but some of these seem considerably under-exposed.

This photoset is simply labeled "Fall 2003". Several of the pictures seem to be from around the nature trail, including what I think are the remnants of a small foot-bridge over the "chasm" just off the playground. The lodge is gone, except, for some reason, a bunch of electrical insulators. The steps to the bath house are more overgrown, and a tree is growing from one of the trash bins. The parking lot (whose road now leads nowhere) still has a concrete wall around the camp end, and the walkway with guardrails which led to the lodge now leads nowhere. The swingset arch has been uprooted, and dragged into the bushes.

This photoset is dated "Summer 2004". By context, I can say it was probably August. These are the playground monkey-bars, which have been uprooted and carted off to the corner of the old playground area. They now have trees growing through them..

These three pictures come from Spring 2005. By this time access was intermittenly possible through Belleclave during "open house" events. Someone has set chairs down by the lake's edge for fishing. Again these are not well exposed:

This photoset is from 13 August 2006, and is shot in black-and-white for reasons which made sense at the time. A house has been built on the "far" shore of the Bell Camp lake. People are fishing from the "near" lake bank, and a house is being built on the lake bank which led up to the playground. The swingset arch is still in the bushes:

This color set is from the sam 13 August 2006 visit. You can sort of see that a cul-de-sac where a new house is being built. This is more or less on or by the old lodge location, though it is getting harder to tell the exact geography. Again you can see that house being built, and the fishers on the lake bank. The set also goes to the south, dam, edge of the lake an looks at the path that leads back to the Clemson Road lake. There is also a picture of the still gravelled (more or less) parking lot:

These two pictures are only labeled "Summer 2006". Once more you can see the walkway from the parking lot to the lodge, and the new house across the lake:

"Summer 2007". The new house above the lake bank is finished (but unoccupied). This was the last time I was able to get into the old Bell Camp location. It's behind a gated community now, and I have not seen an "open house" for several years:

There were (more or less) three ways to get to Bell Camp. The first way was to take Two Notch Road out past Sequi to Sparkleberry Lane and then turn right on Mallet Hill Road. Mallet Hill was definitely unpaved in the beginning (and probably unnamed in those pre-911 days), and Sparkleberry itself may well have been. It was definitely a trip to the edge of the world. The second way was to take Percival Road to Smallwood Road and turn left. The third way was to take Faraway Drive past Blue Cross/Blue Shield to Alpine Road and then go left on Old Percival Road to Smallwood. This way was like driving through a third-world country, or The South 50 years previously.

Here is the turnoff from Percival to Smallwood:

At the time, there was a small, wood-shopped sign for Bell Camp on the north-east corner. I thought about nicking it at one point, but either someone beat me to it, or the clearing of the land for the new houses that are there now put paid to it. (There was lots of nothing here back in the day..)

Belleclave is the upscale, faux-gated development off of Mallet Hill which currently has the only road leading into the old Bell Camp property:

Bellclave Road leads to Bellford Ridge Road, which follows the old camp entrance road:

The gates that cordon off the old Bell Camp property are at the intersection of Bellford Ridge Road and Belle Valley Lane. The tennis courts would have been just past the gates on the right:



It's not currently possible to get past those gates without a code, and it's also not currently possible to hike in from Clemson Road without going through a lot of people's back yards, which obviously I'm not going to do. A few weeks ago I tried going down Wildewood Center Drive to see if I could hike in from there. The answer is no -- Although a dirt road does lead off from the final cul-de-sac and accesses a new catchment basin, there is a fence all around the old Bell Camp Property. However, from that fence I could distantly seen the lake (apparently now being called Bells Pond):

Now that I've got the essay in there, and have finally marshalled all the photos into one spot, here are just a few more random thoughts and memories about Bell Camp:

In the late 70s and early 80s, the annual Fourth of July celebration at Bell Camp was a big deal. They would have bands on the playground, and later fireworks out on the lake launched from the raft. I'm pretty sure Bell Camp Fourth of July was the first place I saw The Swimming Pool Qs perform. I had only been listening to rock for a few years at the time, and I just didn't know what to make about this jangly band singing about how Your baby is a big fat tractor and ride her you must! The fireworks, like most of what happened at the camp, were handled by work-study students who had all the pyrotechnic training you would expect. One year they practically managed to set the raft on fire and all the staff had to "abandon ship" by diving into the lake.

The lake was mostly fed by creeks, but there were a number of springs as well. A few welled up at the edge of the swimming area, and were clay lined. You could stick your hands in and pull out potting style (not red) clay, and if you walked over the lake bottom near the spring mouth, you could feel the bottom giving way beneath your feet.

The beginning of the end for Bell Camp probably came when I-20 cut through for Camden. All of a sudden, you didn't have the same "miles from civilization" feeling with cars whizzing by not too far from the lake's edge. It was still somewhat rustic when Crazy Jim sold the place, but it's incredible how much the area has changed now. The original plan was to take the money from the sale and buy the University a new recreation area on Lake Murray, but I don't know if that happened or not.

There were two lodges at different times. The camp underwent a major renovation sometime, I think, in the late 1970s. At that time the old bathhouse was converted into the concession stand (where you got snacks, checked out life vests and canoe paddles, or golf clubs and balls), and a new bathhouse was built further up the hill from the lake. At about the same time the old lodge (which was also the original concession stand) was torn town and the one I have pictured here was built. As well as the piano, the lodge had ping-pong tables and foos-ball. If a thunder storm blew up, which it did about half the time on summer afternoons, everyone would repair to the lodge and play ping-pong.

I fully expect I will uncover more pictures sooner or later. If I do, I will add them here as well.

UPDATE 8 September 2012: Added another picture of the automatic gate.

UPDATE 11 August 2021 -- Adding tags and map icon.

51 Responses to 'The YMCA Camp (The 'Y' Camp) / R. G. Bell Camp / Bell Camp, Mallet Hill Road: Mid 1980s'

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  1. Is this the old Legion Lake. It's been sooo many years ago I can't quite remember exactly where Legion Lake was located.
    I barely remember Nantucket and Mothers Finest having concerts there, if you know what I mean...


    22 May 11 at 2:17 pm

  2. I looked at Google Maps using the info Ted supplied and found out that is is roughly near where Bell's Pond is. Approximate GPS coordinates for anyone interested are: 34.091907, -80.869183.


    22 May 11 at 2:41 pm

  3. It looks like the set of a friday the 13th movie! LOL!


    23 May 11 at 8:21 am

  4. Great photo essay, Ted ... My 'rents' moved out there in 1980. I left
    in '82 ... remember swimming in the old lake a few times
    (when we didn't feel like drivin' all the way out to Lk. Murray) ;)


    24 May 11 at 2:22 pm

  5. My Dad's Philosophy Department (USC) had regular department family picnics there (late '70s IIRC). I remember it fondly, thanks for the photos. The WCOS "Great 98" sticker on one of the doors is a nice touch!

    Scott Long

    26 May 11 at 12:47 pm

  6. I went to the camp in the late 70's, we lived a few miles away and we would ride bikes. I am not sure of the history of the location, but, there was a small / old cemetary off of the main road going into the camp. Hopefully the builders protected the location. I believe in the 70's the lake behind the camp was called Crystal Lake. Thanks for the pictures.

    Steve Moore

    28 May 11 at 9:47 pm

  7. Interesting post since I live in this area. I go running into Belleclave and there is a dirt road that leads back behind the gated area and presumably where some of these pics were taken.,-80.876255&spn=0,0.00284&z=19&layer=c&cbll=34.090112,-80.876255&panoid=jTyNReBrksKv4VP4I-Tv5w&cbp=12,89.13,,0,2.8

    Its off Belle valley lane in the back of the neighborhood, listed as "belle lake ct" in google maps, but is unpaved and obviously unfinished.


    20 Jun 11 at 9:18 pm

  8. Lived in Columbia from 68-71 while my father was a grad student. USC owned the camp then, and we spent many hours in that lake. It was old then, but well-kept and a lot of fun. Sad to see it gone.


    21 Jul 11 at 2:48 pm

  9. Wow thank you that was great. That lake also haunted my memories and I was very surprised when I couldn't find anything online I'm about it until I found this site. my dad was a psychology professor at usc and I spent many a summer afternoons in the early eighty's there. Your essay was awesome and the pictures are incredible. I can't wait to explore the rest of the site.

    Doug Black

    30 Aug 11 at 10:57 pm

  10. Wasn't there a small dam near the pier?


    29 Nov 11 at 3:08 pm

  11. The entire side of the lake paralleling I-20 (the logical south side of the lake) was a dam. This is where the spillway was, The floating dock was generally moored more or less on that side, but the pier was further north.

    The dam side is visible here. (very large). Or smaller above.


    29 Nov 11 at 5:02 pm

  12. Thank you thank you! I have also been haunted by memories of "Bell Camp." My parents took my siblings and me there from approximately 1971-1977. I remember the concession stand sold soft drinks in bottles, and you could hardly avoid stepping on a bottle cap on the "beach" area. I remember paddle boats on the "deep side." Marvelous site! I grew up in Forest Acres and I have distinct memories of Mr. Nozit's Egg Hunts at Richland Mall. I loved the Christmas decorations that were hung in the parking lot of Trenholm Plaza. So many memories from a child's perspective!


    27 May 12 at 11:04 pm

  13. wow . . . .I just found this. I lifeguarded from "81 until I graduated in '83. My dog Darby is buried in front of the cabin I lived in. Hot and sparse, but it was home for 3 years in the summers. George Gilpin and his family were the resident management. Lots of life lessons were learned there for employees, guests and day campers! the last concert I recall was Bobby Bare-4th of July in 82 or 83. Pour me another tequila , Sheila was heard all over the place. I even met the man I married there. Its a shame it could not be kept for generations to come


    30 May 12 at 6:04 pm

  14. We would usually wait unitl y'all were off duty to go out :-)


    30 May 12 at 10:41 pm

  15. @Ted - I'm looking at Google Earth right now and I have a question. As huge as Wildewood has become, are there any remnants of Bell Camp left? I remember seeing the entrance off of Mallet Hill years ago before the subdivision expanded so much and I always wanted to explore the area. But the chains and No Trespassing signs always turned me away.


    3 Jun 12 at 2:01 am

  16. Well, the lake is still there. And Bellford Ridge Road is on the bed of the old access road to a bit after the tennis courts.

    As far as actual Bell Camp infrastructure, the last time I was able to get inside the site, the old parking lot was still recognizable as a paved patch, and the sidewalk leading from the lot to the lodge was still there, with railings. The steps leading from the lakefront area up to the new bath-house were still there, though the bath-house had been razed. That was 2006 though, so who knows now?

    As for actual structures associated with the camp, I believe all had been razed by 2006.


    3 Jun 12 at 2:23 am

  17. I have fond memories of Bell Camp when I was a grad student in Biology at USC 1972-1974. My friends and I went there often in the summer to sunbathe and swim. The Biology Department had cookouts there. I don't remember the small cabins, but do remember the lodge-type building. We always approached it from Percival Road and it did seem like it was waaaaay out in the country. Of course, Sesqui was that way years ago, too.


    12 Jun 12 at 1:49 pm

  18. I swam and fished out there many times through the early 80s and was a day camp counselor during the summers of my last 2 years of high school there. The other guys that worked there and I would drive my jeep through the woods and up around Crystal lake. There was an old, small family cemetery just inside the main entrance off of Mallet Hill Rd. on the right but from the looks of Google Maps it wasn't preserved (I thought it was illegal to disrupt graves?). George Gilpin was the caretaker that lived in a house at the opposite end of the parking area. You would turn right at the guard stand instead of left going to the lake. He was a super guy as a person and to work for. Lots of great memories made out there!


    5 Aug 12 at 10:15 am

  19. This is George's daughter. I lived their until I was 6. Do yall have any stories of Bell Camp or old pictures?


    15 Oct 12 at 4:56 pm

  20. I have posted all the pictures I could locate. It's possible that I may have some more amongst all my old sets of prints and negatives. If I ever run across more, I will post them.

    In the meantime, I know I posted a lot of them at tiny size to make this post more managable, but if you click on any picture, you will get a much larger version.


    15 Oct 12 at 5:11 pm

  21. Thanks Ted. Anyone that worked with my dad could you email your memories. I remember one guy that worked there always called me frog legs when I was little. lol

    My email address is


    15 Oct 12 at 7:11 pm

  22. Cristal Lake.
    I first saw Cristal lake (Hughes Pond on the map) around 1972. My friends and I used to skip a few classes at Spring Valley on Sparkleberry Lane. We would take a right on Mallet Hill Rd which was a dirt road, and take a left on one of the many dirt roads leading down to the lake. We use to party and swim there. I swam across it. It also had a rope on a tree for swinging into it. I was told that the water had a very clean rating by DHEC.

    Bell Camp
    One time around 1973 while skipping school a friend and I went out on a canoe and it tipped over and we had to slog out of it. When I attended USC, I worked as a lifeguard there in the summer of 1977. One of the other lifeguards was an off-duty Forest Acres cop. Phil Lownes was our boss who lived in the house by the entrance. He cooked a pig on the 4th of July and we had many games and parties there. I Saw the Chairman of the Board Band and the Sterling Band there.
    Many happy memories.

    Legion Lake
    was located past Village at Sandhill off of Rhame Rd. We would also go there around 1974-5 to swim and ride a wild horse. I saw Doc Watson perform there around 1982.


    jay king

    13 Feb 13 at 10:33 pm

  23. I don't know if this will be true all week, but this weekend, Bellclave has been having an Open House, and the access gate is open. So if you want to have a look at the old place, this could be your time..


    21 Apr 13 at 6:14 pm

  24. The Bell camp was started by my father, R. G. Bell Sr. who was the Executive Director of The University YM/ WCA from 1919 to 1950.The camp was developed from property that was part of Fort Jackson during WWII. The original lake, Lodge and asociated buildings were built in the late 1940, as a part of the campus YMCA program. It was used for a freshman orientation camp before the fall school started as well as other Y activities. The use of these facilities gradually changed after dad's.There was a monument at the entrance that was in memory to my father who died in 1950. This monument has been relocated to the entrance of a building comples on Blossom Street.

    R. G. Bell Jr.

    19 Dec 13 at 4:53 pm

  25. Yes, I remember that monument!

    I certainly had some fun at your father's camp over the years..


    20 Dec 13 at 12:45 am

  26. I remember going to a Midlands Technical College party out there that started early in the morning and went til very late, late, late the next morning! Great party! I also remember going out here as a kid once in awhile but then our neighbor's built a swimming pool two doors down and Bell Camp became a fond memory!

    Pat Lewis

    25 Sep 14 at 12:22 pm

  27. An old friend from USC reminded me of an all week-end party and BBQ we had out there in 1979-1980. It was an "unofficial" Golden Spur party when the school had the good sense (sic) to put a bar in the Russell House student union serving beer & wine. Man those were the days!

    Steve Grainger

    8 Oct 14 at 12:51 pm

  28. I went there a few times in the mid 70s when it was a YMCA Camp. There were some horses at the camp. We went canoeing and swimming at the lake. There was nothing else out there at the time. The last time I was there was in 1977. Now it's all built up.


    13 Nov 15 at 12:23 pm

  29. I was a lifeguard at Bell Camp from 81-83. George Gilpin was my boss. Some of my sweetest college memories are from that place. I lived in one of the cottages one of those summers (83, I think) and I am pretty sure the mattress shown in that picture was mine! A couple of notes from earlier comments: Amanda, I remember when you were a baby! The Midlands Tech party was our most dreaded work day of the year! It was an incredible place to work and a real asset to the University. I still mourn its loss.


    5 Dec 15 at 8:47 am

  30. I spent so much time at Bell Camp when I was a kid! My father was a professor at USC and this place was where we went every weekend and even some sunny afternoons. I think we always came in via Percival Road. I remember playing in all the white clay next to the dock when I was really little, diving off the floating dock, and getting Kit Kats at the concession stand. I also remember being bit by a goose there once. So sad that it's gone.


    1 Sep 16 at 12:01 pm

  31. Fantastic to discover this site! I have had the best time wandering back down memory lane. Thank you.

    I lived and worked at Bell Camp as a lifeguard in the summer of 1979 or '80? It was hard to get a live-in job there, if I recall correctly....because it was total freedom. Wake up, throw on your suit, and have fun in the sun all day. Perfect. (Of course, all these years later, I have to wonder why I thought those cabins were so great, ha ha! yikes!)

    One of my strongest memories was being on the lifeguard stand one day (the one that was on the corner of the L shaped dock's missing in the photo of the lake). I was idly twirling my whistle, feeling hungover no doubt, when I noticed a little boy. I thought he was just horsing around with his took a nanosecond for me to realize he wasn't "pretending" to drown....he was actually in trouble. I jumped in, and couldn't at first see him in the brown water. When my hands finally felt the hair on his head, and I pulled him to the surface, I was overwhelmed with relief. I helped him to the dock, and was shocked to look around and realize that no one noticed the drama at all. The boy was fine, without a word to me he clambered out onto the dock and ran to his mother on the beach.

    Shivering, I just wiped my face on a towel, shook my head, and climbed back up to my perch. Whew. I think I had an extra Miller High Life that night, saluting the good fortune of missing calamity.

    Ah youth.....

    Suzanne Woolston

    20 Feb 17 at 3:25 pm

  32. @Suzanne - Great story. Events like that happen and the memories stay with us for a lifetime. I'm sure the kid you saved remembers it too and probably tells his version of the story often.
    Me? I just remember the kid that took a dump in the pool and we all had to clear out. I saved no one except to warn there was a floater near by. I did have my 15 minutes of fame for the warning however. I will remember it like it was yesterday, ME, a hero.


    20 Feb 17 at 5:08 pm

  33. Great write up! I'm George Gilpin's son and spent summers there through the early 80s. Amanda is my sister.

    I pretty much had the run of the place - driving the Kubota tractor, exploring all the nooks and crannies of the property, fishing, etc. We lived in the caretaker's house. It was painted white with green trim at the time.

    11 year old me thought it was pretty cool to hang out with the college folks, who were always super kind to me. I remember Cissy and Kathleen (who both commented above). Kathy taught me how to swim.

    Sad to learn Bell Camp is no longer but happy to find that someone took the time to document it's history.


    Clay Gilpin

    30 Jun 17 at 6:49 pm

  34. The only time I was able to experience Bell Camp: a few weeks before it was razed for development, probably '93 or '94, I had the opportunity to roam around on the property. I remember that there were still a lot of structures there but it was clearly an abandoned place: the swimming lake was dry, and all of the buildings seemed to be in a state of disuse, at best. Nonetheless, looking at it at that time, I was really sad that it was all going to be knocked down and "developed." It was even then an amazing place: There was the lodge, which had been beautifully constructed with a lot of natural stone, and all of the cottages were decked out with gorgeous heart-pine on the inside. There were well-constructed tennis courts and it seemed like all of the infrastructure on the property could have been sensibly updated for further use and enjoyment as it was. Bell Camp felt like a special place even in it's vacant state. I knew there was history there, and it was heartbreaking to imagine that all of this beautiful stuff would be erased. Before I ran across this amazing web resource I had always wondered what it had been like before it became prime real estate for high-end housing. Thanks to all who have shared their memories here; now I have some notion of what it was. I'm really disappointed that it's gone.

    John Hammond

    26 Jul 17 at 8:47 pm

  35. Very cool document of Bell Camp. My wife and brother-in-law both worked for George and Nita (caretakers if I recall correctly) in the late 70's, early 80's. I have heard lots of stories. I appreciate the time and effort of everyone involved in documenting this.

    Dave Easley

    9 Nov 17 at 11:29 am

  36. Well that was a trip down memory lane! I worked there for 3 summers in the early to mid 80’s! I was one of those students you mentioned that sat at the little shelter (The Gate) checking membership cards. I lived in those cabins during the summers. It was a great place to work and many great friendships were built there. A lot of fun was had by all that worked there. George and Nita Gilpin were like our substitute parents while we were away from home. They hold a special place in my heart. Oh the stories I could tell. Thank you for sharing. I’m sure I have pictures somewhere.


    13 Nov 17 at 7:16 pm

  37. In doing Medlin Family research it's my understanding there was an old family cemetery on the North side of the lake. The last burial there would have been around 1914. I have found grave markers in the lawns of a home in the BelleClave subdivision but not ones associated with the older cemetery. It was likely destroyed with the building of I20 or one of the subdivisions.

    Jamie Medlin

    6 Jan 18 at 5:58 pm

  38. Jamie, I grew up in that area back in the late 70's and the only cemetery we found was off the main road going into the facility. We were all over Bell Camp and the upper larger lake exploring as kids and I do not remember finding any other grave markers.


    3 Aug 19 at 9:21 am

  39. Another great site destroyed by stupid modern development. My dad swam here all the time in the mid-70’s.


    4 Aug 19 at 12:50 pm

  40. Wow. Found this photo essay while surfing for memories during this period of "social distancing". I used to go to Bell Camp with my siblings in the early 70's. I got hit by lightning while sitting on the porch of the rec center. I still feel the "burn" of the rubber inner tubes where it rubbed the skin raw. Sad that it's gone.


    26 Mar 20 at 5:04 pm

  41. I have fond memories of Bell Camp. I spent four summers in Columbia, S.C. Whole my father got his Masters in Mathematics from 1966-1969. Tremendous essay. I fondly remember the floating raft, lifeguards teaching me to swim, all the above mentioned buildings, seeking shelter from afternoon thunderstorms, Mountain Dew in bottles, miniature golf, the canoe trips with Dad, the part of the creek we’d get the clay, blackberries so big and sweet, cheeseburgers on the charcoal grills, the wooden bridge, the monkey bars, etc. Thanx for the memories. It seems like yesterday.


    9 May 20 at 10:18 pm

  42. This was fun to look through all of these photos. I grew up in Wildewood in the 80's and had vague memories of Bell Camp so I tried to google it and came across this site. I remember a slide being there off to the right. I figured it was probably where Bellclave is now. Thank you for sharing this!! It helped fill in my early childhood memories.


    17 Aug 20 at 1:22 pm

  43. Wow thanks, this has been interesting to read. I have great memories of Bell Camp in the mid-70's to early 80's. I grew up in Columbia and went with friends while in High School and some summers while home from Clemson (we had 2 great YMCA beaches there on Lake Hartwell) I took a few summer courses at USC with the wonderful perk of a student ID which gave me free admission. My wife is an '83 graduate of USC and never went. It's my understanding that the sale proceeds went toward the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center which our daughter was able to enjoy before recently graduating from USC. Two questions: 1) Is Bell Camp now the Bells Pond that is surrounded by Gills Crossing Road in the Bellclave subdivision? And 2) Was this area affected by the 2015 Gills Creek flooding? Thanks again!

    Howard Murray

    2 Aug 21 at 10:23 am

  44. A) Yes, that is correct. Currently the access gate to the subdivision appears to have been taken down, so you can drive back in there freely. If you take Gills Crossing Road, there is a lot cleared for construction where you can clearly see the lake and lakeshore. I used to go down to the lake via Belle Lake Court, but all the lots are built there now.

    B) As far as I know, it was not.


    11 Aug 21 at 10:40 pm

  45. On the Exxon that was torn down on Elmwood, I used to know the two brothers who I think owned or ran this one and the one on Decker near Two Notch Rd. back in the early 80's, but dont know what became of them. The one on Decker was torn down years ago from what I remember.


    12 Aug 21 at 2:03 am

  46. Ted - I Just came across this post and loved seeing your photos. I have an entirely different experience of Bell Camp - I lived on Mallet Hill Road from 1988, when I was 10 yrs old, until I left for college in 1996. Our house was, at the time, the second home on the left outside of the Bell Camp entrance, maybe 150 yards down the road. Bell Camp was closed by the time I arrived, but for me and my friends, it was the greatest place ever. We swam (illegally ;) in the lake, rode our bikes all through the woods for years, and when we got older we'd sneak our cars onto the 'field' up above the lake at night and stay out there watching the stars and the clouds roll by until the sun came up. As the camp had already closed, we never knew anything about the history of the place. So hearing your story and the comments of all that went on before I came along is amazing! I was probably riding my bike around in the woods the same day you came in from McDonalds! It was sad to see the place become vandalized (the lodge was already vandalized by the time we started hanging around), and it kills me that all of those wonderful woods, the field, and even now the area around the lake has been developed. The other lake you describe had always been known as Crystal Lake to us. The backside of the lake was paved around 1995 I think, but until then it was dirt. We'd drive our cars back there and hang out as well. A safe and convenient place to hide from our parents for a while. My friend lodged his dad's Lincoln town car back there one night between two trees and couldn't get out! Anyways, great to see this. Thanks for posting!


    14 Aug 22 at 4:06 pm

  47. @Sandlin -- that's a great comment!

    I have recently found a 1961 article from The Gamecock about USC taking over the camp. Hopefully I will get it posted soon.


    14 Aug 22 at 11:04 pm

  48. Thank you for doing this page! T’is a shame, as we were all later to learn, holderman was an a$$. He probably pocketed the money from the dale of Bell Camp. I wouldn’t put anything past him.


    10 Sep 22 at 2:24 pm

  49. Ted- Thank you so much for publishing this. I have very fond memories of Bell Camp. I was looking for the directions to there, and what used to be Wildwood school which was close. I am so sad to see the demise of this wonderful camp & all the construction of it. I was reading where you got access to the camp, and trying to figure it out- but my brother got me there through a subdivision. I didn't have long there, but found some original steps still there. The other "closing" I'm interested in- or more so history of & maybe even some pictures of would be the infamous Pink House on two notch- near the old water slide? I know the house burned, but I would still like to know more of the history of it. I have so many questions about the back story of Bell Camp. I guess I just never imagined it would go away. Thanks again for this blog / site

    Judy Gredler

    27 Apr 23 at 11:38 am

  50. Fond memories of Bell camp and crystal lake as well as drunk lake. crystal lake is the one where the field you describe is.. the rectangle lake. Drunk lake is where the Paddock club apartments are located. If you know where to look there are some subtle pieces that remain. I have some memories n of it when it was university owned and mainly memories from after it was closed. my family lived within walking distance and I played on the property until I went away for college. I used to ride my go-kart all over the place once it was closed. when the university took over it was supposed to be used for the enjoyment and recreation of students and alumni and never sold. the president figured out how to close it and sell while using the money. this is what paid for the new recreation center downtown across from the old basketball arena.
    the fire department used several of the buildings as practice for a house fire. I especially remember seeing the groundskeeper home being burned.

    once they drain the lake there was a four wheeler that was found at the bottom. it is seen in some of the pictures. additionally the picture labeled as potentially the bridge is incorrect. this was an old palette. I know this because I pulled it out of the woods. new paragraph I remember picking my brother up from a 1989 Cub scout jamboree camp there and remember learning how to shoot BB guns as well as bow and arrows at a scouting event there. I still have that t-shirt. off to the right from the old entrance they were actually old horse trails. I used to play amongst the old jumps. they were also some large pits that were dug out. I also finally remember the two people that were buried. unfortunately someone that I called a friend in elementary school stole one of the headstones. His name was Chris Carlson. The last time I checked the base and one of the headstones remained as well as a foot stone. there used to be the remnants of an old log wall or perhaps cabin around them. Fine memories!


    3 Aug 23 at 8:32 pm

  51. I met my future husband at Bell Camp on 4/29/1977. We have been married for 45 years. We were both pharmacy students at USC. We went to Bell Camp one Friday after class. That whole summer we went there every chance we got. Wonderful memories!

    Pam Perkins

    2 Dec 23 at 1:52 pm

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