A unique barbecue restaurant near Santee went up in flames on Christmas night – along with its owners’ hopes and dreams.

Lone Star Barbecue & Mercantile Tavern and Grill was located at 2212 State Park Road, just outside of the Santee town limits.

The business was comprised of four wooden buildings from the early 1900s, which were moved to the spot in 2000 by now-retired Santee real estate agent Pat Williams. He owned the restaurant for many years.

Cory and Rachael Henderson bought the business more than three years ago.

A person staying in a camper on the property called the couple on Christmas night saying there was a small fire in the third building.

“By the time we got here, there was a fire truck already here and he was here by himself,” Rachael said at the scene on Tuesday morning.

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“He was doing everything that he could,” she added.

Rachael said, “With these old buildings, when the fire hit the wood, it wasn’t anything you could do.” The business was insured.

“It’s just devastating. We had so many hopes and dreams. Now it’s just as you can see what it is,” she said.

Rachael was standing on the porch of the first building, also called the Green Building, looking at what used to be a small gift shop area. That was the entrance to the buffet line that was typically stocked with barbecued pork, fried chicken, rice and pork hash, macaroni and cheese, green beans, collard greens and more Southern fixins.

Now all that remains inside the shell of a building is rubble.

Cory was shocked when he got the phone call about the fire. He and Rachael jumped up and rushed to the business.

“When we got here, the (third) building was on fire and they were trying to get it put out, trying to get some backup to get fire departments and other people out here to put it out,” he said.

“Within minutes, it was just so hot, it was gone,” he added. “I mean everything’s gone.”

“We don’t know what to do. We’ve got our employees, we’ve got ourselves. This is our livelihood,” he said.

He doesn’t know if he and his wife will start another restaurant.

“We just don’t know what to do right this minute, mainly because there was just so much history here. How do you replace it?” he asked, with his voice cracking with emotion.

Santee Fire Chief Ed Barnett said the call about the fire came in at 8:08 p.m.

The Santee Fire Department was on the scene in three minutes, he said.

“We had our trucks and ladder trucks that responded. By the time we got here, one of the buildings was already fully involved. We tried to set up and protect the surrounding buildings,” Barnett said.

Barnett said between 45 and 50 firefighters helped put out the blaze. Flames reached as high as the trees, he added.

“We thank God no one got hurt in this large fire,” he said.

None of the buildings were occupied when the fire broke out and no firefighters were injured.

Barnett said it took about 30 minutes to get the fire under control.

On Tuesday morning, Barnett and a couple of firefighters were spraying water from trucks onto some of the smoldering hot spots at the restaurant.

The Santee fire marshal is investigating the origin and cause of the fire.

“We want to try to do the right thing by getting ahead and investigating and we’ll do a report as to what happened about the area of origin and the cause of origin,” Barnett said.

There was an issue concerning access to fire hydrants. Barnett said he contacted the Santee Water Department about it.

The Santee Fire Department had 15 firefighters at the scene.

Firefighters and emergency personnel from the following assisted: Clarendon County Fire and Rescue, Elloree Fire Department, Eutawville Fire Department, Fort Motte Fire Department, Holly Hill Fire Department, Jamison Fire Department, Orangeburg County Fire District, Orangeburg County Office of Emergency Services, Providence Fire Department, Vance Fire Department and West Middle Fire Department.

“This was a tragedy,” Barnett said.

“These buildings right here went through generations to generations of people that came out and ate barbecue,” he added.

“Everybody who travels from Florida to North Carolina always stopped here in Santee,” he said. State Park Road is just a few miles from the main North-South corridor, Interstate 95.

What made Lone Star restaurant unique was its old-timey charm.

The restaurant was comprised of four early 1900s-era buildings:

• The “Green store,” was a general store, used in the Calhoun County community of Lone Star.

• Shuler’s, the building next to the Green store, was the main dining hall. The store originally operated on U.S. Highway 301 in the Felderville Community. Ed Shuler was the last to operate it as a store in its original location.

• Dantzler’s, located next to the Shuler building, also functioned as a dining/social hall. It was originally located on U.S. Highway 301, south of Santee. Newton Dantzler last owned and operated the store before it closed.

• O.K. Zeagler’s store often served as an additional dining area or for groups that wanted to hold events. It had been the post office in the old community of Lone Star.

The former Lone Star Post Office had a vintage Coca-Cola sign of an engineer sipping a Coke on its side. It appeared in the movie “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” that was filmed in the area.

After Williams moved the buildings to the site, he connected them with enclosed breezeways between each building.

The buildings still had their original heart of pine floors.

The walls and shelves were lined with old local train schedules, neighboring baseball team schedules, knickknacks from bygone eras and portraits of families connected to the old buildings.

The loss of the business is difficult for its longtime patrons, especially those who have family connections to the original buildings’ owners.

Lynn Shuler Teague, of Columbia, said, “I knew the Shuler Dining Room at Lone Star when it belonged to my grandfather’s cousin Ed Shuler, before his heirs sold it and it was moved to Santee to become part of Lone Star.”

“There was a photo on the wall of John David Shuler, my great grandmother’s brother, and his extensive family, including Ed when young. Aside from the fine BBQ and sides, it was always a trip back in time for our family. My nephews and I had planned to meet there next Saturday before going out to check on our land below Santee. We will miss it very much.”

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