Fort Mill, South Carolina

October 2004, Fort Mill South Carolina. This was a really cool and unexpected walk through. I had heard about the park off and on for a few years prior to visiting. I try to keep a running tab of some of these abandoned parks in the back of my head, just in case I might some day be in the area. I was headed to North Carolina with a good friend of mine to see the Sponge Bob Square Pants NASCAR race. We tend to plan late, so literally int he minutes before leaving, I was getting directions to the track off of AAA.com. I'm not sure how, but I had a faint memory of PTL being in that general area, so I searched google for the city name... Fort Mill. I threw the two locations in to the map search on AAA.com, and found out that the park was a short distance from the track (18 miles). I brought it up to my friend, and he seemed to be down with checking it out. Who can resist a theme park?!?

The general background of the park is as follows, and please note, this site doesn't intend to judge nor justify Jim Bakker's actions... only to tell the story behind the park...

James Bakker is a Christian "televangelist". I don't know if that is a bad designation, so I'll throw quotes around it as I don't intend it to be negative. Many may be more familiar with Jim's ex-wife Tammy Faye Bakker (known to many for her extensive makeup) who has since been on recent TV shows such as the Surreal life (now on VH1). Together Jim and Tammy built a religious empire of sorts, which later fell apart due to issues that couldn't possibly be covered in the limited space of the entire World Wide Web. The story is complicated, and impossible to accurately represent due to the strong feelings of people from each of the many sides.

I'll skim over the details as quickly as possible, but this may take more time that you'd like to spend. Jim and Tammy gained quite a following amongst Christians with their "good time" antics. They eventually did a show for Pat Robertson in the late 1960s. That show was the 700 club, supposedly named for the goal of getting 700 people to pledge 700 dollars per week to keep it going. Anyway, Jim and Tammy's popularity grew quickly, and in 1974, they branched out on their own starting what would eventually become the PTL Network.

Jim started a small village in Charlotte which was the original Heritage PTL for all intents and purposes. The area quickly outgrew its proverbial britches, so Jim packed up the gang, and moved outta there. He found new ground to break right across the state line in Fort Mill South Carolina. This was slightly larger than his original 25 acres in Charlotte... the Fort Mill site was over 2000 acres. To give you an idea of the size, you could fit the original Disneyland, UK's Blackpoll Pleasure Beach, Six Flags Great America, and Universal Studio's Florida all inside the grounds together, and still have enough room left over to add Cedar Point, Knott's Berry Farm, and little old Geauga Lake Ohio... In other words, it's big.

The size of Heritage was impressive, but the quality of the park was equally noteworthy. This wasn't a thrown together mess of false facads on cheap little buildings like many parks, but instead, a well built, well planned, well landscaped, and well thought out resort. The quality was Disney like... and this was all done on a very fast paced schedule. The results reflected the time and effort put in to the build, and the attendance numbers were proving it to be worth while!

At one point during the 'life' of Heritage, over 6 million people were visiting the park during the year. If I'm not mistaken, a well known park like Cedar Point here in Ohio gets around 3 million. I think Disney gets more like 12 or 15 million, but obviously 6 million is a huge number for an upstart like Heritage.

While I'm only touching on the park's history, the PTL was actually much much more. Without getting in to everything, there were TV shows, studios, a church, a theater, basically an entire city, lifestyle, and empire for Jim and Tammy. Keep in mind, that this was all from two normal people that started with almost nothing. Imagine yourself at the helm of this ship. Yikes!

Housing all of these people became a challenge. There were various Hotel's, condos, etc on the grounds to hold all of the people. Some of those are now being used as apartments and some are sitting empty. We were on a limited schedule, so we didn't get too much of a chance to look at the living space. The giant unfinished hotel (often confused as the condo's) was looming over us everywhere we went. You could see large sections of brick falling off, and birds flying in and out of the open windows. The PTL ended before the hotel was finished

Right around 1987, Jim's world began to fall apart. This is where things could really get crazy, but I'll keep it short. Various people from various directions became distracted by the money going through Heritage. Jim was selling lifetime memberships for $1000 a pop. This got you a 3 day stay every year at PTL. Unfortunately, they sold more memberships than they built rooms... this was a red flag for some, coupled with the large numbers coming in, and people began to watch... namely, the IRS, FCC, etc.

The resort lost its tax status and was fined for the back taxes that the government decided they should have been paying all along. The operating costs of a resort of this magnitude where huge, compounding the money issues. Times were getting tougher at PTL, but Jim was hanging on.

Jim was arguably attacked from some other religious leaders in regards to his personal life. Some might point out that these people saw an opportunity to get in on a good thing, and distance themselves from the nasty reputation Jim's money troubles were creating. Since he was also investigated by various government agencies over his handling of money and his use of the airwaves, things were looking grim. Jerry Falwell temporarily took over the park and found some accounting issues and other problems which he didn't hesitate to vocalize. Folks, things at Heritage were getting very ugly.

To save you the effort of reading more, check the links section for the gory details... In short, around this time, Jim was basically being attacked from within the circles of his Christian peers. He was being investigated by the government for his operating of the resort. He had some marital issues that soon led to his divorce from Tammy Faye. His park was being taken over, and Jerry Falwell was calling him gay. That folks, was the way the Heritage died.

In the end, Heritage closed down and Jim went to jail in 1989. He is out now. Tammy Faye has remarried to one of the construction directors from Heritage USA. Jim has also remarried and is working in the industry again. The PTL fans still discuss exactly what went wrong. Some blame Jim, some blame the judge that sent Jim to jail, some blame Falwell and the others. From an outsider view... I don't even want to try to comment. The one theme I've heard time and time again is that the Judge certainly had it out for Jim, but Jim gave him material to bite on... The important thing for my page is that Heritage was abandoned.

So now, fast forward to 2004... we're back in my basement, at my PC, on AAA.com, downloading directions to the park, from the racetrack. We had some very unfortunate personal matters that changed the dynamic of our trip, but we did our best to enjoy ourselves by keeping faith in the strength of the person at the center of what happened. Everything worked out there, and by Sunday, we had been assured everything was in the clear. Regardless, we wanted to get home very badly, so we made our jaunt over to PTL very brief.

I had seen some of the pictures of the park on line. It was said to be easy to find. We found ourselves in Fort Mill with no sign of PTL. I stopped at a gas station and asked a fellow if he could point us in the direction of the park. He said that it was all gone and that it had all been converted to high dollar housing. Disappointed, we decided to take a ride by just to make sure.

He sent us down a long back road (where I saw a nice 1991 Civic EX 4 door that I wish I would have stopped for), and before long, we could see the high-rise in the distance. The gas station guy was wrong!

We had almost no problem finding the entrance. There were new houses, a golf course, sub divisions, etc, all leading back toward the tower. Maybe he was right after all? Maybe the tower had been redone? We didn't know what we were about to see. We wound back through a weird road setup, and there we were. The castle was off to our right, the tower beyond that, the waterslides stood in the distance... this was PTL... closed, decaying, and ready for photos.

We drove around some trying to find a place to park and a place to enter. What is difficult to understand about Heritage is that it was like a mini-city. You can drive around roads in the park and just stumble upon something that is closed or something that is still open. You might see a remain of the park, and then see a family playing Frisbee. It really is tough to tell if you're going to get in to trouble or not. Ultimately, Heritage is just a walk in affair. There are no fences around it. We parked at the main lot by a minivan, and headed in.

The layout of the actual park section of the resort was much different than I had pictured. The castle was closest, so we went through that, then up around the park toward the grand hotel. The castle was a go-kart track/arcade. The track was bigger than most. A sign that my friend found noted that it was the biggest in the area. A sign on the wall detailing the mission as Christian was the only sign that this was a religious park. We looked around and then headed out and up along the shops and toward the hotel.

We ran in to a couple near the hotel that made us nervous. They were very nice people, but they were there to contemplate the pending restoration. I was afraid they'd assume we were there to break stuff, so we talked to them, and then went on our way. In the end, they were fine, and we were probably just guilty, therefore afraid. If they're reading this... Nice meeting you!

Once the other visitors were out of site, we tried to find a way in to the water park. I have a weird fear of water, so I wasn't even sure I wanted to see it, but at the same time, I knew we couldn't miss the best part! We tried the bridges, but we worried that we'd fall through, or expose ourselves and get caught. We walked around some more and ran in to a guy from Canada also taking pictures. He told us we could walk in to the back entrance to the water park. We walked around to the rear, and he was right... we could... and did.

The water park was really cool. This was no budget park. The layout was top notch, and the theming was great. There was no religious theme however. This may be due to the park being reopened in the 90s briefly? There was a cool cement alligator though!! Can't beat that!! We took a trip up one of the slides and came across my other fear... bees. There were a bunch of bees trying to kill something on the slide. I'll pass on that action.


We bailed on the bee slide, and climbed across on to the stairs for the suicide style slides (I'm assuming they used a better name). At that point, we saw a white car sitting next to my friend's car. We freaked. It appeared to be a crown vic. COPS!!! We panicked. We were not in a position where we could stay the night in Fort Mill. My friend's car was legal, but it was a sure sign that that the people that drove it there were not. We turned around and realized how visible we were on that fake mountain. I started scanning rooftops for snipers... a shot rang out! My buddy looks down, his arm is bleeding badly... I knew I was next. I'm just seeing if you're still reading and awake. This didn't happen.

We bailed quickly in fears of the cops in the white car. I now believe that we actually saw a White Mercedes Benz drive by. On the way out, he went by the other way, and I'm sure it was the same car.

I snapped some pictures on the way out, but nothing like I would have liked to have snapped. Overall, it was one of the better places I've been, but the pictures are sub par. I got nothing from the tower as we never went inside. I got nothing from inside the mountain or the shops. We pretty much stayed very legal. We simply couldn't afford to get busted and I wasn't willing to risk it considering the distance, and our desire to get home for other issues. Home was too important. The first person that emails me bitching about lack of pictures gets an e-smack.

After we left the park, we rode around a bit and found some other interesting sites. We checked out the Theater that is now in use by another group. We visited the church/studio area that is half in use. The church is falling down, but the studio (attached) is still in use. The church had holes in the roof which prompted a few 'holy' jokes. Yeah... real creative, I know. The stage looked like the stage you see in videos of Jim Bakker. The PA was still hanging from the ceiling!

The pyramid was a vague memory and I had no clue where it would have been. We asked a guy who appeared to still be waiting for Jim's return about its location. Honestly, the guy seemed really pissed that we were in there. We meant no disrespect and we made a point to show that. He was friendly, but visibly pissed that we were there for the 'wrong' reasons. He was a rarity though as everyone else I spoke with about the park has been really really cool. He wasn't mean, he just wasn't happy with us. Anyway, he pointed out that we had passed it on the way in. It is being reused as an office building now.

On the way out, we passed an industrial area that appeared to be used for grounds keeping. There were a bunch of industrial type buildings with the windows busted up. There were several John Deere tractors there that appear to be currently used for mowing the grounds. We also passed several tram stops, train stations, condo's, a living camel, some goats, Ned Flanders (pyramid passive aggressive guy), a small store, tennis courts, an old pool, trees line with busted and stretched Christmas lights, a reconditioned building that looked great, people living in RVs, rich people playing golf, a go-kart track, and more. This will be a work in progress. Check out the pictures page! This will be edited, clarified, etc. I just wanted a good start, so please no complaining yet.


I want to thank the people from the PTL Yahoo group. If you have assumptions about what those people will be like, you may be surprised. They are all really friendly and willing to talk about the park, the history, etc. The group is moderated, so please don't waste your time or the moderators time if you're just planning to bash Mr. Bakker, religion, etc. A link to the group can be found on the main Heritage page linked below! Also check the links section for various sites documenting the history, timeline, opinions, etc, of PTL, Heritage USA, the Bakkers, and more. Check out my main site at sbno.illicitohio.com for amusment parks, and www.illicitohio.com for other abandoned buildings.

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