At its zenith, Heritage USA in Fort Mill - Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Christian-themed resort - featured a water slide, a carousel, miniature golf course and railroad, an amphitheater with a Passion play and Main Street USA with stores such as Noah's Toy Shoppe and Heavenly Fudge.
It was the third most-visited theme park in the country, according to some estimates. Only Disney's magic kingdoms attracted more people.
The spiritual center of Heritage USA had none of the glitz or glitter of the resort's commercial offerings. It was a two-story building modeled after the Upper Room in Jerusalem, said to be the site where Jesus held the last supper with his disciples and then reappeared to them after his resurrection to give them the Holy Spirit.
Today, more than two decades after Heritage USA closed in scandal, the Upper Room has been re-born. A Christian concert promoter purchased the building last year and led an effort to restore it. The Upper Room re-opened in December for weekend prayers and a Sunday night service.
Bakker's Upper Room, say those who worked at or visited there, was the heartbeat of the resort.
It was staffed around the clock, with ministers waiting to pray for people, anoint them with oil and offer communion. Small cubicles along one wall offered space for private prayers.
In the basement, staffers manned numerous phones, listening to people's prayer requests.
Prayer was a prime concern, said Dot Scott, who worked for PTL. She remembers Bakker telling the staff to stop and pray with anyone in need.
After praying with visitors, "I would tell people to go to the Upper Room and their needs would be met there," said Scott, who lives in Fort Mill. "I asked them to come back to me and let me know how they felt. So many came back a different person."
Heritage USA closed in 1989, with the Bakkers already enmeshed in a scandal that would bring down their PTL ministry.
Scott, who says she was the last PTL employee to leave the park, said of the closing, "I was devastated. It was a vital part of my life."
So too was Fred Yeary of Charlotte. Yeary was there the day Jim Bakker dedicated the park. He worked on the broadcast crew, and volunteered at the park, once even planting grass seed.
After the park closed, Yeary would occasionally drive past the Upper Room and remember. As trees started reclaiming the property - and people vandalized the building - Yeary stopped driving past.
"It was too painful," he said.
Yeary said he prayed for money to buy the Upper Room.
Others were asked to pray as there were rumors the Upper Room would be reopened. And then there were rumors it would be razed. Hundreds signed an online petition last May, asking for the Upper Room be saved.
Last fall, Russell James, a promoter of Christian conferences and concerts from Virginia, was at the Broadcast Group, located across the street from the Upper Room.
James was one of the many who paid $1,000 for a lifetime membership in PTL, giving him three free nights of lodging at the park each year plus four days of free admissions to the attractions.
He was drawn to the Upper Room the first time he visited in 1985.
"I felt an unbelievable sweet spirit and felt secure," he said.
When he visited last fall, there was a new "For Sale" sign on the Upper Room property. It caught his attention.
"The Holy Spirit started dealing with me," James said.
Over several days he wrote down his thoughts on scraps of paper. One night he pulled them together, assembling them like a jig-saw puzzle.
"I started to weep," James remembered. "I was overwhelmed with the spirit of the Lord. I said, 'God, do you want me to buy it?'"
He took out a legal pad, writing a proposed sales contract.
"There were misspelled words, words scratched out. It filled the whole page. I read it and said, 'This is crazy,'" James remembered.
The next day he asked friends at the Broadcast Group to pray about his idea.
He took the proposed contract to the property owner, Colston Enterprises. They discussed the contract and agreed to a sale.
James had a new mission. "God wanted me to return this property to a house of prayer and worship."
Volunteers step forward
James carefully examined the Upper Room. His mission had a long list of things to do.
The roof had leaked, causing the plaster ceiling to fall in some places, staining it in others.
The plumbing did not work.
The basement needed a total renovation.
Trees needed to be cut down and debris removed.
"Oh Lord, there is so much work!" James said he prayed.
Whatever the need, James said, volunteers, or people willing to offer their services for minimal cost, appeared. New kitchen cabinets and ceiling tiles were installed in the basement. The plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems were fixed. A visitor who had come to pray at the Upper Room offered to repair the ceilings, James said.
Occasionally, James got business cards or phone numbers from those who helped. Dot Scott was one of his go-to calls when he needed volunteers - anything from raking leaves to cleaning bathrooms. She got out her phone lists, made the calls, and people came to help.
Mostly, though, James said he was amazed at the number of people who wanted to be part of returning the Upper Room to its former glory.
On Dec. 1, 2010, the Upper Room was rededicated.
Open for prayer
The new Upper Room is open for prayer and reflection from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday. At 6:30 on Sunday evening there is a non-denominational service.
On most Saturday mornings you can find Fred Yeary and his wife, Mary, at the Upper Room. They are part of a prayer team which staffs the Upper Room.
"We greet people, answer questions, pray with them," Mary Yeary said.
Early in the mornings, when visitors are often sparse, the Yearys will pull out a white notebook and start to pray. The notebook listed all of the area's elected leaders - from President Obama down to those elected locally in York County, Fort Mill and Rock Hill. Every politician gets a prayer.
On a sunny day, Mary likes to look around the room. The sunlight streams through the stained glass windows of reds and yellows. "The sunlight has such a wonderful glow," she said. "I feel the presence of the Lord."
At times, she sits at the piano and plays. Among her favorites is "In the Presence of Jehovah." The song's lyrics seem as if they were written for places such as the Upper Room.
"Through His love the Lord provided
A place for us to rest
A place to find the answers
In our hour of distress
Now there's never any reason
For You to give up in despair
Just slip away and breathe His name
You will surely find him there.
In the presence of Jehovah
God Almighty, Prince of Peace
Troubles vanish, hearts are mended
In the presence of the King."
Coming full circle
It's Sunday night. About 50 people attend the service, most sitting on hard, wooden benches. Some sit in a few more comfortable chairs, one of the few modern concessions.
The Rev. Randy Hill rises to preach.
For Hill, his Sunday sermons represent coming full circle.
Thirty years ago, he worked for the PTL crew that broadcast the Prayer Program from the Upper Room. Now his broadcasts from the Upper Room are of more of a one-to-one nature as he tries take a Bible message and apply it to real life. "I'm a real-life preacher," he said.
Hill said he grew up in a pastor's home.
"I was involved in church and felt the calling when I was young and I ran from it," he said. By coming to work at PTL he thought working for a ministry would suffice, filling a spiritual need.
It did not.
He became an ordained minister, leaving PTL to pastor churches in Virginia. Three years ago he said he returned to the area because God was tugging at him.
It wasn't to save the Upper Room, though.
"I always knew God had a purpose for the Upper Room," he said. "It was dedicated to God and God holds it dear. There was peace in my heart. I knew God would have his way."
But he understands what the Upper Room means to so many people. "It is a place of refuge," he said.
As a pastor, he understands the significance of what the historic Upper Room represents, especially at Easter.
It was the place where Jesus delivered a new covenant, that God would live within you, Hill said. "That's the only way you can make it, to have God with you."
Hill said he has no intentions of starting a church at the Upper Room. He simply wants his services to be a place where people can come and worship as the body of Christ. James said he does not want the Upper Room to be controlled by any denomination. It is a place of prayer and refuge, he said.
If he had his way, he would simply be known as the building's gardener.
Dot Scott and her husband, Bill, attend Sunday's services. "The Upper Room will blossom again, reach out to people and open many spiritual doors," Dot predicted.
The Scotts, Hill, Russell James, and the Yearys all have an intense, previous connection to the Upper Room.
But, it is not only those who remember that are coming, said the Yearys. Often those walking through the doors are a younger generation, people who remember their parents or grandparents speaking of their visits to the Upper Room. Like those who have come before, they come for prayer, for comfort, to seek the Lord's will.
"This feels like home, a drop of what heaven must be like," Mary Yeary said. "I'm expecting to see miracles in there. This is a special place."