Sunday, July 20, 2014

Conway SC: Conway Historical Society, Horry County Museum

     As we head up the South Carolina coast, we are leaving Georgetown County and entering Horry County.  The largest of South Carolina's counties, at its southern border we go through a number of transitions.  On the way up, I met with Furman and Ann Long.

      The Longs live in Plantersville SC, and were very helpful in making introductions for me.  Close to their home lies the ruins of Prince Fredrick's Chapel.  The original church was built here in 1848, with this second one started in 1859.  The civil war interrupted construction, and it was not finally finished until 1876.

     The structure, pictured below, was deemed unsafe and in 1966 all was torn down but the very front section.

     It is a favorite teen hang-out on Halloweens - there are a few ghost stories, including one about a fellow who fell to his death while working on the roof.

     I found the trees that have rooted up at the top of the ruins interesting.

     Live is so tenacious.  I liked the name of this old plantation - "Hasty Point."  Chip Sisk, whose grandfather owned this property some years back fills us in on the story behind the name:

     "The name is derived from its location at a "point" where the Pee Dee River splits.  One split is a tributary of the Waccamaw River and the other flows to Winyah Bay at Georgetown.  "Hasty" refers to the actions of Francis Marion, a US general who frequented this area during the American Revolution.  His success against overwhelming odds was the result of the mobility of his troops.  The troops were often able to attack and then retreat in such a 'hasty' manner as not to be pursued by the enemy.  The remains of earthen berms and entrenchments - early versions of foxholes - could still be found on the property when I was a child."

     The seat of Horry County is Conway, which in some ways reminds me a bit of Crawfordville GA, except that Conway has found a way to thrive through all the change and Crawfordville has all but died.

     One of the exciting things going on here is what they are doing with the old school.

     There used to be a museum tucked away in a small building that was a bit out of the way, but the county and locals have put forth the effort to renovate this school and turn it into an excellent museum.  Extensive refurbishment has taken place, and it is all top quality work.  This is the new Horry County Museum.

Hillary Windburn

     Hillary Windburn who is the primary assistant to curator Walter Hill was a big help.  She is standing in front of a large aquarium that was just recently installed.  The installers were being filmed by Animal Planet for a show called "Tanked," and the installation will air nationally as an episode in September.

     The contours of the tank follow that of the central spiral staircase including a large cylindrical portion that extends upward and creates a waterfall into the lower tank.  

     Pictured above is the second story of the staircase, complete with an old painting commissioned by a local and a dugout canoe.

     This area's prosperity has come and gone, and can be described by the "four T's."  Trees, Turpentine, Tobacco and, most recently, Tourism.  The area hosted huge pine tree plantations -  some of them upwards of 4,000 acres.  The boom on trees was driven by the wooden boat industry, as was the demand for pitch, tar and turpentine.  Although the area's cypress and long-leaf pine trees had long been desired and used, the big timbering industry ran from the 1820's to the 1880's.  The Civil war interrupted it for a good while - in fact because of the blockade of shipping the locals here were in danger of starving to death.  But soon after the war the trade picked back up and lasted until the lumber companies depleted the trees.  Then they moved off to another region to do the same.  

     An interesting story from this time is on the local records.  It was thought that the Union would come up the coast when they invaded, so many of the town's records were sent inland to Columbia for safe keeping.  But Sherman came through the area from the inland and had a penchant for burning real estate records, deeds and the like.  Consequently, a large block of the town's records were lost.

     I spoke with Ben Burroughs, a local historian and professor at Coastal Carolina University for the better part of an hour by phone.  Suffice it to say that there are a number of people that are actively engaged and reconstructing the history of the area through old letters, records and other data that has recently come available.  It turns out that folks had forgotten how rich the history was, and new elements are emerging all the time.  

     For instance, this area provided the timbers for the pilings of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.  It turns out that this was just a small part of a bustling trade that local brokers did directly with New York - bypassing Charleston and Georgetown.  

     A whole section of the museum is devoted to the history of the local economy, and pictured below is a model of what an old turpentine still looked like.

     Another area highlights the American Indians that lived in the area.  There are many relics, some of them quite ancient.  Below is a hut that was painstakingly constructed in the local style.

     Another area deals with textiles, and the old loom shown below is a real nice piece.

     Anyone remember hand-cranked singer sewing machines?  The fine artistic detail on the machines was really quite striking.

     How about an early steam iron?

     Now take a wild guess what this contraption was used for.

     A hair curler !!  Looks more like some type of Frankenstein machine.

     Here is a black bear from local (killed by a car) that tipped the scales well in excess of 400 pounds.

     I can't do the museum justice in this short article, but they have many more exhibits.  Some of the other exhibits will become relevant as we explore other parts of the county and still others have a reach well outside the scope of these articles.  It is a must see in this area though.

     Another great feature is this big auditorium.  How many museums have one of these?  It is the perfect forum for lectures and other public gatherings.

     Walter Hill is the curator and is presiding over this exciting time.  There is no reason to think that this will be anything but a world class museum in the near future and will remain here for centuries to come.  

     Today, local high-school teacher and fossil expert Don Kilpatrick held a lecture on fossils found in South Carolina.  He is arranging a field trip next month for anyone who wants to go on a dig with him.

     Conway itself has retained a lot of its small town charm. (Population 16,200 in 2010.)  The downtown gets a lot of traffic and it appears numerous businesses do a brisk business.

     A big part of what has kept the town alive is the Waccamaw River that runs through it.  There is a new river-walk, about a third of a mile of beautiful walkways that run along where the old warehouses and shipping docks were located.

    A picture of downtown taken 50 years ago shows just about exactly what it looks like today.

     An old building serves as the fish market today.

     I am always struck by the huge numbers of children's graves in these old cemeteries.  Here is a very touching tombstone - a mother embraces her sick child, and is dated from the mid 1500's.

     And today's parting shot is of an old board game for sale in a local antique shop.  Anyone remember this?  Skunk for the entire family - sounds so wholesome.

Have a great Sunday!!

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