Friday, July 4, 2014

Georgetown's maritime and Gullah museums 7/4/14

     Welcome to Georgetown's Maritime Museum.  Our guide is Mac McAlister, curator of the museum.

 Mac McAlister

     Mac is currently busy with organizing a display case for the Fresnel lens from 'Georgetown's old lighthouse.  It was taken to be displayed in the lobby of a Coast Guard facility in Florida, and with some successful lobbying it has now been returned to Georgetown.  It is sitting at the local Coast Guard station awaiting the new display.  It is scheduled to be installed at the museum on July 18th 2014.

     Many old photographs adorn the walls of the museum - the one above is of the US Navy's Nevada which was visiting Georgetown in 1950 to participate in its centennial boat parade. 

     Another photo shows the river as it was in the early 1900's.  This was the tail end of rice production in Georgetown, but lumber and other related products were still enjoying a brisk trade.   In this era the lumber companies clear cut long leaf pine and cypress by the square mile - and didn't replace a bit of it.  When they were done logging, they left their messes.

     One ship that is significant is the City of Georgetown, a merchant ship that was built here.  115 skilled ship builders came here from Maine in 1875 to build it.  The thought was that it was easier to build it here than to move all the timber back to Maine.  

     It had its share of problems during construction.  Workers complained bitterly of the heat and the biting insects.  When it was completed, it was found that it wouldn't clear the bottom in the river.  So 200 empty barrels were used to lift it enough to float it out to the bay.

     However, when completed, it became the most significant ship built south of the Mason-Dixon line.  It traveled the world over its 19 year career.

      Sadly, though, it ran aground in a typhoon close to Japan in 1894.  It was disassembled and the wood sold to Japanese folks as firewood.

     There are a number of other model ships in the museum - and more are being acquired all the time.  The last one I found interesting - it is an old oyster boat, complete with two boats that were pulled along to help harvest the oyster beds.

     An aerial view of the Centennial parade shows downtown Georgetown in 1905.  This downtown area seems to always have been a port and production area.  The local paper mill came to town just before World War II.  The steel mill that currently sits adjacent to the downtown area came in 1969, built by a German group.  

     The group took 100 Georgetown citizens to Germany and showed them a steel plant that they said they were going to duplicate here.  However, what Georgetown got was quite different.  By the time it was built though there was no going back, and many locals feel this plant is the one that is responsible for killing off the Spanish Moss in the area.

      Meanwhile, Mac's wife Mary has a big project of her own going.  She is busy keeping up with 100 local children this summer.

     Last year, a number of the local men got together and figured out how to build these small sail boats.  They then approached local businesses to sponsor the materials to build them.  The result is a
"summer camp" type of situation - over 100 Georgetown youths are learning to sail.

     Three days a week there is classroom instruction in the rear of the museum followed by hands on sailing.  The children were having a blast - and many of them were quite adept with the boats.

      Helping with the classroom instruction, boat construction and fishing out any children who might tip over is Dave, a recent transplant from San Jose California.  I observed this for a couple of hours, and it is a real healthy thing on many levels.  The children were engaged and enthused, and the adults seemed to be having a pretty good time too.  

     If you visit the museum, you might take a bit to visit the River Room, a restaurant next door to the museum.  Sally and Sid Sumford opened this over thirty years ago, and besides good food it has a lot of relics from the area.

 Among other things, they have an amazing collection of custom made canoe and kayak paddles.  The wood patterns are really quite striking.

 Andrew Rodrigues

     And over at the Gullah Museum I met Andrew Rodrigues - a very interesting fellow.  He first came to South Carolina in 1954 to attend SC State College.  He obtained a Bachelors of Science in Chemistry, and then started taking night classes and earned a law degree in 1970.  He worked for the National Labor Relations board and spent 26 years as an attorney at Bethlehem Steel.  It is worth noting that these were highly difficult accomplishments for a black man in that era.

     We talked for a good hour about the Gullah culture.  This culture is unique to the southeastern coast of the United States, and developed because there were so many different tribes and different languages that had to assimilate themselves.

     One thing I have learned in my travels along this coast is that the early settlers would not have made it without the help of the Indians and the slaves.  The Indians that greeted them had to show them how to get fresh water and how to feed themselves.  There are numerous accounts of the Indians considering the Europeans to have the mentality of children.

    The African slaves cultivated rice on the eastern coast of Africa and brought their knowledge with them.  Without the rice culture, South Carolina would have remained one of the poorest of states in the union.  The slaves also brought their knowledge of indigo growing and processing.  Without this the economic engine of the area probably would not have developed beyond fur trading and lumber products.


     I didn't get to meet Andrew's wife, but she has an interesting story as well.  For years she has woven the old quilts that tell the story of a persons heritage and life in pictures.  A few years back, she was commissioned to do one for Michelle Obama, as Michelle's grandfather was from this area.

     The quilt is now in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.

     And today's parting shot is of a kayak paddle.  I am so taken with the craftsmanship of these wooden paddles that I figured you needed one more look.

Happy Saturday !!

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