Editor's Notebook: Lancaster County
Explore it in just one day? No way!
by Robert P. Wilkins With Dolly Patton
In trying to find a more systematic way to discover interesting story ideas for Sandlapper, we decided to explore our state a county at a time. For our first scouting adventure, I headed off with Dolly Patton, executive director of Sandlapper Society, Inc., to Lancaster County - a county we thought we could cover pretty well in one day. As I'm sure you Lancaster residents know, this was an impossible task.
We set out from the Midlands early on a hazy Wednesday morning, riding through the countryside instead of taking the faster but less colorful I-77. We saw almost no cars and enjoyed the peaceful South Carolina back roads. I had forgotten how hilly it was, with long ups and downs and nothing but woods on both sides of the road.
Our journey took us through Blythewood, Ridgeway and Great Falls, where we turned off of U.S. 21 to pick up Highway 200. As we crossed the Catawba River, we looked back to see the Nitrolee Power Plant and Fishing Creek Dam.
Just outside Lancaster, we stopped at the Wade-Beckham House. This beautiful, two-story home, one of the state's top bed-and-breakfasts
(phone (803) 285-1105; see "Sandlapper Slept Here," Mid-Year 1991), has a boxwood hedge from the road to the front porch and a joggling board in the front yard from the Charleston Joggling Board Company. We sat on the front porch as proprietress Jan Duke gave suggestions for people and places we should see. "Must sees," she said, included Lindsay Pettus in Lancaster and Andee Steen in Stoneboro.
Driving into the town of Lancaster, on the left we saw the Lancaster-Chester Railroad. This railway line (featured in the March 1968 issue of Sandlapper) runs between Lancaster and Chester for about 30 miles and operates as a freight service for Springs Industries, Inc., and other businesses. Col. Elliott White Springs at one time had a private railway car and named stripper Gypsy Rose Lee among the line's celebrity "vice-presidents." Tom White, executive vice-president of the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce, told us this car is now in Spencer, NC, at a railroad museum.
As we continued our drive, we saw two murals on the walls of downtown buildings. Artist Ralph Waldrop was commissioned to paint the Wall of Fame, commemorating Lancaster County's 200th birthday, showing the faces of five famous Lancaster natives: Charles Duke, Nina Mae McKinney, Andrew Jackson, James Marion Sims and Col. Elliott White Springs.
Continuing down Main Street, we found the courthouse designed by Robert Mills on the left. In front was a monument to Confederate soldiers, and something we would learn more about later in the day.
Next we visited Tom White at the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce. Tom told us Lancaster is experiencing steady growth and has approximately 5,000 commuters to Charlotte. Lancaster, he said, has been described as the "wavin'est town" by newcomers; the friendly residents wave at everyone. By the way, Lancaster also is known as the "Red Rose City," historically connoting the House of Lancaster during the War of the Roses in England. (York is the "White Rose City.")
Lancaster's industries include the local Duracell, USA, battery plant, which produces almost a billion AA batteries a year. Of course, the most recognizable industry is Springs Industries, Inc., which employees 5,000 people. It has the largest dyeing operation under one roof in the country, the Grace Bleachery.
"Nice to be close to Charlotte and Columbia and still have all the advantages of small town living," Tom commented. He, like Jan Duke, recommended visits with Lindsay Pettus and Andee Steen.
Back in our car, we took a right onto West Gay Street to find city hall, which was the old Springs house. On the right was the old jail, designed by Robert Mills and built in 1823. Further down was the Old Presbyterian Church. During the Civil War, it is said Union soldiers stabled their horses in this church and used the pews to hold grain and hay; until the floors were covered, you could still see the hoof marks.
Deciding Lindsay Pettus was a visit we had to make, we headed in his direction. On our way, we stopped to visit Elaine Adkins of Special Gifts (phone (800) 510-5515, (803) 285-5515). We were interested in cookbooks with a Lancaster County connection. Elaine told us about several, such as the Van Wyck Cookbook, Taylors Grove Baptist Church Cookbook, First United Methodist Church Cookbook and First Baptist Church Cookbook.
Leaving Elaine, we set off in search of the man Jan, Tom and Elaine all had said was the Lancaster County authority: Lindsay Pettus. In his office we found rooms full of maps, pictures, post cards and books - hard to tell it was a real estate office. Lindsay, a soft-spoken, professional-looking man, eagerly accepted our invitation to lunch.
We considered several places to eat: Southern Rose, Catawba Fish Camp (actually in Chester County, it serves 2,000 people a weekend) and the Meeting Place. A coin toss took us to the Meeting Place (phone (803) 286-7888).
Seated inside the charming restaurant, we ordered lunch and picked Lindsay's brain. He began by telling us why he's interested in everything about Lancaster County, and his love for his native area was obvious. He told us about many local topics, such as:
After lunch, we decided to visit Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church for a look at the grave of Andrew Jackson's father, the memorial to his mother and the Davie family plot. We left Lancaster on U.S. 521, headed north and took a left at West North Corner Road (between the Amoco station and a car lot; if you get to Andrew Jackson State Park, you've gone too far). At the dead end, we took a left onto Old Hickory Road. Not far down on the left we saw the church and cemetery. Since we were short on time, we were unable to find Andrew Jackson's father's grave, but we did see the beautiful memorial statue to his mother among several Revolutionary War soldier memorials.
We realized by this time we would not be able to see everything we wanted to see, and were anxious to visit with Andee Steen. We left this part of the county and headed toward Stoneboro, saving Andrew Jackson State Park and Van Wyck for a return trip.
We traveled on 521 toward Heath Springs and Kershaw and turned on Highway 522 to Stoneboro - once again meeting very few cars and seeing roadsides covered with trees. It was in the far southern part of Lancaster County that we found one of the most delightful parts of our day: Andee. She came out of an early 1900s farm house, barefoot like we wish we had been, greeting us warmly. In her natural way, she welcomed us into her home and chatted easily, as if we had known each other forever.
We were immediately aware we did not have nearly enough time in this one visit. Andee was brimming with knowledge and stories to tell about Lancaster, Heath Springs and Stoneboro. She has written three books: Stoneboro: Historical Sketch of a South Carolina Community, Russell Place Gatherings and Heath Springs. She told us about the once-thriving town of Stoneboro and the granite quarries that made it possible. She discussed the connections to the town of Lancaster, the Springs and Heath families and the Twitty Mill, site of the only granite quarry still in operation in that area.
Driving away from Andee's farm, we stopped to photograph a beautiful, two-story white house Andee had mentioned, the Russell/Heath House. Turning back toward Heath Springs, we stopped to read a granite monument at the crossroads. It told of Stoneboro's history and included the story of an Italian stone mason who carved a Confederate monument from Stoneboro granite. That monument now stands in front of the Lancaster courthouse. We felt our journey had come full circle.
Traveling back through Heath Springs, we stopped to see Jim Shore of Designs Americana (phone (803) 273-9002). We are sorry to say we missed him; he was out of town. We did, however, meet his mother-in-law, who showed us the beautiful creations of figures made from polyresin with pecan shells. He also has created replicas of the Lancaster courthouse, the old jail and the Old Presbyterian Church, which the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce sells in limited editions.
ON OUR SECOND VISIT to Lancaster County, we began with the town of Kershaw. We stopped in to visit Bill Clyburn. Bill served six years as the mayor of Kershaw and is a former state legislator. He proudly told us about the new minimum/medium-security prison being built. It will hold 1,200 inmates and employ 500 people. It has an $11-million operating budget and is scheduled to open in the fall of 1996. Archer Daniels Midland Soybean Processing Plant and Springs Industries, Inc., are Kershaw's largest industries.
Kershaw was named after Gen. Joseph Kershaw but was originally called Welsh's Station. When questioned about Kershaw's role in the county, Bill said it was an in-between town, with many of its residents working in Camden, Lancaster and other towns.
Some South Carolinians might be surprised to learn the town of Kershaw is in Lancaster County - not Kershaw County. For years, the county line ran through the middle of town. The line was moved about two miles to the south in the mid-1970s, so all of the town is now in Lancaster County. The adjustment was made for school attendance purposes.
Bill Clyburn directed us to the town hall and Mayor Bill Adams for more information about specific places. There we talked with Phyllis Dorman and Sandra Morgan, who provided us with a walking tour brochure showing a number of historic houses in the town.
Our next stop was the Kershaw News & Era office, where we visited editor Jim McKeown, who provided some helpful insight about the area.
From there we left for 40 Acre Rock, a natural landmark protected by the state (featured in the March 1973 Sandlapper). We traveled Highway 601 (also called the Gold Mine Highway). This runs into Highway 903 - but we stayed on 601. We then took a left onto Nature Reserve Road and another left onto Conservancy Road (a dirt road). At the end of this road we found a barrier. We walked about a half mile and didn't see the rock. Later, we were told that had we walked a little further we would have been standing on it.
From 40 Acre Rock we took Taxahaw Road over to Highway 522 and went north to Buford Crossroads. Here we saw a nice roadside park at the site of the Buford Battleground, where Continental soldiers were slaughtered by Tarleton's men in 1780 (reference "Two Lancaster County Battlegrounds" in the September 1970 issue of Sandlapper).
From there we rejoined our fountain of knowledge, Elaine Adkins at Special Gifts, at the Southern Rose Tea Room (phone (803) 286-7673). This delightful restaurant and gift shop is made up of several rooms. We enjoyed a variety of lunches topped off by a special strawberry treat call a "Strawberry La Bomba." Over lunch, Elaine told us about her sister Libby Sweatt-Beaver and Libby's new public school program, "The Learning Service Class," that teaches students how to volunteer.
Elaine also told us about Oliver's Lodge in Van Wyck. Owned by the Nisbet family, it is a cabin on the river used by groups for meetings and retreats. It's a beautiful place with wild turkey and deer. We also learned about Health South Carolina's Rehab Complex, a trauma/rehabilitation center in the upper part of the county.
Elaine told us about the organization HOPE. Begun 13 years ago by area churches, it now has 80 volunteers and helps needy people with bills, food and clothing.
At the Lancaster News we met David Ernest, publisher. The Lancaster News is the largest nondaily paper in South Carolina. It is published three times a week on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, with a circulation of 13,000.
Leaving Lancaster on the way to Andrew Jackson State Park up U.S. 521, we saw the Lancaster Speedway, said to be the fastest half-mile dirt track in the state. Next we turned right at North Corner Road and took pictures of a monument dated 1813 marking the corner of the North Carolina-South Carolina border.
Driving down the entrance to Andrew Jackson State Park, we eventually came to a clearing where we saw several buildings and a statue of the seventh president as a boy in the Waxhaws. While taking photographs of this statue of young Andy on his horse, which was created and given to the park by Anna Hyatt Huntington, Dolly saw one of her old friends from SC PRT, former park interpreter Kim Threatt, along with park superintendent Marshall Brucke. They showed us the museum, which contains a portrait of Andrew Jackson by Thomas Sully and a Davie family chair upstairs. Many other artifacts of the Jackson era were displayed in cases in the different rooms: arrowheads, a spinning wheel and a lock of Jackson's hair.
Now we headed for the last leg of our journey, Van Wyck. Throughout both of our visits we heard different pronunciations of this town's name. People in the lower part of the county said "wick" (short "i"), in the middle part "wack" (short "a"); the Van Wycks said "wyke" (long "i"), like Dick Van Dyke. Here we visited Betty Broome. She took us for a delightful ride to see the beautiful homes and told us how important history is in this area. We stopped at the Nisbet home to try to get a look at their cabin (Oliver's Lodge, mentioned earlier) on the Catawba River, but no one was home. A book on the history of some of these houses was prepared by Oliver Nisbet.
On the trip home we saw a historical marker to King Haigler, the Catawba Indian chief murdered in 1763 by a raiding band of northern Indian braves - a story we had heard nothing about. It was just another reminder that no matter how hard we try, the magazine will never be able to cover everything there is to see in South Carolina.
We returned to Lexington that afternoon glad we had made the return trip - and full of ideas for future adventures.
Thanks to all of our new friends who helped make our scouting trips so enjoyable. Exploring Lancaster County was a wonderful adventure.
For more information about Lancaster County, contact the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce (phone (803) 283-4105), the Olde English Tourism District ((803) 385-6800) and Andrew Jackson State Park ((803) 285-3344).
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