Sandlapper Society

Where Tea is Sweet, And the t is Silent

by Donna Thorne

If you’re like most people, you probably assume that Clinton, the charming Upstate city, is pronounced just like the name of the former President of the United States. While the spelling is exactly the same, the pronunciation is anything but. Locals call their city “Clinen.” The “t” is silent. Dianne Wyatt, executive director of the Clinton Business Association, was born and raised in Clinton, but doesn’t know how the silent “t” originated. “It’s always been that way,” says Dianne. “I was born here and have lived here all my life. I don’t know why we say it that way. We just do,” she explains. “If you pronounce the ‘t,’ we know you’re not from around here.”

Even if visitors mispronounce the name while in Clinton, it doesn’t stop locals from offering up Southern hospitality, genuine friendliness and a glass of ice-cold, sweet tea.

At the Crossroads

Clinton sprang up at the intersection of five roads. Originally called Five Points, the town grew quickly with the coming of the railroad. Clinton was incorporated in 1852 and took its name from Laurens attorney Henry Clinton Young, who laid out the town’s first streets. Churches, businesses, mills and homes sprouted along the main thoroughfares, but the Civil War halted the young town’s progress.

Into the destruction and defeat came a man who would change the face of Clinton.

William Plumer Jacobs took over as pastor of Clinton’s First Presbyterian Church in 1864, but he was no ordinary man of the cloth. Jacobs was also an author, reporter, publisher and a leader in Clinton civic affairs. He helped secure the location of two railroads, led in the establishment of the Clinton High School Association and sponsored plans for founding a public library. He was fluent in Latin, Greek, French, German and Hebrew, and was an expert in metaphysics, history and astronomy. He was also proficient in shorthand.

Jacobs believed that “a little country church could be made a tower of light and strength.” Through quiet devotion, hard work and prayer, he brought orderliness to Clinton and made it the very center of South Carolina Presbyterianism. He was active in promoting civic advantages before the Chamber of Commerce was even conceived.

In 1875, Jacobs established an orphanage, Thornwell Home for Children. Five years later, he founded Presbyterian College. Both institutions are alive and well today, and both are intrinsically joined to the past and future of Clinton.

A Man for All Seasons

Mercer Silas Bailey was born on a Laurens County farm in 1841. In 1859, at age 18, he moved to Clinton to further his education and began working in a local store. After serving in the Civil War, Bailey returned to Clinton and took up farming. In 1865, he took the profit from four bales of cotton and opened a small store, one of only two in Clinton. His brother, William, joined him in the business. The success of M.S. Bailey and Bro. led him to open a grocery store, gristmill, sawmill, brick-making operation and cotton gin. All the while, his reputation for fair dealing grew and he became active in civic affairs. He worked alongside Reverend Jacobs on the creation of Presbyterian College, the Thornwell Home for Children and was a major supporter of the Presbyterian Church.

At Jacobs’ urging, Bailey created Bailey’s Bank of Clinton in 1886. After 10 years of successful banking, Bailey turned to the textile industry, opening Clinton Cotton Mill in 1897. Within a year, the mill was running 24 hours a day. Bailey opened a second plant, named Lydia Mill in honor of his wife, in 1902, and broke ground that same year on a third, Clinton Mill No. 2.
At one point, the mills in Clinton employed more than 5,000 people. The success of the textile mills meant solid economic prosperity for Clinton and its citizens for almost 100 years. But, sadly, it was not to last.

Just as Bailey had lured the textile business from New England with cheap labor in the 1890s, Mexico and Asia’s even cheaper labor costs lured textiles overseas in the 1980s. By this time, the Bailey family had sold its interests to outside investors. CMI Industries, which bought Clinton Mills, tried valiantly to compete in the textile market, but eventually, one by one, the mills went silent. By 2001, all the textile jobs were gone.

Clinton was facing high unemployment and loss of tax revenues. But all was not lost. Because Clinton is only about 40 minutes from Greenville and Spartanburg, and about an hour from Columbia, many residents began commuting to jobs in other areas. Presbyterian College also served as a source for jobs and revenue for the town, drawing visitors, fans and alumni for sporting and cultural events, and buying goods and services from local businesses. Six new facilities have been built on the campus in the last 10 years and another six buildings have been renovated, adding jobs and revenue to Clinton’s economy.

The Core of the Community

Founded in 1880, Presbyterian College (PC) sits on 240 acres in the center of town. Sheltered by towering trees, its beautiful grounds were laid out by an associate of renowned landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted. As the campus grew over the years, new buildings were designed to blend seamlessly with the original Georgian architecture. As a result, the entire campus looks like it’s been in existence for more than 100 years.

Today, PC offers its 1,200 students 34 majors, 47 minors and 16 pre-professional and dual-degree programs. With a 13-to-1 student:faculty ratio, professors and students develop strong personal and academic relationships. Six PC professors have been named South Carolina Professor of the Year— more than any other college or university in the state. Washington Monthly has ranked PC among the best of all liberal arts colleges and universities in the United States. Presbyterian College has also appeared on U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” list.

The school’s motto, “While we live, we serve,” is reflected in PC’s commitment to the community and its students’ many volunteer activities. Almost all students participate in some type of volunteer activity by the time they graduate.

The Right Prescription

Its latest addition is the School of Pharmacy, which will welcome its first class of 80 students in the fall of 2010. Located in the old Mary Musgrove Hotel a few miles from campus, the School of Pharmacy will grow to 320 students over the next four years.
“There’s a shortage of pharmacists. There aren’t enough being produced to meet demand,” says College President Dr. John Griffith. “Pharmacists are increasingly becoming the first line of defense in health care. We plan to build our pharmacy program focusing on specialties related to health issues in South Carolina— diabetes, hypertension, obesity and coronary disease.”

PC’s School of Pharmacy is the first doctoral program in a medical field in the Upstate. Students will not only learn in the new state-of-the-art facility, they’ll also get hands-on experience working in Upstate hospitals, nursing facilities and treating patients at free medical clinics in the region.

Confucius Comes to Clinton

The Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “Ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon and stars.” China, with its billions of people and vast resources, has opened up to the rest of the world over the last decade, but most Americans know little about Confucius’ native land and its culture. Presbyterian College is erasing that ignorance, training its students to successfully do business and interact socially in China.

The Confucius Institute at Presbyterian College was established by Presbyterian College and China’s Guizhou University to promote mutual understanding between the two nations. Its primary objective is: to strengthen the Chinese program at Presbyterian College. Further, along with PC’s partner institutions Clemson University, Converse College, Furman University and Wofford College, the institute will enhance business exchanges between China and the Upstate business community of South Carolina, in partnership with the Global Trade Consortium and the Upstate Alliance; support the teaching of the Chinese language and culture in K–12 schools in conjunction with the South Carolina Department of Education; and further the cultural diversity of Upstate South Carolina through cultural events.

There are 350 Confucius Institutes worldwide. PC is the first and only liberal arts college to have one. A huge statue of Confucius, the largest one in North America, stands in the courtyard of the building which houses the Institute. “Future leaders must have a keen understanding of China,” says Dr. Griffith. “We strive to have the premiere Chinese program in the region. We are teaching our students to dance across the global stage.” Students in the Chinese Fellows Program go to China for immersion courses. The courses are covered by tuition and PC pays the travel expenses.

While China is poised to take a leading role on the world stage, Presbyterian College is ensuring that Americans will be fully ready to meet the challenges of the changing global economy.

Playing in the Big Leagues

Athletics at Presbyterian College took a big leap when the school moved up to NCAA Division I, joining the Big South Conference in 2006. Previously a Division II program, Blue Hose athletes now take on the likes of Wake Forest, Clemson, Ohio State and other large university teams. “Sometimes it’s a David and Goliath situation,” President Griffith says. But underdogs can come out on top. Home football games draw big crowds, overseen by the Cyrus, the world’s largest bronze statue of a Scotsman. During the 2002 season, Presbyterian College opened the new 6,500-seat Bailey Memorial Stadium. There is debate on how the nickname “Blue Hose” came about. PC’s athletics website says, “A Blue Hose is a fierce Scottish warrior. If you have ever seen the movie Braveheart, you have seen a true Blue Hose.” Some say the moniker derives from early Scots-Irish Presbyterian settlers who often wore blue stockings as a mark of their faith. Others say it arose after PC athletic director Walter Johnson changed uniform colors to blue jerseys and socks in 1915. Sportswriters began calling the team the Blue Stockings, later shortened to Blue Hose.

No matter the true origin of the name, the Blue Hose have legions of loyal fans and followers.

A Great Place to Raise a Family

Ginger Crocker, now of Columbia, grew up in Clinton, and represented the area in the state legislature for eight years. “Clinton has a strong, family-oriented culture,” she says. “There a lot to be said for common values and knowing everybody in town.” Clinton resident Melissa Patton agrees. “It’s a beautiful town with old-fashioned values. It’s like stepping back in time,” she explains. “We’re out of the big city hustle and bustle, with its traffic jams and higher taxes, but we’re only an hour away.”

Crocker remembers her high school years in Clinton with particular fondness. “Your parents always knew where you were— either at a football game or at Whiteford’s Drive-In. And you had to get across the railroad tracks before the 11:30 p.m. coal train, or you’d be late getting home. That train took forever!”

Some things don’t change. The trains still roll through downtown and children are still under the watchful eyes of the town’s adults. “This is a very safe community,” Patton says. “We watch out for each other’s kids. We call each other about what our kids are up to.” The old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” is still true in Clinton.

Clinton also offers its children quality education. “The teachers here are phenomenal,” says Patton. “Most are from Clinton and they care so much about the kids. They go above and beyond. This is their town and they’re here for the long haul.” The new Clinton High School will open this fall. With its brick walls and striking red tin roof, the new school will be home to some of the state’s top students and athletes.

A Great Place to Do Business

Melissa Patton first came to Clinton for her former job in sales. “Clinton was in my territory. I met my husband, a Clinton native, while I was making a sales call in town,” she recalls. The couple used to own a local restaurant. After they sold it, Patton started her own company, Bee-Tees, which she runs from Clinton. Searching for a way to teach her daughter the right values, she hit upon the idea of using t-shirts sporting a bumblebee image with messages such as “bee kind,” “bee happy” and “bee creative.” The t-shirts were a hit and, today, Patton’s creations are marketed across the nation and they are printed and embroidered in Laurens County. “We have a very supportive business climate,” Patton says. “People appreciate local businesses. We don’t want anybody to close their doors.” Residents and visitors can choose from a wide assortment of cuisines at local restaurants like Jitters, the Parthenon, Dempsey’s Pizza, Whiteford’s Drive-In, The Study Club, Steamers and Wilson’s Curb Market. The latest fashions are available at Teal and Tapestry women’s boutiques and Adair’s Men’s Shop. And Sadler-Hughes Apothecary, which opened its doors 100 years ago, is still going strong.

Facing the Future

Clinton’s Broad Street is charming old-time America at its best. Shops and restaurants line the business district, which is anchored by Monument Square and a replica of the town’s original railroad depot. Thursday nights throughout the summer mean concerts in the square, with up to 1,500 people enjoying the music, food and fun. But it wasn’t always this way. After the mill closings, Clinton faced tough times. The close-knit community, however, didn’t dwell on the past. It fought for its future.

Clinton’s downtown face lift began nearly a decade ago. According to Frank Stovall, Clinton’s assistant city manager, the ongoing project is funded through a Department of Commerce grant and city funds. “Our overall strategy calls for seven phases and we’re currently on phase three,” he explains. New sidewalks and street lamps grace the business district. While some storefronts remain empty, Clinton has made great strides since the mill closings of the last decade.

“The closing of the mills was a major turning point in the history of this city,” Stovall says. “City leaders and residents found themselves faced with a major economic loss that dealt a severe blow to both public and private pocketbooks. Only through the resilience of our people have we been able to move so quickly down the road to recovery.” In one short decade, Clinton has largely overcome the loss of a way of life and has reinvented itself. The town’s success is a testament to its values and its people. If you ever find yourself in this charming Upstate city, don’t embarrass yourself. Many things have changed in Clinton, but the pronunciation hasn’t. The “t” is still silent.

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This article is sponsored by the City of Clinton and Presbyterian College. 


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