Place Names in South Carolina
Tracing Names in the Upstate
by Irene LaBorde Neuffer
From Maverick to Richburg, the north/northwestern reaches of South Carolina are rich in unusual place names. How'd they come about? Read on. . . .
Names in South Carolina, published annually from 1954 to 1984, was founded and edited by University of South Carolina Prof. Claude Henry Neuffer as a labor of love. The first place name journal in the United States, it recorded more than 30,000 legends and origins, from Apeyard in Greenville to Zig-Zag Alley in Charleston.
To make publishing ends almost meet, we were much pleased during those lean years to earn a sheckle or three writing occasional articles for Sandlapper - Claude's on his variegated journal and my own favorite piece "The Passing of Dr. Neuffer's Lung Tonic." Also helpful was Sandlapper Press' publication of our little hardback The Name Game: From Oyster Point to Keowee, "for children from 8 to 80 - older, if you have a good pair of glasses," as one critic opined.
Once when I was substitute teaching at Satchel Ford School in a South Carolina history class, I used place names like Cowpens, Kingstree and Nine Times to whet the students' interest. A little genius on the front row asked, "What kind of professor is your husband?"
Ever ready to promote new words, instead of describing him as "a studier of names," I said, "He's an onomatologist." And just as quickly, the lad queried, "Is it contagious?"
Truly it is. That well might be the reason I was asked to come home again to Sandlapper when the magazine was reborn in 1989 - not to explain all 30,000 South Carolina place names, but maybe a few of the ones with offbeat stories and/or unique pronunciations pertaining thereto.
In the upper Greenville section, Dark Corner reputedly was named by Col. Elias T. Earle, state senator, congressman, silk grower, etc. A tax appraiser went to a humble cabin in the hills. The man of the house wasn't home, and his wife peered out with a shotgun in hand.
"What you want?"
"Congress wants to know what your land is worth."
"My ole man'll go whup Mr. Congress, come meddlin' in our 'fairs."
As the gun pointed through the crack in the door, the tax appraiser hastily retreated down the hill and to the courthouse.
Hearing the story, Col. Earle chuckled and said, "That must be the darkest corner of the district." And so it's been called ever since.
A few miles northwest of Pickens, the Indian trail passed between two mountains and zigzagged across a small stream nine times until it came to the mouth of the stream at its confluence with the Bastatoe Creek. There it was deep enough for baptizing, although other reports are that early settlers were Scottish-Irish Presbyterians, not Baptists. The trail there was called Nine Times Road, and the area post office officially was titled Nine Times.
Samuel Augustus Maverick of Pickens County achieved his fame after moving to Texas, where there's even a county named for him. As a rancher, he didn't follow the custom of branding his cattle, so unmarked livestock came to be known as "Maverick's." Now the word is in dictionaries, defined as a nonconformist or independent.
One of my favorites up Spartanburg way is the still titled Sugar Tit, a little community at the crossroads of state highways 101 and 296, about 10 miles northwest of Woodruff.
Jim Oliphant of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal tracked this one down for us. (He and Herald-Journal editorial director Hubert Hendrix were active supporters of NSC.) When Jim was trying to pinpoint the location of a just-passed tornado, he asked an elderly woman who rather stiffly responded, "This is the road to Pelham." But the child with her corrected, "Ah, Granny, everybody calls it Sugar Tit."
Further inquiries evidenced that after a hard day's work at the mill and supper amid his large and noisy family, the man of the house took refuge with his fellow workers at the company store. When the children asked, "Where's Poppa?," the weary mother responded, "Oh, he's gone to get his sugar tit." And disagreeing with an ex post facto story that Poppa had a girlfriend, we should explain that before store-bought pacifiers, there was the homemade wad of cloth dipped in sugar water that pacified and was called a sugar tit.
At one time known as Brown's Creek Church, near the center of the district where settlers had come down from Pennsylvania in the 1750s, the building was erected in 1765 under the name of Union. It was intended to be used in common by Episcopalians and Presbyterians, hence the name - and thereafter also the name of Union County.
The present town of Richburg in Chester County was settled by a band of religious folk called Millerites, following the teaching of preacher William Miller. Miller spread the word, via as many as 700 other preachers, that according to his Biblical interpretations, the world was going to end March 15, 1843.
The settlers of this town had sold all their worldly goods to come to this highest point, appropriately called Rich Hill at the time, to prepare for the end. In 1880, to avoid duplication, the name Rich Hill was changed to Richburg.
The town is equidistant from Rock Hill, Chester and Lancaster (which, by the way, in these parts is pronounced "LANG-kus-tuh," not "lan-KAS-ter" - our media missionaries to the contrary).
The town of Van Wyck (pronounced "WIKE"), situated on SC 75 southeast of Rock Hill, is the only so-named town in the United States. It's one of the many named when the railroads came through the state in the late 19th Century. It was so titled by a Col. Hoke, a Seaboard official, for his wife's maiden name.
Concluding these samples of place names along our north/northwest boundary line, we might tell one lighthearted story from the Fort Mill area.
That inverted "V" on the state line almost due north of Columbia - why?
Surveyors were instructed to follow a certain parallel line east to Sugaw Creek, which they then were to follow southeast to another parallel line. Halfway down the creek, a passing traveler told them of a "likker" still about 10 miles across the creek, to which they retired for a happy hour. Afterward, they headed back somewhat southeast to rejoin Sugaw Creek. Hence the reason in the midst of that inverted "V" the town of Fort Mill is in South Carolina instead of North Carolina.
When legislative powers discovered the surveyors' happy mistake, their attempts to correct it were met with a strong refusal from one of the leading property owners around Fort Mill: "No, sirree. It's too cold in that northern state. I wanna stay right here where I am."
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