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School 'historians'

Posted: October 7, 2011 10:30 a.m.
Updated: October 10, 2011 5:00 a.m.

On Feb. 4, 1904, the Camden Chronicle and the Wateree Messenger were joined by a third newspaper in Camden, the People, whose editor was J. A. Shrock. In his first issue editor Shrock introduced a serial feature, “Graded School Compositions,” which appeared in almost every issue until late May 1904. Shrock explained, “The editor was unfortunate … to secure only a limited education, and feels the keenest interest in assisting others who were more fortunate than himself.”

Shrock elaborated that these compositions would publicize public education. A parent and his child could see the child’s work in the paper. Also teachers could take pride in sharing the work of their student with the public and personally seeing it in print.

Shrock did not mention the names of the teachers. He conveniently failed to mention that the publication of these essays likely would add to the circulation of his paper and potential profitability.

Over this four-month period, about 30 essays appeared in print from 20 different students on the topics of anecdotes, letters, horses, honor, ice, Japan, Sergeant Jasper, etc. The grade level of the students ranged from six to 10. The teachers likely gave the students a list of topics from which they chose one on which to write a creative writing essay.

The list of student writers developed by this columnist contained many prominent local family names both then and now. On the list is a student from the Birchmore family, likely from C.W. Birchmore, editor of the Wateree Messenger and school superintendent; a student from the Eldredge family, likely Frank Eldredge, proprietor of the Hobkirk Inn and Good Castle; and student Helen Phelps from the Phelps family. A few decades later, the auditorium at Camden High School would be named the Phelps Auditorium in honor of Helen and her sister Ada for their many years of dedicated teaching in the school district. Editor Shrock very likely took pride and pleasure in printing an essay by student Paul L. Shrock in his paper also.

Only a couple of essay writers had “Winter Colony” parents. However, a number of local students chose to write from the viewpoint of their parents being from the Winter Colony. This fact is an indication that these Northeasterners were impacting Camden in many ways beyond economic ones.

   These student essays provide a large enough sample for one to conclude that the level of teaching and the level of mastery by students of creative writing and composition was superior in 1904, about 107 years ago. The essays also contained useful historical clues about roads, local homes, racial composition, climate, sports, people, sites, etc. Due to the essays containing this type of information, the students unwittingly became “historians” to a degree. Some samples from their essays will demonstrate their historical content.

   The student essayists were Annie D. Alexander, Norwood Ancrum, Loree Arthur, Ellen Birchmore, James W. Blakeney, Hallie Carrison, Alice Corbett, Etta Dixon, Elizabeth S. Dubose, G. Eulalie Earle, Margaret Eldredge, Nannie Hough, Betty Lenoir, James R. McLain, Gertrude Mitchum, Helen Phelps, Paul L. Shrock, James Stoney, Clarence and Nan Trantham.

Letter written by James W. Blakeney from the Kirkwood, March 11th to his mother in N.Y.

   The little town of Camden is very dry and warm, which I am sure you would like….Yesterday we rode on horseback up to Knight’s Hill about 8 miles from here. It is inhabited mostly by the Black race and is very hilly. On our way back we stopped at a little Negro cabin, where we received cornbread and cabbage, which was thought to be a feast by them.

   About a week ago we went to Mulberry, an old place previously owned by the Chesnuts. The road has recently been fixed; therefore, a nice trip was anticipated. The rest of the time has been spent in playing golf, watching polo and taking part in paper chases every Thursday.

   Note: A Paper Chase is a racing game best played within woods with any number of players. One person is the hare and all others in the game are the hounds. The hare gets a head start as he leaves behind a trail of pieces of paper which represents the scent of the hare. After a time, the hounds chase after the hare and attempt to catch him. If he gets to the finish line before being caught, he gets to choose the next hare, or to be the hare himself.

A letter dated March 11th from Gertrude Mitchum to her friend, Elizabeth Harrington, in N.Y.

   I arrived in Camden safely and am thoroughly enjoying myself. Camden has the most unique old homesteads and they are surrounded by the most lovely flowers and trees.

   I am staying at a beautiful hotel situated on a high hill and looks down on the long leafed pines and the most beautiful yellow Jessamine, which shines out like stars.

   The climate is delightful with fresh winds all the time. I have visited many historic places, and when I think I have seen them all, I come to find out I have not seen near all, there are so many. I visited the house in which Lafayette was entertained when he was in Camden.

   I have taken many pictures of monuments, hotels and historic homes, which I will bring home to you. I went driving yesterday and went by the old stream where Sherman burned the bridge.

Letter from G. Eulalie Earle to Estelle Bradford in N.Y.

   Camden has about six parks, which adds much to the beauty of the place. There are many county roads leading up to some old mansion, bridge or river. Places of interest are by no means lacking.

   Just now a number of fruit trees are in full bloom, and you can imagine how beautiful they look. Quantities of violets are blooming now. I will try to send a bunch to you, if possible.

   But the chief attraction of Camden is the great number of sports. Among these are riding, hunting and golf playing. I spend most of my time on horseback roaming over the woods nearby, and taking long country rides.


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