If one person had changed his mind, then the U.S. Military Academy would have been located at the cliffs on the Catawba River near Flopeye at Great Falls, rather than at West Point on the Hudson River.
The Catawba River changes names between Great Falls and the river ports of Camden and Westerham (the original Lugoff port) and becomes the Wateree River. Both river names are derived from the native Indian tribes who settled on the river. The Catawba and Wateree Indians were active traders and friends of both the Spanish explorers and colonial settlers. Catawba warriors were employed to catch runaway slaves. This local river has been a source of much of South Carolina’s economic development.
After the Revolution, the development of the cotton gin allowed the cotton business to explode and move west. Prior to the development of the cotton gin, South Carolina had abolished the import of slaves who mostly were cattlemen and rice planters.
In the early 1800s, the major means of transporting goods was on the water. The goods traded in Camden came to and through Georgetown. South Carolinians found themselves lagging behind their Georgia neighbors mainly due to the easy access of the Savannah River to the port of Savannah. Charleston lacked deep inland access to river traffic, so it built the Santee Canal which then brought the commercial boats to Charleston. There was also the development of a new boat called, among other names, the Camden boat which allowed heavy bales of cotton to be transported to the salt water ports.
Local leaders decided to build canals above Camden on the Wateree/Catawba River which would help increase commercial traffic. The investors quickly determined it was less costly to use Irish labor rather than slave labor, and in turn, one of the first Catholic churches was built in Camden on DeKalb Street. One can still see part of the Wateree Canal near the dam. The canals were also built on the Catawba River near the sharp cliffs close to Great Falls.
Beginning in the 1830s, railroads had taken over most of the commercial traffic, but the farm areas between Camden and Great Falls still used the river for transport to Camden where the railroad had a spur which extended up from Manchester. Robert Cunningham’s Summerville Plantation, located in both Kershaw and Chester counties, made him one of the richest men in America. If you walk in the hills behind Lake Wateree, you can still see how the land was terraced for farming and find various clusters of mostly white rocks which were stacked when the land was cleared. Sherman burned more than a dozen gin mills in the Beaver Creek area alone.
In 1900, Dr. Walker Wylie partnered with James Duke, the tobacco baron and developed Duke Power Company which created hydroelectric dams on the Catawba/Wateree River. From this venture, many textile mill towns sprung up with the mill town of Great Falls being one.
If you are familiar with the history of mill towns and villages, then you know the mill attempted to control everything. One could easily owe their soul to the company store. The first electricity came to Camden in the Kendall mill village so the second and third shifts could prepare for work.
Great Falls was a mill town, but old Flopeye maintained a dry goods store which competed with the company store and so Great Falls may be one of the very few towns which has two separate business districts. One is Flopeye and the other is the formerly mill-controlled business district.
Flopeye himself was given this nickname by a drummer who noticed one of his eyes would often droop. As you may recall, a drummer was a traveling peddler. The name drummer originated in London when fresh fish would be bought in to market and the merchants would send kids out with drums to announce their arrival.
In George Washington’s first term as president, the capitol was located in New York and New Yorkers wanted it to stay there, while Washington wanted to move the capitol to D.C. on the Potomac River. At the same time, the leaders realized there was a need for an academy to train army officers which the Southerners wanted in the South. Horse trading put the academy at West Point by one vote.
Most of the information for this article was provided by Toni Rush Faulkenberry, a former “Miss Flopeye.”
Thank you for your attention.