Herbert Cooke’s father worked for the city of Camden. His job was to take care of the city streets. He used either the city’s mules, horses or oxen and a bamboo apparatus to clean the brick streets. Nancy Ogburn and George Sandy can recall the brick streets around the old city hall which was located on Rutledge Street.
The growth of commerce, trade and transportation in Kershaw County spins an interesting tale which reflects the commercial history of our country. Teamsters, Indian trails, canals, railroads, trains, cars, boats, ferries and immigrant labor helped form our history.
The asphalt paving for most South Carolina roads began in the 1920s. Prior to the roads of Camden being paved, the city fathers covered the major commercial areas with bricks. Henry DuRant can remember when all of the city streets were not paved.
If you look at the 1855 railroad map of South Carolina, you will see that a spur (Camden Branch R.R.) ran from the Kingville Junction in Manchester north to Camden almost parallel to the Wateree River. This railroad ran from N.C. to Florence, Sumterville, Columbia, and Spartanburg. Jim Thornton and George Sandy can recall the old Southern Railroad station terminal and bus station that was located about where the new Dollar General store is located on DeKalb Street and up from Little Pine Tree Creek where the Camden First Baptist baptized their new converts in the creek close to the hospital and the Haile Street Grocery.
The major marketing day was Saturday and mules and wagons, if coupled with bad weather, could cause major traffic problems. The first impression that Gus Beleos had of Camden at the turn of the last century was how many beautiful white horses the local people owned. He thought with this many white horses this must be a rich city.
The city livery area was in the Pot Licker area beside the powder house next to Mad’s Restaurant. The powder house was where the black powder was stored that was mostly used to blow up stumps. Herb Cooke spent several decades working as a plumber and says that quite often he would come across old stumps underneath some of the older downtown buildings.
Bill Self, who operates Self Heating and Cooling, says that you can crawl under some of these older buildings and suddenly sink up to your elbow. The late Roderick Cantey told the story when that he was a young tyke he stood at the corner of Broad and Rutledge beside the former B.C. Moore building and watched the workers drain the swamp-like low area where Logan Appliance now sits. Old timers like Billy Nettles and Frank Goodale will tell you that older timers than them told of good duck shooting holes that were located where Steve Van Horn now owns and operates Kennedy Insurance and another very close to where the Kershaw County Farmers Market now sits.
To also encourage downtown trade, the city leaders used bricks for pavement and illuminated the streets with gas lamps. Electricity did not come to Camden until 1913 when Kendall Mill began providing the mill village with electricity but only at night so that the second and third shift could have some light.
Removing stumps was a big problem in an agrarian society. Oxen proved to be better than mules for carrying heavier loads and removing stumps. Oxen would get on their knees to remove a stubborn stump. The first suburb of Camden was Boogertown and prior to its development it was a cotton field.
Dr. Pete McCoy told that in the old days wagons pulled by oxen would make the three week trip to Charleston and usually return with goods and salt. Salt was much needed to preserve meat. The major problem with taking a wagon to Charleston was getting the oxes, mules, horses and wagons across the Santee swamp waters.
Ancrum Boykin has visited the Wateree Canal near Sawney Creek. The Wateree Canal was part of an intricate system to promote trade and was encouraged by George Washington. Because canal digging was harsh work and unprofitable for slave owners, many Irish workers were imported to dig. In the 1820s, land on DeKalb Street was sold to the Catholic Church of South Carolina so that a Catholic church could be built. This information can be found in Glen and Joan Inabinets’s excellent book, “A History of Kershaw County, South Carolina.”
Many Irish were also brought to America in the 1840s to build the railroad through the mountains in order to link Charleston with Cincinnati. However, the War Between the States stopped this endeavor but there still remains a significant Irish population around Walhalla.
Joseph Kershaw laid out the town of Westerham which was located directly across the Wateree River from Camden. The land provided to be more valuable for agrarian purposes, but the area was called Westerham for many decades until the railroad bridge crossed the Wateree. Ferries were used before bridges were built.
There is an old mill on the Carrison Canal which was built on what is now on private property north of I-20 and west of the 521 interstate entrance. The interstate system is often referred to as Eisenhower Roads because he lead the battle for creating a national interstate system after WWII.
The earliest public assistance for the colonies was the development of the King’s Highway which created an overland route through the major cities from Boston to Savannah. Part of Highway 17 is still called the King’s Highway in some places. George Washington later encouraged the use of canals and waterways to promote commerce and steamboats had their day. The era of steamboats produced two sayings which are still with us today. Starting in the 1820s and ’30s many of the backwoods people began using the steamboats to migrate west in order to find cheap land. Since so many of these good citizens had the name of William, the more affluent passengers and the crews would call them Hill Billy’s.
Where you slept on the steamboat was determined by the ticket you could afford. The cheaper the ticket found you closer to the bottom. Many of the more prosperous passengers would be treated to private dining on top of the boat. Since pork was often served and was the most popular and longer lasting meat, the term ‘eating high on the hog’ became synonymous with fine dining on top of the boat..
Railroads were able to move goods more efficiently and Atlanta, where the north and south railroads crossed with the east and west tracks, became the first major city in the U.S. which was not a major port. When the transcontinental railroad was finished, it took six weeks to go from the east coast to the west coast rather than six months.
In the 1950s when commercial airliners could easily move passengers quickly from one coast to the other the Giants and Dodgers moved from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Babe Ruth always traveled by train to out of town games.
Thank you for your attention.