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Column: Alice Boykin’s legacy
Katherine Richardson (ANVIL).jpg
Katherine Richardson

About 30 years ago, I got a phone call from a lady in Camden named Alice Boykin. I was living in Columbia, had recently finished my Masters in applied history at the University of South Carolina, and was doing historic preservation consulting. Someone at the State Archives or the South Caroliniana Library gave her my name. She invited me to meet with her in her offices at the Greenleaf Villa on Broad Street -- said I couldn’t miss it. She had a project she wanted to discuss with me.

So, off to Camden I went in a few days, notebook in hand. As we visited in her office, she began to detail a plan she had in mind for her family property a few miles south of Camden. It was a rural crossroads near her house in the country and the place had an old mill pond and was the site of a Civil War battle. The mail used to be dropped there off the railroad, which ran nearby. There was a grist mill which could still work if tended, an old post office, and some other old buildings still standing. Oh yes, and an old church which had been abandoned.

Ms. Boykin -- I was to call her Alice -- wanted to bring that rural crossroads back to life. It was once a very important gathering place for the people in that part of the county. There they got their mail, had their corn ground, visited with their neighbors as they waited their turn at the mill, and caught the train up to Camden or down to Sumter. They went there for church on Sundays and loved to picnic, fish, and boat on the mill pond. It was a “place in time,” a community which had slowly been replaced by the modern world and largely forgotten except by locals. Yet, Alice saw that as its significance. It was once a very vital place to the people in Camden and southern Kershaw County and Alice wanted it to be important to people now. She wanted to share that forgotten rural life with the world.

Alice, ever the businesswoman, had a plan and the first step in that plan was to convince people “from away” that Boykin was important. She wanted to have it entered into the National Register of Historic Places so there would be no doubt. She asked me to take on the job of researching it and nominating it to the National Register for her. Sounded great to me -- and so my history with Boykin Mill and Alice Boykin began.

Boykin Mill, historically known as Mill Tract Plantation, is located 8 miles south of Camden on Swift Creek, a tributary of the Wateree River. This land, with its swiftly running stream, was sought after early in the development of Fredericksburg Township. The first owner of the land where Boykin Mill is now located was Robert English, who received his first grant there for 500 acres in 1769. English sided with the British during the American Revolution and lost his property in South Carolina, all 1,094 acres of it, through the Confiscation Act of 1782. English’s property was eagerly taken up by Samuel Boykin in 1783 and by 1786, the mill pond as we know it today was in existence.

A year or so after our first meeting, on September 10, 1992, the Boykin Mill Complex was entered into the National Register of Historic Places. In the meantime, I had learned a great deal about the Boykins, Camden and Kershaw County -- and Alice. While I researched and wrote, Alice renovated and planned adaptive reuse for the buildings. Before we knew it, Alice had the mill back up and running regularly, producing muslin sacks of Boykin Mill grits which she sold in the new restaurant across the road. The Broom Lady moved into a restored cabin and began demonstrating the old craft of making brooms. Alice wanted to restore the church and needed to find out about grants. I told her about a grant through the State Archives, but cautioned that she would need an architect to help write it. Oh, not a problem! She had one in the family. She thought I might know him; his name is Henry Boykin. She got a sizeable grant for the church restoration. She mentioned opening a fine dining restaurant in the old post office -- and Mill Pond Restaurant was born. Alice Boykin made things happen.

Alice’s National Register property contains 15 contributing cultural resources, most of which are centered on the south side of the mill pond at the crossroads of Highway 261 and Old Boykin Mill Rd. (State Rd S. 28-2). These include the mill pond, the grist mill, Millway House, Swift Creek Baptist Church, the post office and the general store. Also included are a Civil War battle site, the mill race and dam, and the Boykin Road, present-day Highway 261. Boykin was becoming a destination for visitors from near and far. But Alice had one more scheme up her sleeve -- just the icing on the cake.

In 1993, she decided that Boykin needed an annual Christmas party. So Alice organized the Boykin Christmas Parade, a rollicking and hilarious celebration of everything country and quirky. It drew hundreds of spectators that first year. The State newspaper featured Boykin on the Metro/Region front in 1994 stating, “A former community gathering place in southern Kershaw County, with a history that spans two centuries, is celebrating a rebirth.” In 2017, 20,000 visitors were expected for the parade. This Christmas party is now in its 26th year.

Alice Boykin really was a visionary. She envisioned agritourism before it was a term. An appreciation for our rural heritage was of utmost importance to her. She made it important -- and accessible - to us, too. Today, Boykin is one of Kershaw County’s most treasured tourism destinations.

Thank you, Alice.