My mother and father hailed from what I call T & T country in Chesterfield County, that is, turpentine and tobacco. My mother was from the Williams Family of Patrick, my place of birth, and my father’s Teal Family wasfrom the Cedar Creek community on the Darlington County line, nine miles from Hartsville.
In 1929, when I was 1 year old, my family moved to the Cassatt community in Kershaw County, which is only 8 miles from the Chesterfield County line. For the next two decades, my family engaged in the turpentine business and cotton and tobacco farming in that community.
Allen Stokes of the South Caroliniana Library knows of my ties to this area of the state and when historical material comes into the library from there, he alerts me. He recently referred such an item to me entitled, “Sand Hills State Forest, Patrick, S.C., July 15, 1941.” The date, July 15, perked up my interest, since it is my birthday.
This item, from Randolph B. Lee, Sand Hills State Forest Director, contains a map and a detailed description of a tour one could take from Juniper Junction, near Cheraw, to McBee and see various sites along and near U.S. 1. This item described sites near U.S. 1 or the Seaboard Railroad, which I had seen many times as we traveled from Cassatt to visit relatives in Chesterfield County.
The map showed the Patrick fire tower which was located less than half a mile from my mother’s childhood home site. Of course, I knew about the Cassatt fire tower. I had often climbed to its top to see the sites for miles around. The tower operator for a time, Vernon Robinson, also was a friend of mine.
In the mid 1940s, climbing the Cassatt fire tower provided an adventure for dating couples such as Ella Catherine McLaughlin, my future wife, whose father was a State Forest ranger. Another connection was her home, where the only phone in the Cassatt community was located. The S.C. State Commission of Forestry had their own telephone lines and allowed citizens to make calls over them.
One similarity Cassatt and Patrick shared was the sand hills. The soil and terrain was about the same, sand and hills. The long leaf pine, the tree from which my father and brothers extracted turpentine, flourished in these sand hills. The map showed the Sand Hills State Forest headquarters to be located about four miles south of Patrick on U.S. 1. Behind their headquarters lay the Seaboard Railroad. By the railroad was a tar kiln operated by the state forest where tar was extracted from lightwood. Their report described the process.
The tar kiln
“These kilns produce about 100 BBls. of tar per burning. This is known as the open kiln process. Lightwood is split and stacked in the kiln. When complete, it is covered over and burned slowly, driving the tar out of the wood ahead of the fire. This runs down to the lower end of the kiln into the sump, is then picked up and poured into barrels. About one (1) bbl. of tar is produced for each cord of lightwood.”
In 1940 the Sand Hills State Forest sold 1288.11 cords of lightwood and 733.5 barrels of pine tar produced from its tar kiln. These items helped defray the cost of operating the State Forest. In 1940, the State Forest and the Sand Hills Wildlife preserve in Chesterfield County contained 92,000 acres of land.
While roaming in the woods about 300 yards from the south border of our farm at Cassatt, I discovered what looked like some concentrated burning of a large amount of lightwood in a narrow valley between two creeks. This site was located in a very narrow, steep space between two small sand hills.
Coincidentally, my discovery occurred about 1941, the date of the item Allen Stokes had given me recently. I asked my father about the matter. He explained, “That’s where a tar kiln was located not too long ago. Let me tell you how it was built and operated.
“A bridge of some kind of slow burning wood logs is laid across the valley between the two small sand hills. They next stacked lightwood in layers on top of the bridge. Then they shoveled about 4 inches or more of dirt on top of the lightwood. Next the lightwood is lit from underneath the bridge. It smolders and burns slowly or one might say, sweat the tar out, and let it drip underneath. The tar was scooped up, put in barrels and taken to a turpentine still [distillery].”
Several references were made to the wire road in Chesterfield County that ran through the State Forest. I knew that was the same road that continued into Kershaw County through the Cassatt community, Camden and points south. This road followed the mail route of the Eastern Pony Express, 1836-39, and the route of the Washington and New Orleans Magnetic Telegraph Company in the 1840s.
Allen’s report and map contained the location and description of two parks and ponds for local people, Campbell’s pond and Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Campbell’s pond is located about 1/2-mile off U.S. 1, about 2 miles north of Patrick toward Cheraw.
“The lake has 67 acres, of water surface and was designed for use both as a wild life lake and as the Negro Recreation Center. The lake is well stocked with Bass and Bream, and the recreation center is equipped with a Picnic Shelter, Bath House, Bathing Beach, Parking Area, Deep Well, etc.”
Sugar Loaf and the Horse Shoe
Sugar Loaf Mountain is about 6 miles south of Patrick and a few miles west of U.S. 1 toward Ruby. When we visited relatives in the 1930s-40s, we could see the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain from U.S. 1.
“Two sand stone formations, the highest standing about 150 ft. above the surrounding plain, which have been used as a picnic spot for over 150 years.
“The Sugar Loaf Recreational area was constructed for white people and includes a 9-acre lake stocked with Bass and Bream; a Bathing House, Bathing Beach, Picnic Shelter, Cooking Shelter, Parking, two deep wells, etc.”
I took my future wife to Sugar Loaf many times where we took our photographs on top of the mountain. It is still a site many visit today.
In the 1950s, Kershaw County built parks for both “blacks and whites” as Chesterfield had done at an earlier time. These four parks are reminders of a time when there was segregation in S.C. Its abolition improved race relations, but in the opinion of this columnist, there still continues to be a need for much more improvement in relations between the races.