By: Michael Bedenbaugh, Executive Director of the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation / R&R Quest Columnist
In the western midlands of South Carolina lies a region known as the Dutch Fork. Dutch for the Deutsch, or German People, who settled this area in the “fork” of the Broad and Saluda Rivers and currently constituting the south east portion of Newberry County, the northern part of Lexington County, and the far western pan handle of Richland County.
The Deutsch settled the “fork” in the 1750s and held fast to their traditions; thriftiness, hard work, and the Lutheran Faith. In fact, it took a good 4 or 5 decades after the American Revolution before many of these folks gave up their German language. So beholden to tradition that many of them saw no problem maintaining loyalty to King George, who, not only was the first monarch to give them a chance to own land, but who they understood was more German than English. It is a testimony to the good intentions and character of these settlers that they were forgiven their lack of rebelliousness’ in 1776 and were able to prosper as citizens of the new found republic.
The home places of these early German pioneers have all but disappeared. The remaining evidence of their existence is either been hidden within the walls of a larger home when the 19th and 20th century heirs to the first settlers decided to repurpose Grandpa’s home and create a larger abode more befitting a wealthier status, or, left as forgotten relics disintegrating into forest and field with only the collapsing stone stumps of old chimneys marking their place in history.
Our subject survived as a home for sharecroppers and African American laborers who were given the small 15 by 28 foot home to live by the white landowners who had moved to a larger home a few hundred yards away. Constructed in a setting of virgin forests, this relic of the past is now surrounded by 21st century modernity: a golf course within 150 feet of its front door, Interstate 26 a mere 200 feet from its back steps, and surrounded by two single wide trailers. Yet, even with its setting so compromised, its nobility still shines through. As you enter the original plank door held with homemade iron strap hinges, it’s easy to get the sense that this place was witness to the German tongue telling stories around its hearth with the aroma of Leberknepps and saurkraut filling the air.
When the Palmetto Trust began to seek a solution to save this place, all we knew was that it was owned by Mr. David Houseal, the grandson of the original Black tenant farmers who had received the property as a gift from the nearby white landowners. The elderly Mr. Houseal had moved to Newberry but kept the old house as a place for storage, filled with his lifelong collection of small motors, tools and assorted discarded furniture. Across the road is a cemetery wherein lies the body of John Kibler (who died in 1829 at 60 years of age and believed to be grandson of the pioneer) and his family. Because of this, it had always been known by the local community as “The Kibler Cabin”.
It is always exciting to explore the past in these old places and discover its history unfold as we dissect the house and its history. We want to share the story of this place as it unfolds in our research and we work to strip away the layers of grime, dust and wear to discover the whole story this place has to share. We look forward to you, the reader, taking this journey with us. (Images courtesy of the Palmetto Trust – 2016)
Stay tuned for our next entry, Part 2: Peeling Away the Layers