THE VAN CENTER COLLECTION This is a small portion, page 1 of 3, of the extensive collection of images shared with Roots and Recall of some 800+ images. The collection was taken by local Winnsboro mailman, Mr. Van Center. Most of the images were taken in downtown Winnsboro in the early 20th century as he walked through town but some are of Chester and Newberry. R&R requests users contribute information on these images by sending in comments and identification. Please be sure to attach the photo ID # to the comment.
The donor stated, “MY UNCLE JACOB SYLVANUS CENTER (VAN CENTER) WAS BORN JUNE 19, 1883 IN WINNSBORO, S. C. TO MY GRANDMOTHER – TALLULAH CONNOR CENTER AND JAMES NATHAN CENTER. I REALLY DON’T KNOW EXACTLY WHAT MY GRANDFATHER DID–AT ONE TIME HE WORKED IN THE WINNSBORO BANK. MY UNCLE VAN, DIED FEBRUARY 5, 1920 WHEN HE WAS NOT QUITE 37 YEARS OLD. HE IS BURIED IN THE METHODIST CEMETERY IN WINNSBORO. HE WAS MARRIED TO FANNIE HALFORD FROM TIMMONSVILLE AND THEY HAD NO CHILDREN. I SEEM TO REMEMBER SOMEONE SAYING HE HAD A LIMP BUT I AM NOT SURE. I AM THE LAST ONE LEFT IN MY FAMILY, SO I DON’T HAVE ANYONE TO ASK BUT I AM PRETTY SURE THAT HE WAS THE WALKING MAIL CARRIER FOR THE TOWN OF WINNSBORO. ”
Mr. Jacob Sylvanus Center of Winnsboro, South Carolina provided an invaluable service to his community through the simple kindness of photographing images of his friends, buildings, family, houses, funerals, weddings, marches, construction and town scenes that are invaluable in telling the story of Winnsboro and Fairfield County. Local history can be recorded in a variety of forms and much of it proves unsound when closely examined. For that reason, “Van” Center’s images are an incredible resource of outstanding historic clarity. In some respects, images are, the historians’ best source of reliable historic material. They do not enhance their subjects, alter their profiles, or lie about the atmosphere in which the images were captured. Mr. Van Center, at best was an amateur photographer with an inexpensive camera recorded an array of subject material. His images captured the spirit of a thriving community rebounding from the stresses of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and vast economic changes few in America have ever encountered.
Little information is available on the life of Van Center. He was born in Winnsboro on June 19, 1883, the second child of James Nathan Center and his wife, Tallulah Connor. It was perhaps his photography that became his passion as he wisely observed the town and its’ characters. Most of his subject’s identities as well as locations are not recorded. But through extensive research a few have revealed some pertinent information. Remarkably, Van Center was not someone who simply took pictures of Winnsboro’s beauty but rather a wide variety of social and business subjects. As he walked the streets carrying mail he captured images that fully explore the delights of early 20th century southern living in one of South Carolina’s charming ante-bellum towns.
A Postman at Work included hundreds of images from Van Center’s private albums. They do not include those that are simply attributed to him or for that matter the entire collection. Recognition of the images and their subjects are an ongoing need. The Van Center Collection would not have been possible without the full cooperation of Mr. Center’s niece. She has carefully preserved these images for decades and previously shared many images with the community. The citizens of Fairfield County are grateful to her for preserving his albums for everyone to enjoy.
These images are a remarkable testament to the photographer and those in his family, who both saved and shared the images for decades. Note the Van Center Collection is divided into three pages of images. Images in this collection are not for reproduction or distribution.