138 Church Street & Eleanora Saunders, M.D. of McConnells, S.C.
City Directories and History: The McConnell school once stood where the McConnell’s community ball park is now located (2012), across from the cemetery. It was an important and very handsome piece of architecture in which thousands of local students attended grammar school prior to being sent to York to complete their studies.
The Yorkville Enquirer reported on May 31, 1893 that there was a large crowd at the closing exercises of Mr. Robinson’s School at McConnellsville last Friday.
The RH Record reported on Feb. 12, 1904 – “That McConnells has a flourishing and progressive high school under Prof. J.M. Moore, with Mrs. L.R. Smith as assistant.” (R&R contributor, Agnes Love wrote – “It may be the brick building (demolished in the 1970’s) that once occupied the land where the McConnells Community Center is now located (Church Street or West McConnells Hwy across from Olivet Cemetery), but I thought it was built a little later. It was a fantastic brick structure with an auditorium, several classrooms, and cafeteria. My father went to high school there in the 1920’s. I know that the Victorian wooden structure across the street (in front of the cemetery) was still in use as a school, possibly an elementary school, in 1915/16 since we have a picture of Jim’s father as a young boy in front of it. I will ask our resident expert, Lillian Nance Bailey, about it and try to determine if the brick building was constructed that early.”)
The Record reported on April 29, 1907, quoting from the Charleston News and Courier – “Ms. Eleanor Bennette Saunders is the first honor graduate of the Medical College of the USC for the year 1907. She is from McConnellsville in York County and is a graduate of McConnellsville High School and Winthrop College. She says she had good advice from Dr. W.M. Love of McConnellsville.
May 2, 1907 – Dr. Eleanor B. Saunders has been appointed the assistant physician at the State Hospital for the Insane. She is the first woman to graduate with highest honors in the 128 year history of the Medical College of South Carolina.
The Rock Hill Record reported on Aug. 17, 1908 – “Mr. O.L. Saunders of McConnellsville is a candidate for the house of representatives. He is a substantial farmer who favors higher education. He has educated three of his daughters at Winthrop College, one of whom has since graduated with the highest honors from a medical college and is now one of the leading lady physicians in the state.”
BRIEF HISTORY OF MCCONNELLS
The years immediately following the War Between the States were difficult ones for the McConnellsville community. The weir had left the local cotton-based economy in shambles, and money was scarce. Furthermore, the enfranchisement of black voters and the arming of black militias created a backlash among former slave owners, and many white residents became active in the Ku Klux Klan, which in turn brought Federal occupation troops to York County. But gradually the economy got better and with the election of Wade Hampton as state governor in 1876, a period of relative peace settled on the county.
One critical issue that presented itself in the immediate postwar era was reopening the Kings Mountain Railroad. The original tracks were damaged by heavy rains in January 1865, and in March 1865 the Confederate Engineers Department dismantled seven miles of track between Yorkville and Guthriesville to repair war-damaged railroads elsewhere. Service from Guthriesville to Yorkville was not fully restored until August 29, 1867, when the last two mile section of track south of Yorkville was reopened. The railroad quickly expanded after that, adding a second locomotive, a second passenger car, three flat cars, a turntable, and storage sheds. The restoration of rail service between Chesterville and Yorkville helped spur the economic and social growth of McConnellsville, as did the reopening of the McConnellsville Post Office in March 1871 under postmaster Andrew F. Lindsay. Although the original charter for the Kings Mountain Railroad mandated that it would extend from Yorkville to Kings Mountain, North Carolina, this final stretch of track was never completed. Instead, in 1872 a new plan was formulated to extend the railroad into North Carolina via a different route. The KMR was incorporated into the newly-formed Chester & Lenoir Narrow Gauge Railroad Company in 1873, and by 1875 the new narrow gauge track had been installed from Chesterville to Yorkville. The track then proceeded due north through Bowling Green into North Carolina, where it passed through the towns of Gastonia, Dallas, Lincolnton, Newton, and Hickory, finally reaching Lenoir in Caldwell County in May 1884. While standard gauge railroads of the day (including the original KMR) were four feet, eight and one-half inches in width, narrow gauge railroads were typically three feet in width. This narrow gauge track became very popular after 1870, and was designed to reduce construction costs and support smaller locomotives and railroad cars, thus making the railroads cheaper to operate. The expansion of the railroad gave a much needed boost to the economy of McConnellsville.
The 1870s saw two new country stores, Moore & Hemphill and Crawford & Lindsay, open in the town. Local businessman E. N. Crawford set up a repair shop for wagons and buggies, complete with a blacksmith’s services for shoeing horses and other iron work. Another important early business was the Ashe Brick Company, which supplied material for many of the original brick buildings in McConnells including the Harshaw Gin House, built circa 1880. This building was originally part of the brick company and was also known as the Ashe Gin House. Further growth came to the town when Olivet Presbyterian Church was officially organized in August 1868. Church history indicates that Olivet had its beginnings as far back as 1842, when members of Bethesda, Bullocks Creek, Pleasant Grove and Zion Presbyterian Churches who lived near McConnellsville began trying to organize a new church closer to the town. This new church was originally called “Independent Presbyterian Church,” and was located about two miles southwest of town on the road that is now Highway 322. The church was also briefly called “Turkey Creek Presbyterian,” but the name “Olivet” was in use by the congregation at least as early as 1860, and the first official session of Olivet Presbyterian Church met on October 3,1868, with Rev. W. W. Ratchford of Bullocks Creek Church presiding. In 1886 the congregation of Olivet decided to move the church into the town, and a new building was constructed at the present location using bricks supplied by the Ashe Brick Company.
Like most other churches in the South Carolina upcountry, Bethesda and Olivet had many African American members in their congregations in the years before, during and immediately after the Civil War, and the records of Bethesda and Olivet show that both churches were still baptizing black infants and adults as late as the 1870s. But in the late 1860s many black members began leaving these churches and forming their own houses of worship, one of which was Bethlehem Presbyterian Church, established in 1868 about one mile southwest of the town center. Other African American families established Baptist and AME Zion churches in the area surrounding McConnellsville, including Providence Baptist Church on True Road, Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Highway 322, and Cedar Grove AME Zion Church on East Chappell Road, the latter two of which are still in use today. Another important milestone was reached when the first schoolhouse was built in McConnellsville around 1880 or 1890, although the exact date is uncertain. Several small schools were also established for African Americans in the area around McConnellsville, although none existed within the present town limits. The original McConnellsville School had one room and one teacher, Samuel B. Lathan, who later wrote that the first school building was “a very crude affair, both as to its construction and equipment, and entirely out of keeping with the financial conditions of the patrons.” Lathan boarded with Dr. Robert L. Love, the first doctor in McConnellsville. In those days Dr. Love visited his patients on horseback and carried all his medicines and equipment in his saddlebags. Love’s son, William Mitchell Love, carried on the medical tradition and actually opened a doctor’s office in McConnellsville in the 1880s. Throughout this period the railroad continued to be an important part of McConnellsville’s livelihood. In 1897 the Chester & Lenoir Railroad was reorganized as the Carolina & Northwestern Railway Company, or C&NW (nicknamed the “Can’t and Never Will”), and by this time the powerful Southern Railway owned a controlling interest in the company. The Carolina & Northwestern converted the track from Chester to Lenoir back to standard gauge track in 1902, making it possible for larger, heavier trains to use the line. The continued growth of the town resulted in its incorporation as “McConnellsville” in September 1906. The town limits were established as a perfect circle encompassing an area of two square miles from the town center.
By 1910 the one room McConnellsville School had expanded into a two room wooden building with two teachers, located between the Olivet Church Cemetery and the Turkey Creek road (now Highway 322). In 1921 the town erected a new brick school building across the road from the original school. The Guthriesville School was incorporated into the McConnells School, making these two schools the first rural schools in York County to consolidate. The expanded McConnells School originally housed grades one through eleven, but in 1930 grades eight through eleven were moved to York, followed by the seventh grade a few years later. The McConnells School continued to instruct grades one through six with three teachers until the 1955-1956 school year, after which all of the remaining grades were transferred to York. The old brick school building was tom down in the early 1960s and a community center was built in its place, although the school’s ball field is still in use.
Taking a cue from other surrounding towns, McConnellsville dropped the “ville” from its name and officially became “McConnells” in 1915. McConnells was unusual among towns its size in that it was able to support several different stores within the town limits for much of the twentieth century. The roads running through town were paved in the 1920s, and the automobile became increasingly important as a mode of transportation. The automobile also made it possible for rural families to commute to towns like York, Rock Hill and Fort Mill and work in the textile mills, which were starting to replace agriculture as the dominant livelihood. The increased dependence on cars and trucks necessitated that country stores also become gas stations, and by the early 1950s there were three such establishments in McConnells: E. B. Bankhead’s General Merchandise, J. P. Williams & Co., and Harshaw’s Grocery. The McConnells Post Office operated out of Harshaw’s Grocery until the early 1960s, when it was relocated to Bankhead’s Store. In the late 1960s, the town erected a new brick building to house the McConnells Post Office and the McConnells Volunteer Fire Department.
The Carolina & Northwestern continued to operate the rail line between Chester and York until the early 1970s, but in 1975 that section of track was dismantled and rail service through McConnells ceased. The McConnells community by this time had made the transition from a predominantly agricultural economy to a commuter-based economy, with many residents driving as much as 50 or 60 miles to work in factories and businesses. As the American textile industry began to wind down in the 1980s, jobs in government, commerce, banking, technology, education, and tourism replaced them, and as McConnells enters its second century as a town and its third century as a rural community, it continues to thrive and grow. By Michael C. Scoggins (Editor’s note: Part 1 of this article appeared in the December 2006 issue of The Quarterly.)
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