When 1879 began, Democrats had controlled the state and county governments for nearly two years and South Carolina was solidly part of what was known as the “Solid South.” Although the federal troops had been withdrawn from South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana, life had gotten no better for farmers. Welded to cotton they suffered one disaster to another throughout the years, and in the next decade matters would go from bad to worse. For a while it seemed the Grange movement might give the farmers the support they needed, but it was too apolitical for the times and its
membership deceased drastically after only five years. Wade Hampton, South Carolina’s “redeemer” who had freed the state from Radical rule in 1876, had ascended to Congress. President Rutherford B. Hayes who owed his election in 1876 to Hampton’s throwing the electoral to him, was still in the White House and would remain there to 1893.
The county was quiet during January of 1879, but February brought news that three trial justices for Western York County had been appointed by Governor Simpson: Samuel L. Davidson of Blairsville, D. M. Wallace of Bethel and George C. Leech of Hickory Grove which would not be charted as a town until 1888. A three or four inch snow fell on the county and due to a hard winter the ices houses were full of “good, clear ice.”
During this time, and on through the Victorian era, oddball medical cures began to appear in the market. One of these, an “electric belt,” was advertised in the Yorkville Enquirer. The battery powered belt guaranteed a cure for a wide range of complaints, some of which were nervous debility, premature decay, exhaustion and impotency. In Sharon, a woman and her brother went in together and purchased one of the belts–she for arthritis and he and unknown ailment. They agreed to share the belt for one week at a time. Each Sunday they would meet at the A.R.P. Church and swap it back and forth.
As local farmers were preparing for the 1879 agricultural year, Yorkville was abuzz. A trainload of 22 mules arrived in town for Whitaker & Wilson and all but one were sold within a week. The market was so good Whitaker speculated he could sell another 50 before planting season would begin. Down at the Rose Hotel a flagpole, which had been declared unsafe, was removed. The flagpole had been erected in front of the hotel when York was occupied by federal troops and the hotel used as an army barracks. The razing of the pole marked an end of an era. Judge Pressley was breaking with tradition in the courthouse town. He stopped wearing his silk robes while conducting court, and he no longer required the Sheriff to accompany him to and from the courthouse, bearing the sword of justice.
A “belled buzzard” was spotted north of York. Some believed it was from Charleston since they had read that several mischievous boys there had tied a bell on the neck of a buzzard. Theodore Etters of Black’s Station (now Blacksburg) deflated that rumor when he reported that the buzzard was from his farm. He said he had caught it last August before it could fly and sewed a small collar and bell around its neck. Rumors were forever circulating over the county; sometime they were true, but mostly there was not a shred of evidence. In April, a rumor circulated that eight graves of federal troops at the York Methodist Cemetery had been desecrated. The report seemed to have such believability that some authority in York took steps to notify the federal government and suggested the remains be removed to a National Cemetery in Florence. Major Belcher in Charleston conducted an investigation investigated and soon found the rumor was devoid of any truth. Today, the graves of these men can still be seen in the old cemetery.
By July, blackberries were plentiful and selling for 50 cents a bushel; today they sell for about $2 a pint. After more than six years of debate of the Fence Law had been passed with the General Assembly allowing each county township to decide for itself. This act did not help to unify the county residents. Some of the York County townships then accepted the law, but Cherokee Township wanted no part of it. In June of the following year, both the Broad River and the Kings Mountain townships rejected the law.
While blackberries may have been plentiful, some were looking for others pickings. Some in the far western portion of the county had taken a sever case of gold fever and were panning for gold on Wolf Creek near Kings Creek. There were not reports that anyone struck it rich. The following year the Magnolia Gold Mine Company from the same area reported it had collected 33 ounces of gold from 30 tons of ore. No wonder that gold mining was abounded in Western York County.
Laying-by time came in late July and August. This was an annual lull in the agricultural season when crops were plowed for the last time– “layed by” to grow to harvest. During this time the people enjoyed picnics, singings, church meetings and all sorts of events and entertainment. In time for leisure festivities and church gatherings Hunter & Oates in York were advertising Pearl Shirts for the well-dressed man. The manufacturer boasted, “The world moves and the Pearl Shirt moved with it” and that discriminating men could have one of the shirts for $1.00.
At Green Pond Church near Clover, more than 3,000 African-Americans gathered on the church grounds for several days of meetings. It was the largest gathering reported in years. The York Baptist Association met at Black’s Station where delegates from 12 area churches met for business and preaching. In the midst of religious fervor a man appeared at Black’s Station professing to be Jesus Christ.
In September the final collection of county taxes was being made, but the auditors were reporting that payments were light. Farmers across the county were hoping for a good cotton crop and prices that they might pay their taxes as well as all the other debts that had accumulated over the year. The year’s first bale of cotton came from the farm of W. A. J. Robinson of Turkey Creek. The bale weighed 442 pounds and classed as middling was bought for 12 ½ cents a pound, but farmers were warned this was a “fancy price” and should not be expected by all. The following year Robinson broke his own record and brought in the first bale in August. That bail consisted of 400 pounds, middling grade. Later, in 1879, R. R. Darwin of Hickory Grove showed samples of a new strain of cotton he had grown known as “Matagorda Silk.” John Smith had his own bragging rights, reporting on an experiment in growing buckwheat and corn together on his Broad River farm. From the one and one-half experimental acres Smith received 18 bushes of buckwheat and 31 bushels of corn.
Also in September two would be thieves chose to steal a bridle from a hitching post in York. Their choice was not a wise one on several accounts–one of these was the fact that the owner was a prominent attorney, Thomas J. Bell. The thieves must have had a sinking feeling when they walked into the courtroom and found Bell who their prosecutor. They were fined $10 or 20 days in jail.
January of 1880 was unusually warm for that time of year. In fact, it was so warm that rattlesnakes were seen on Kings Mountain basking themselves in the sunshine. Certainly the sighting of snakes in the summer would not be uncommon, but in July George Emmett Woods astounded folks by reported that he had killed 30 moccasins one mile north of York. Though rabbits may not be considered dangerous, they were plentiful in 1880 and could damage spring crops. In January, 7 hunters with 7 dogs bagged 53 rabbits on the farm of W. O. Guy in Blairsville. J. B. Hullender of Kings Creek reported another record for bagged game–he killed a blue crane measuring about 5 feet tall with a wingspan of 6 feet and 4 inches. Speaking of records, Frank Gaffney and James Whisonant exhumed an Indian grave on Whitaker’s Mountain retrieving a 17-inch stone axe.
Kings Mountain not only had basking rattlesnakes, but in February there was some kind of celebration involving the firing of a cannon. Supposedly the burst was distinctly heard 28 miles away at Lockhart in Union County–as well as Rock Hill and Lancaster. In June a cornerstone was laid in preparation of erecting a monument at the battle scene. Court cases for the month of March concerned numerous violations: malicious trespassing, burglary, grand larceny, resisting arrest, arson, infanticide, and malicious mischief (placing an obstruction on a railroad). And of course, accidents will happen. At a funeral at Bullock’s Creek, a lady fell while dismounting a wagon and suffered a broken bone. In reporting the incident the newspaper seemed to extend sympathy in a left hand fashion: “Being an elderly lady, and weighing over 260 pounds, she was fortunate in sustaining no further serious injury.”
During July, as the 1880 federal census was being conducted, Clover was suffering a severe dry spell in which prospects for crops were looking dim; but before the month was out a destructive hailstorm fell upon the area and ruin crops that had escaped the drought. Colonel W. H. McCorkle, enumerator for York and York Township reported 1,330 residents (663 white and 667 black) were living within the town limits. In the township, excluding York, there were 2,908 residents (1,372 white and 1,536 black.) The enumerator for Cherokee Township reported the only white person over 90 years old was well known Abraham Harden who was 92. However, in Bethesda Township, a black woman, Lucy McFarely, was reported being 122 years old. She would have been born in 1786.
Preston Harmon of Black’s Station was feeling his age (87) and was preparing for his end. He sought out a younger man to build his coffin. Harmon went back to his birthplace in Cleveland County, NC to get a walnut tree he had planted himself for the coffin construction and even walked 15 miles in one day to fetch the hardware. The younger coffin maker was Jacob Randall–age 84.
In York, during September, Dr. Rufus Bratton repainted the old Masonic Building that stood on his town property and not far away, the Rose Hotel had been renovated, replacing it old beds with Grafton’s Patent Spring Bed. Rooms could be had for $1.50 a day and meals were priced .50 each. Frank Happerfield, a prominent York stone carver, relocated his marble yard near the railroad. The county was seeing more mechanization in July, when J. N. McElwee installed a turbine waterwheel at his Bullock’s Creek mill, and a new bolting cloth machine. The mills were under supervision of Joseph Wood, a miller with 30 years experience. The following November Newton Whitesides, the 18 year old son of Major T. P. Whitesides, broke his leg while operating the bolting machine. McElwee’s competitors, the Herndon Brothers, were upgrading their mill as well. Joseph Herndon installed a turbine waterwheel at their mill on Turkey Creek. The brothers were agents for the Farrar Turbine Waterwheel.
And that was life in 1879 and 1880 in York County.
J.L. West – Author
This article and many others found on the pages of Roots and Recall, were written by author J.L. West, for the YC Magazine and have been reprinted on R&R, with full permission – not for distribution or reprint!
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