As summer and the century came to a close, the Presbyterian Church at Bullock’s Creek was being beautifully decorated for the marriage of Miss Estelle Palmer and Rev. H. R. Chapman. It was later called the social event of the season for Western York County by the attendees. The ceremony was performed impressively by the pastor, Rev. J. B. Swann, and the wedding march was rendered by a sister of the bride, Ora Palmer. The bride and groom were accompanied by the best man, R. A. Dobson, and the maid of honor, Minnie Palmer. After the ceremony, the wedding party went to the residence of W. G. Palmer, the father of the bride.
Many years later, when Rev. Swann decided to retire, he and his wife spent their last days on their farm in an area which is now within the Rock Hill city limits. The present-day subdivision on Herlong Avenue known as Swan Meadows was part of the reverend’s farm and was obviously named for him, though spelled with one “n” instead of the two in Swann’s name.
The local watermelon market had not been glutted by the end of August as usual. While the melons had been on the smaller size, they had disappointed no one flavor-wise. Many local families, like M. S. Carroll of Cotton Belt, were hosting dinners and watermelon feasts for family and friends.
The chain gang had been moved from its Charlotte Road site in York to do about a mile of macadamizing work on the Pinckneyville-Yorkville Road, from about the home of R. M. Carroll at Blairsville (Highway 49 and Wilson Chapel Road) to the Bullock’s Creek Church. Typical of any change, this produced the usual two camps of pros and cons. Some in York were bellyaching about the move and certainly did not want the rock crushing plant moved from the site that was so handy for the town’s benefit. The talk that the plant would eventually be moved to Broad River Township near Hickory Grove was probably the most disturbing to the town residents. But the people of Bullock’s Creek Township had already hauled 1,200 loads of rock for the work and would continue doing so until they had 1,800 loads.
Some 20 or so years later, the York merchants would be fretting and grumbling again about the construction of a new road to Sharon, Hickory Grove, and on to the Cherokee County line, fearing it would divert farm trade from York to the two Western York County towns.
Speaking of the chain gang, that certainly was not a place where anyone would want to be at the turn of the century or at any time before prisoners were treated more humanely. It’s hard to believe that any law enforcement agency would imprison a 12-year-old boy and sentence him to hard labor, but such was the case of “Babe.”
Babe was a tough little boy whose home life had been non-existent — he had to grow up on his own. When he was only eight, he hoboed his way to Chicago from Rock Hill and back again, hoping to leave with a Rock Hill company to fight in the Spanish-American War. At the age of 12, he was committed to prison for some infraction of the law and made water boy for the chain gang’s ball team.
Known to be slick and crafty, the guards regarded Babe to be too young to shoot down if he attempted an escape, but they knew he required close watching. Even under watchful eyes, Babe found a favorable opportunity and slipped away and gained several hundred yards of a lead advantage before he was noticed as missing. Superintendent Culp, on horseback, struck out after the escapee. The race was on!
The youngster put more distance between himself and Culp and hid under a brush pile in a gully. Culp then decided he had better loose the dogs and rely on their sense of smell. Again, Babe used his instinctive skills. He ran through a bevy of school children on the playground and confused the dogs so badly that they lost the scent. The race continued for more than two hours before Babe was captured. After a brutal whipping and in the presence of the boy, Culp instructed his guards with, “Next time this scoundrel tries to run away, shoot him down just like you would a rabbit. Somebody is going to have to kill him someday, and we may as well do it as anybody else!” Babe had to decide just how much Superintendent Culp meant those words. We’ll assume he was serious.
In York, Chief of Police Love had gotten sick and tired of seeing some men habitually loafing on street corners, especially on Sundays. The town had a number of ordinances on the books regarding loafing, and Love proposed to enforce them or know the reason why the loafers weren’t moved along.
Believe it or not, in 1899 some of the county’s cotton growers believed that the establishment of cotton mills in the county was a disadvantage to agricultural interests. The Yorkville Enquirer reported this idea was not confined to the “more ignorant classes,” but was held by some of the “most solid and substantial men” in the area. The newspaper disagreed that it was a disadvantage and, while admitting that the establishment of cotton mills had brought with them numerous disadvantages, contended that the only class hurt were the financial investors who suffered through the depression that began in 1892 and had continued for several years.
Some went so far as to say that the building of so many mills had not helped the price of cotton. Astonished that some could have thought that the construction of mills in the area would increase the price of cotton, the Enquirer asked, “Did anybody ever know the cotton buyers of Yorkville, Rock Hill, and Clover to pay more for cotton than could be gotten in New York or Liverpool?” The writer went on to remind the cotton growers that it was the exporters who had fixed the price of cotton for years, but now with local mills in the market, exporters were having to stand aside until the local mills first got what they wanted.
The local newspaper mentioned a speech given by Professor W. H. Council, the first president of the State Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes in Normal, Alabama (now the well-known, historically black Alabama A & M University). At Bismarck, Kansas, the professor and president said, “Colored men of the north make a great mistake in abusing the south. They forget that the south was an ante-room in which their fathers exchanged the cloth of the barbarian for the dress of civilization — the blessed ante-room in which 4,000,000 fetish worshipers were transformed into 4,000,000 Christian citizens of one of the most powerful governments of this age. Let the south alone and look to your own neglected opportunities and correct your own wrongs. We of the south thank you for your strong sympathy; but my friends, do not forget yourselves.”
This is the way we were in York County in 1899.
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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