Discovering Laurens County/ Vol. 3
It started out as a labor of love. Two and a half years later, it turned into a 475-page labor and those involved dearly love it.
“Discovering Laurens County, South Carolina, Volume III, Dramatic Changes, 1840-1900” hit the street in early December. Like the first two volumes, this edition is a heavy, handsome publication, complete with old pictures, maps, charts and, I believe, some very accurate historic research compiled by some very serious and competent local historians.
The “Discovering Laurens County” series began several years ago, largely through the efforts of a Committee of the Dedicated (my description) including two valued local historians now deceased.
The publication is dedicated to the late Russell Burns and the late Elaine Martin.
Russ Burns was truly Laurens County’s Renaissance Man. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the University of South Carolina. Following service in the United States Air Force, he joined the staff of Laurens County School District 55 where he served as a teacher, federal grants coordinator and Director of Technology. A proponent of the natural world, Russ helped form the Upper Savannah Land Trust and he was a member of the South Carolina Nature Conservancy and the South Carolina Costal Conservation League. He also served for many years of the Board of the SC Archaeology Research Trust.
Elaine Martin served as a beacon and an oracle to literally thousands of people from around the country seeking to trace their lineage back to this place called Laurens County. Following her graduation from Laurens High School, Anderson College and East Tennessee State University, Elaine worked for 57 years as a librarian in the Laurens County Library System. She began her service as the Bookmobile operator and she later became the caretaker of the Local History Room at the library. Upon her retirement, that room was named the Elaine Martin Local History Room in her honor, a fitting tribute to a service and a county she loved so well.
The members of the Discovering Laurens County Committee determined that the best way to address the chaotic, sometimes violent, often inspirational history of Laurens County from 1840 to1900 was in smaller, more manageable bites. A member of the Committee dealt with industrial development, a couple of members dealt with the coming of the Civil War and the war itself from a Laurens County perspective. Others, including this writer, addressed the turbulent years following the war, including Reconstruction and the often violent and historic election of 1876 that resulted in the election of Wade Hampton as governor. Laurens County played a key role in that controversial election.
It would inaccurate to characterize this volume as a dry recitation of historic facts. The volume contains dozens of photographs of historic homes, portraits and biographies of famous and influential people and entertaining vignettes of life the way it was, and will never be again. Harold Ligon, a Committee member from Waterloo, provided an insightful and poignant chapter entitled “First Hand Accounts; Memories of Ex-Slaves.”
It is impossible to convey in this space to convey the bulk of the information contained in this third volume of Laurens County History. The book is available for purchase at the Laurens County Museum and other outlets will be available and publicized in the coming weeks.
I would like to identify and congratulate the Committee members who contributed their time, patience and love for their home county of Laurens in compiling this volume. They are Gene Brooks, Linda Armstrong Finley, Harold Ligon, Jack Marler, Gene Ott, Elizabeth Horton “Bootsie “Rasor, Robert H. Roper III, Nelle Knight Lollis Rowland and Kathryn Weathers.
Two members merit special recognition. Sarah Jane Limehouse Armstrong is the chairperson of the Discovering Laurens County Committee. Sarah Jane is a native of Charleston but she has served long and well in the preservation and restoration of historic Laurens County. She scheduled committee meetings, served as a conduit for messages, encouragement and an occasional shove to those like this writer who had trouble with deadlines. I, for one, appreciate her patience, her unfailing good humor and her unbending dedication to a task worth completing.
Finally, there is our editor extraordinaire Richard Fowler.
I had not met Richard prior to work on Volume III, but his work on boiling down, compiling and finally producing an extraordinary work of history is amazing. Richard has a full-time job as an educator and a full-time trainer of international teachers of language throughout South Carolina, In addition to his responsibility as editor, Richard also added pages of copy to subjects as varied as local churches and political history. His skills as an historian, editor and writer are masterful.
Volume III is history now. There will be a Volume IV and I hope to be invited back as a participant.
There is truly nothing so joyful as a loved collaborative effort that actually works.
(Ernie Segars is the retired Laurens County Administrator and former editor for The Clinton Chronicle.)