South Carolina November 09, 2022
13 Historic Photos That Show Us What It Was Like Living In South Carolina In The Early 1900s
American poet, novelist, and literary critic Robert Penn Warren said, “History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves and of our common humanity so that we can better face the future.” There is much to be learned, both as encouragement and as lessons, from all periods of history. The following historic photos from South Carolina in the early 1900s help us to reflect and find inspiration to move into the future as a better state.
Agriculture was always South Carolina’s primary industry, but by the turn of the 20th century, the textile industry was rapidly growing. Pictured here, presumably with his siblings, Pamento Benson was a young boy who had been working at Wylie Mill in Chester for two years.
His father stated that as soon as the boys were old enough to work a plow, he would take them back to work on the farm. The Wylie Cotton Mill was renamed in 1912 the Gayle Plant after Walter Gayle, who was the one responsible for acquiring the machinery.
This image shows a South Carolina cotton picker’s home during the early 1900s.
Greenville became known as the “Textile Center of the World” during this period, hosting an annual Southern Textile Exposition. Its landmark Poinsett Hotel was built in 1925 to accommodate expo visitors.
At 12 years old, Furman Owens had not yet learned to read. He said of this, "Yes, I want to learn but can't when I work all the time." He had been working for several years at Olympia Mill in Columbia.
In the early 1900s, children often worked in agriculture, factories, and in other types of roles, some as young as five or six years old. States varied considerably in whether they had child labor standards and enforcement. Child labor began to decline later into the 20th century as the labor and reform movements grew. In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was enacted to ensure that when young people work, the work is safe and does not jeopardize their well-being or educational opportunities.
It was not until the second half of the 20th century that schools were desegregated. But an important development during the first half occurred starting in 1915 when Julius Rosenwald, the President of Sears & Roebuck, developed a matching funds program in partnership with Booker T. Washington to improve rural African American schools throughout the South.
From 1917 to 1932, the Rosenwald program helped to build almost 5,000 schools, shops, and teacherages.
Pictured here is a Fountain Inn teacherage that was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on June 27, 2011. It was built in 1935 and housed teachers and a principal and his family.
Although this house was actually constructed after the end of the Rosenwald program, its design is consistent with plans frequently used for Rosenwald schools and related buildings.
An impressive fact regarding the program is that communities were required to raise part of the capital needed. Unlike today, where communities vote on tax referendums to build or upgrade schools, South Carolina’s communities, both black and white, rose to the occasion and contributed with generous donations. Close to 500 new Rosenwald school buildings resulted in South Carolina in the early 1900s.
“Shoeless Joe Jackson,” pictured here during his 1913 season with the Cleveland Naps, grew up in Anderson County and played for a textile mill team as a 13-year-old.
His nickname resulted from an observation during a baseball game in the industrial league. Players then wore whatever shoes they had available to them that fit best. Joe Jackson's shoes hurt his feet so badly that he took them off and ran the bases barefoot. Later, in the major leagues, he wore cleats.
It’s hard to believe today that Charleston was ever disdained. But in 1921, New York consultant Edward J. Clapp was studying the port’s prospects and stated, “Most of the Charleston waterfront is wholly useless save as a historical relic.” Charleston and its port had been deteriorating for some time.
It was even known as “buzzard town” because vultures would circle over the city dump. Visitors complained about the terrible smell from fertilizer plants north of the city. Most days, the harbor was eerily quiet. An embarrassment for the once-famous port city that had dominated maritime trade in the South during colonial and early antebellum days, Charleston began to rise again during the mid-1900s due to World War II and a resurgent, industrializing South.
At the turn of the century, 17 independent railroads were operating in the state of South Carolina, with many of them consolidated into the larger railway "systems” as the decade progressed. The Blackville depot was built in 1910 as a gift from Southern Railroad to the town.
Its railroad had been completed in 1833 and was the world’s longest railroad at the time. Blackville had been deemed an overnight stop between Charles Town and Hamburg because it was estimated to be as far as a train could travel in a day from either town to the other.
Pictured here is a locomotive used in a South Carolina railway system in the early 1900s to handle heavy freight.
This was the highest voltage direct current locomotive ever built in the United States. The Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company built it for the Piedmont Traction Company, which merged with the Greenville, Spartanburg, and Anderson systems to form the Piedmont and Northern Railway in 1914.
Also in Blackville, the J.C. Huffman variety store, located across the street from the police station, was known for selling the best grab bag in the state. This was a small bag filled with an assortment of candy for only 5 cents.
Also in the 1930s, as a part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s voluntary work relief program that gave millions of young men employment on environmental projects during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), many improvement projects were completed in the South Carolina State Parks system.
Pictured here is the beachfront at Myrtle Beach State Park, where the CCC built a beautiful boardwalk. This was the first state park to open (in 1936) and is one of 16 state parks built by the CCC. The others include Aiken State Park, Barnwell State Park, Cheraw State Park, Chester State Park, Edisto Beach State Park, Givhans Ferry State Park, Hunting Island State Park, Kings Mountain State Park, Lake Greenwood State Park, Lee State Park, Oconee State Park, Paris Mountain State Park, Poinsett State Park, Sesquicentennial State Park, and Table Rock State Park. There are 47 total parks in the system, located all over the state.
In many ways, the early 1900s were certainly a challenging time characterized by great struggle but that significant developments and progress came out of as well.
Have you been to any of the state parks that were built by the CCC? Please share with us in the comments below.
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