Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Work of the Kershaw County Historical Society

By Fred Ogburn
Kershaw County Historical Society Update October 2009

Since it was established in 1954 by local history buffs, the Kershaw County Historical Society (KCHS) has promoted the preservation and transmission of county history by publishing books and pamphlets, conducting educational programs, identifying historic sites and buildings, and holding conservation easements on historical properties.


The society has published 33 books and pamphlets, including early 19th century census reports and local cemetery surveys, considered to be invaluable for genealogical research. The classic two-volume Historic Camden by Kirkland and Kennedy, which details the history of Camden from colonial times to the late-19th century "Grand Hotel" era, has been maintained in print.

More recent publications include full-color coffee table books Camden Homes and Heritage and The Decorative Arts of Camden and Kershaw County, SC, both written by the late Ethel Wylly Sweet, as well as shorter pamphlets on a wide variety of county historical subjects.

The University of South Carolina Press will publish an in-depth history of Kershaw County, the first book to encompass the full-length history of the entire county.

As KCHS president Peggy Ogburn said, "The history of Camden has been thoroughly documented, and rightly so, but we felt there was a need for a new publication that would also cover the smaller towns and rural parts of our county. We are thrilled that our long-awaited book project will soon become a reality."

The book is expected to be in print in late 2010. Authors Joan and Glen Inabinet of Camden are retired Kershaw County school teachers, professional historians, and past presidents of the Society.


KCHS members receive Update, a quarterly newsletter with articles on local history, written by Society members.

The newsletter also provides information concerning upcoming educational programs and events. The Society recently completed a very successful 2008-09 program year, with program attendance and participation at record levels.

From October 2008 to May 2009 the KCHS presented five programs for members and the general public:

· A foray into county cultural history with a celebration of the life and art of Kershaw County native Jak Smyrl. · A guided driving tour of historic sites in the Boykin community (Part 1).
· A presentation on the old Wateree Canal, a 19th-century public works project on the west bank of the Wateree River, held at the historic Ebenezer Methodist Church in Lugoff.
· A second guided driving tour of historic sites in the Boykin community (Part 2).
· A history of Mather Academy and its mission to educate African-American children, featuring comments from alumni, including U.S. Congress-man and Democratic Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.
The Boykin tours and the Wateree Canal program held at the Ebenezer Church in Lugoff followed on the heels of KCHS events held in Bethune and in Elgin during the 2007-08 program year.

This reflects the Society’s renewed commitment to expanding its reach and focus beyond Camden to encompass the people and history of the entire county.

Ogburn commented, "Just as the Inabinets’ new book will focus on the history of the entire county, and not just Camden, we are committed to a similar countywide program focus as well. Camden’s historical significance will continue to be a major emphasis, but our small towns and rural areas have rich histories of their own, and we will make every effort to be a county historical society, just as our name suggests."


The Society has in recent years installed historical markers related to the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill, which took place in Camden during the American Revolution. They are responsible for the markers for the self-guided driving tour of Camden’s antebellum homes.

The KCHS is currently working to have historical markers erected to commemorate several of the county’s lesser-known historic sites, including Cary’s Fort, Tiller’s Ferry, and Clermont (Rugeley’s Fort).


A recent focus for the KCHS, and one which should become even more important in years to come, is their effort to secure easements to protect significant historic properties from subdivision and development. The Society currently holds two preservation easements, one for Horsebranch Hall on Kirkwood Lane in Camden (Bragg and Kathy Comer, owners), and the other for Holly Hedge on Greene Street in Camden (Ben and Pam Schreiner, owners). Under the terms of the easements, the property cannot be subdivided for development, and this agreement is binding on future owners of those properties.

Ogburn stated in regard to the easements, "These agreements appeal to property owners who recognize the enduring historical significance of those properties. They consider the ownership of such a property to be a public trust, and want to protect them from development by future owners. Perspective buyers would be made aware that an easement exists and that the property is protected from further subdivision, so everything is out in the open and clearly understood by all parties before such a sale takes place."


The society is especially proud of the restoration and preservation of a very unique building, the Bonds Conway House, which serves as the society’s headquarters and also as a small museum. This charming cottage was built around 1812 by Bonds Conway, believed to be the first black man on record to have purchased his freedom in Kershaw County. (It is believed that he lived in this house; at his death it was left to one of his children.)

Originally located on York Street, the Bonds Conway House had been condemned and slated for destruction when it was purchased and moved by the society in 1977. Now located at 811 Fair St., behind the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County, many of the original architectural details have been preserved, including original floors and framing. Two years ago the Camden Historic Landmarks Commission honored the Kershaw County Historical Society with an award for "Sustained Integrity and Authenticity of a Historic Building."


The Kershaw County Historical Society welcomes new members, with various membership levels ranging from Student to Life Memberships.

For information concerning membership, visits to the Society’s office in the Bonds Conway house, or purchasing society publications, you may find more information online, or email us, or write, or phone and leave a message! Our website is www.kershawcountyhistoricalsociety.org

Fred Ogburn’s article recently appeared in the "In Your Backyard" supplement of the Camden Chronicle-Independent.

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