The minds behind reviving “Touring Greenwood County”— a compilation of motor tours written more than a century ago — say putting the newspaper series in a book form is a way to preserve “a primary source and local history.”
The project was tackled by Jodie Peeler, a Newberry College professor of communications, and Ralph Scurry of the Callison community. Original photographs by Don Ferguson.
“I like whenever I’m looking at something from back then, to feel like I’m looking at a moment preserved in amber,” Peeler said. “You can’t change the past. Sometimes, you have to keep some things, even if they are painful ... You have to reflect it as it was if you are going to preserve a primary source.”
The 29 articles were originally published by the Greenwood Index, the forerunner of the present-day Index-Journal, between 1911 and 1913.
Copies of the book are available at McCaslan’s Book Store and Office Supply in Greenwood and through Peeler and Scurry.
Jack Jennings with McCaslan’s said demand for the book was strong when it launched earlier this year.
“I like the old-fashioned way of writing in it and it will be of interest for people into local history,” Jennings said.
Had the series not been put together in book form, Peeler worries it would become an obscurity.
“My interest in it is, in large part, to help save these things from falling down a memory hole,” Peeler said, noting the articles are also accessible through the largest online newspaper archive, newspapers.com.
The vintage newspaper accounts discuss establishment of churches, schools, stores, notable homes and more in a rambling fashion.
“Through some connections, Tom Poland, (a writer) suggested Ralph Scurry and I get together,” Peeler said. “Ralph (Scurry) mentioned he had the idea to round them all up and get them back in print. I told Ralph I would look into it and here we are.
“I spent countless Sundays and countless hours in the morning, before work, retyping all those articles,” Peeler said. “Desktop publishing came into play here. I was able to design the book in Adobe InDesign, and then, I sent it on to Ralph for the check, to make sure I got the history right.”
Peeler describes the journalistic style of the book as “very stream of consciousness.”
“Every once in a while, you’ll find a sidebar from me on what something means,” Peeler said. “Then, you find some things that history has given you another take on — the Phoenix Riot section, for instance...It’s like listening to a relative tell you stories and you are never quite sure where the story is going to go. Then, there’s the description of going out in the brand new Ford automobile and feeling like some of the earliest mariners going out to sea ... They can meander, but they can be fun to read.”
Scurry, who turns 74 in January, is a retired life insurance agent who volunteers a few times a week with the Old Edgefield Genealogical Society.
“I love history,” Scurry said, noting his own log home likely dates to before the American Revolution. “I think people who live in this area need to learn what this county is all about. That little book is great. No telling where it will lead you. I took a route, the best I could, that Mr. Watson went. I met a lot of people and saw places I did not know existed.”
Peeler said it’s regretful there are not maps of the routes the touring party took, so that readers can retrace the miles traveled. But, some landmarks mentioned still remain.
Scurry chuckles as he recounts that the Ford automobile breaks down during tour two.
“They had to take the train back,” Scurry said.
Page 29: “... We were to go back on the train, something had got wrong with the good ship Ford.”
There are tales of ghosts, too, like that at the home of an Isaac Burnett who reportedly talked with people routinely.
There’s a power that comes with primary sources, Peeler said.
“To see the actual thing as it was written at the moment, there is a power to that,” Peeler said. “As we were putting this book together, race has been front and center,” Peeler said. “You go back and read this account of the Phoenix Riot. It sticks with you.
“As a lifelong historian myself, it wasn’t really a shock to me as I was reading it. If anything got my attention was how direct it was, the language that was used. I think so also in the section on Promised Land ... I saw my job as preserving the primary source (the series of newspaper articles.) You have to present things warts and all.”
The Phoenix Riot of Nov. 8, 1898 occurred in the small community of Phoenix in Greenwood County.
A group of Democrats attempted to stop a Republican election official from taking the affidavits of African Americans who had been denied the right to vote.
The riot originated in front of a general store then serving as an election site. Fights broke out and shots were fired. In the following days, homes were burned and Republicans were forced into exile. Four Black men were lynched near a church and eight Black men were killed by a white mob. No one was charged in the killings.
Peeler has a sidebar in the book, detailing happenings and how Thomas P. Tolbert, a white man, began taking affidavits from Black men not allowed to vote.