February 26, 2016
This week the political media frenzy swirls through South Carolina like a transient storm. Last Saturday the GOP held its presidential primary here and this Saturday the Democrats hold theirs. As pundits dissect this state, wielding the scalpels of scientific polling and demographics, I thought it fitting and proper to provide a glimpse beneath the hullabaloo.
Along Washington Street in the small Palmetto State town of Walterboro, banners on the streetlamps proclaim it “The Front Porch of the Low Country.” Walterboro is 40 miles from the ocean, 50 miles from Charleston, and far, far away from northern climes shivering through February squalls. It seems peaceful here, very quiet, quiet enough to catch the slow creaking of an old red wood rocking chair.
Sidewalks in town are paved with a conglomerate made of white seashells over which I would not want to walk barefoot. (This may be purposeful — I doubt the local merchants want you to enter their shops in bare feet.)
Of course, you must smile and say hello to each and every one you pass by; they will certainly offer it to you expecting the same in return.
Even though some old storefronts have changed hands over the years, the general atmosphere feels familiar, and so the former Farmers and Merchants Bank is now the Old Bank Christmas and Gifts shop. The fixture clock was almost certainly the town meeting place back in the day.
I had lunch at the counter of Hiott’s Pharmacy down the street. The Coca-Cola dispenser on the counter is a classic and probably worth some money as an antique but they don’t seem to know that — or perhaps they don’t care.
A few old-timers sat with me at the counter, and I enjoyed listening to them — accents uncorrupted by the standardized pronunciations one hears today on national newscasts. The Southern accent is strong here, but the formality of their manners is even stronger. Tags of “Yes Sir, No Sir, Yes Ma’am, and No Ma’am” punctuated their conversations like dance steps and created a kind of rhythm, a cadence, reminiscent of a high school marching band or a cheerleader squad’s holler-back routine.
Just a peek around the corner leads to the First Baptist Church and its tall white steeple. Each rural South Carolina town must have one of these. If you’ve only seen such churches in photos, then you’ve missed the best effect — the majestic old oak tree covered in Spanish moss. Blue sky, white steeple, and green leaves are standard fare in these parts even in February, but wonderful to one visiting from the snowy Rocky Mountains.
The Colleton County Courthouse complements the rest. This is a two-story whitewashed building with two half-spiral staircases at the main entrance. As with most Southern courthouses, a granite Confederate statue dominates the grounds. Live oak trees spread their wide branches on either side of the building.
Beneath the small-town quiet, Colleton County has a combative history commensurate with its South Carolina heritage — the Nullification Crisis of 1832, and a hotbed of secession.
I chatted briefly with a few folks as I took photos of the courthouse. Around here, although people won’t ignore you, they’re not mistrustful. They do understand humor. Carrying my camera and cell phone in one hand, I asked the guard at the courthouse entrance if these items were allowed inside. He answered me with perfunctory precision:
“Prohibited items are knives and pistols and rifles. Do you have these?”
“Well…not all three,” I deadpanned.
He let out a belly laugh and let me pass through the metal detector as I held my camera and phone to one side for him to see. We’re all just folks.
A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.
I’m trying to travel to all of America’s county courthouses, and each month a post about my visit to the most interesting county seats. It’s only a hobby — but donations are greatly appreciated to help defer my costs.
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