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Winter 2017

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A dependable mule was a valued member of a farm family for such tasks as processing sugar cane.
A dependable mule was a valued member of a farm family for such tasks as processing sugar cane.

A Real-Life Glimpse Into Yesteryear

If one could turn back time and return to what our elders often nostalgically characterize as “the good ole days,” what would a rural Horry County farm more than a half-century ago look like?

The answer can be found just a few miles north of Conway, off U.S. Highway 701, in what’s known as the Homewood community. This is where the L.W. Paul Living History Farm, part of the Horry County Museum, is located.

The county acquired the property years ago and named it to recognize the generosity of L.W. Paul, an Horry County native from the nearby Pauleys community. Paul contributed all of the construction costs and many of the artifacts.

What has been recreated here is a community in miniature with the focus on what everyday life would have been like on this “one horse family farm” from the years 1900 to 1955. The farm is just a little over seven years old, opening to the public in November 2009.

“The farm covers almost 18 acres in buildings, parking, row crops and pasture,” said Walter Hill, the museum’s executive director. “This is a recreated farmstead exhibiting fields, pastures, houses and outbuildings that would be on every farm, as well as community structures that would have been part of every farm community but not part of every farm: a church, syrup shed, gristmill, woodworking shop, blacksmith shop and sawmill.”

During each season, the farm hosts an event paying homage to the seasonal aspect of rural life. Nov. 19 was the annual “syrup day,” when sugar cane grown onsite is cooked down from raw juice into the highly prized sweet cane syrup.

A blacksmith’s special skills, such as horseshoeing, were much in demand when horses, mules and donkeys were prevalent on South Carolina farms.
A blacksmith’s special skills, such as horseshoeing, were much in demand when horses, mules and donkeys were prevalent on South Carolina farms.

Said Hill, “Sugar cane is an Asian grass that grows to very large sizes and can develop a sugar content as high as 10 percent. Cane syrup making starts, of course, with sugar cane. Sugar cane is grown on our farm and was grown by most farmers in Horry County historically. They did not, however, grow this crop as a cash crop.

“In our area of the U.S., we usually experience killing frost in November, which forces the cane to go dormant and cease sugar production. The cane grows back from the remaining stubble in the following spring. If that stubble freezes it can die and never come back. The result is that farmers in this region could grow cane and could propagate it from year to year. However, they did not get as high yields and risked losing the entire crop in a bad-freezing winter.”

Other traditional activities are also held during the farm’s syrup day. Demonstrations include blacksmithing, corn grinding, cooking on a wood stove, butter making and last but not least, clothes washing during a time when the iconic Maytag repair man was decades in the future.

Wash day was very labor intensive for farm families prior to the perfection of electric-powered washing machines and dryers.
Wash day was very labor intensive for farm families prior to the perfection of electric-powered washing machines and dryers.
Wash day was very labor intensive for farm families prior to the perfection of electric-powered washing machines and dryers.
Wash day was very labor intensive for farm families prior to the perfection of electric-powered washing machines and dryers.

Demonstrating this tedious task of farm life is Hillary Winburn, the museum’s curator, who also helps out at the farm’s three other seasonal events. Her attire is a simple dress that personifies an Horry County farm woman.   

“It is always fun demonstrating washing clothes by hand on the farm,” Winburn said. “It is funny when children give me a strange look and ask, ‘What are you doing?’ They are always surprised with all the hard work and time that went into washing clothes by hand during this time. Washing clothes would have been an all-day chore, a chore many of the children or other family members would have helped with. Clothes were typically washed once a week, with Mondays being reserved for the task of ‘wash day.’

“Clothes would have been separated into whites and colors. Heavily soiled items such as work clothes, undergarments and diapers would be boiled in a large pot of soapy water for sanitizing and loosening the dirt. Lye soap would have been used in the washing process.

Octagon soap, a commercial brand of soap, was available during this time and is still available today at some grocery stores. However, buying soap was not always an option. In these cases, the soap would have been made on the farm using hog lard and lye.

 

This replica of a typical tobacco barn, where the golden leaf was cured prior to being transported to a local tobacco market, sits at the edge of the farm’s property.
This replica of a typical tobacco barn, where the golden leaf was cured prior to being transported to a local tobacco market, sits at the edge of the farm’s property.

“The soap I use in my demonstration is made here at the farm. Now, using the lye soap one would scrub the clothes on a washboard of glass or galvanized tin in a tub of soapy water.  I tell visitors like my grandparents told me, ‘You had to use a lot of elbow grease.’ Once scrubbed, clothes were then dipped several times into a tub of clean water for rinsing out the soap. The wet clothes were then wrung out by hand. In some cases, families had a wringer that would wring the water from the clothes before hanging them on the clothes line to air dry.”

One thing that changed wash day forever for rural families was the electric washing machine. But first, a farm had to have electricity, wishful thinking among many farm folk in Horry County. Today, Santee Cooper serves the farm along this stretch of U.S. Highway 701.

Having the ability to electrify their farms made farmers more productive and prosperous. The assertion can be easily made that access to reliable and affordable power raised the standard of living for rural Americans more than any single thing in the last 100 years except for, perhaps, the gasoline-powered tractor.

Grinding corn was a common chore and the end product was consumed by people and animals alike.
Grinding corn was a common chore and the end product was consumed by people and animals alike.
Grinding corn was a common chore and the end product was consumed by people and animals alike.
Grinding corn was a common chore and the end product was consumed by people and animals alike.

Why was the 1900–1955 timeframe selected?   “We selected this timeframe for several reasons,” Hill said. “One, residents, tourists and students in South Carolina can visit historic sites that interpret the history of our state from pre-colonization on up until Reconstruction. There were no sites in South Carolina that were interpreting the early 20th-century era of history. Two, much of the collection Larry (Paul) had put together reflected things that were reminders of his youth. Largely, the collection he was donating was from this time period.

“Three, this era saw many changes and these changes made a huge difference in Horry County. Prior to World War II, most families lived like what we recreate on our farm. When Larry grew up, 80 percent or more of the people in Horry County lived on small farms like ours. However by the 1950s we saw major changes in agricultural technology and lifestyles.

Left: outhouses predated indoor plumbing and largely disappeared after electric water pumps on farms made trips outside a thing of the past. Top right: Soap, an essential part of everyone’s daily life, didn’t always come from a grocery store shelf.  Bottom right: After washing, a hand-operated wringer removed excess water from a garment or textile prior to drying on a clothes line. This was the “spin cycle” of yesteryear.
Left: outhouses predated indoor plumbing and largely disappeared after electric water pumps on farms made trips outside a thing of the past. Top right: Soap, an essential part of everyone’s daily life, didn’t always come from a grocery store shelf.  Bottom right: After washing, a hand-operated wringer removed excess water from a garment or textile prior to drying on a clothes line. This was the “spin cycle” of yesteryear.
Left: outhouses predated indoor plumbing and largely disappeared after electric water pumps on farms made trips outside a thing of the past. Top right: Soap, an essential part of everyone’s daily life, didn’t always come from a grocery store shelf.  Bottom right: After washing, a hand-operated wringer removed excess water from a garment or textile prior to drying on a clothes line. This was the “spin cycle” of yesteryear.
Left: outhouses predated indoor plumbing and largely disappeared after electric water pumps on farms made trips outside a thing of the past. Top right: Soap, an essential part of everyone’s daily life, didn’t always come from a grocery store shelf. Bottom right: After washing, a hand-operated wringer removed excess water from a garment or textile prior to drying on a clothes line. This was the “spin cycle” of yesteryear.

“By the time he was raising a family, less than 20 percent of the people in Horry County lived like this. Agricultural methods and cultures changed due to modernization, tourism, etc. So, one can ask, if this much change takes place in one place in one generation, how long before it is all changed and how will we remember that period?

“It was important to our museum and to Larry to build a site that reflected this period in history and to take advantage of interpreting and documenting what people who lived here during that era did. Our living history is often being relived by those who grew up doing it. The authenticity of our interpretation is clearly defined because it is being ‘written’ by those who lived it. That makes this type of museum in this type of place very unique.”