THE STORY OF OLD CHAPPELLS
Chappells, located about nineteen miles west of the Newberry Court House, on the lower end of the elbow of the Saluda River was the hub of an affluent and bustling community from the early 1880’s to the 1920’s. By the turn of the century, it was a thriving railroad and cotton town.
The Salutah Indians first lived along the river in the Chappells area. They migrated from Pennsylvania in 1700 and named the river “Saluda” which is said to mean Corn River.
Many who see the dead end sign and the ruins of the old stores don’t realize the rich history of Old Chappells—so settle back for a journey back through time.
The following poem was written by my cousin, Popie Helen Harp in May 1982 of her memories of Chappells
ECHOS OF THE PAST
Saluda River—Chappells Ferry---Buzzard Roost---Island Ford---Maxwell’s Neck
Sometimes we hear the still voices of the river bottom as they seem to be calling through echos of the past..
We hear in fancy—
The rattle of ivory rings on the harness of the mule teams. The rumble and clomp of hooves as the wheels of wagons tumble over the old wooden bridge or
The rush of those same wheels grating and crunching over the stones in the creek beds and roadways.
And in the cool dim light of dawn, the river abounding with fog—Great mounds of fog puffs hovering near the water escaping everywhere.
And as August pushes its oven door heat out across the river—the crack of a hoe on a rock as it chops at the Johnson grass..and with the hoes sometimes came the sweet notes lifting across the fields “Precious Lord Take My Hand.”
Bales of cotton tossed like dominoes across our yards.
The sun rising over open land.
The muffled hum of the planer in the distance
The burning whirring of the whetstone, and its rasping sound
And on cold frost laden we gathered the sweet smell of wood’s smoke in our nostrils
And which of us can forget those early dusks of autumn, as an orange moon comes quietly into the sky, those mournful, wailing honking cries of the wild geese, passing like long dark threads above the river, piercing our souls with sadness, as they channel their awesome course, in this instance of migration.
The cotton gin throbbing and thumping
The shrill strikes as hammer to anvil shapes a plow
The fervor of the whippoorwills
And pollution yet unborn
The prolonged shrill notes of the katydids and a million croaking frogs piercing the darkness
That certain squeaking sound as the nozzle of Mr. Betts water tower is lowered to a thirsty train. Trains whistling to come, trains blowing long and slow to go. Train time was a special time—it raised our pulses.
A bridge above—but no town below
But alas for these thoughts
The old ferry is long since abandoned
The wood bridge is reduced to ashes
Buzzard Roost is now concrete and steel, power and light
Island Ford is dissolving in a water grave.
But the stories remain.”
The town was named after the Chappell Family who emigrated here from the Charles City County area of Tidewater Virginia with ties back to the Jamestown settlement. Several years ago, on a visit to see my daughter who lives in Charles City County, I did some research at the local historical center. Much to my surprise, Thomas Chappell’s first wife was Elizabeth Jones. Their son, James, moved to Chappells. When Thomas Sr. died, Elizabeth married Thomas Taylor (my ancestor) whose son donated the land for Columbia.
The Chappell and Culbreth families arrived at the same time in the mid 1700’s. Thomas Chappell, son of James, acquired over 10,000 acres of land. He operated a mule drawn ferry across the Saluda River and during the Revolutionary War, his wife-Delia- kept the ferry running and collected the tolls. He built the original Chappell house on the south side of the river. It had 3-4 rooms, a dog trot, porch, and gun turrets facing toward the river where most of the traffic came. The kitchen was a separate building out back.
Bloody Bill Cunningham ran his reign of terror through this area during the Revolutionary War. My cousin, Carolyn, told a story she heard when she was little…that a group of patriot milita were chasing Bloody Bill who had a beautiful horse. He rode to the river and jumped his horse over it, leaving a gold horse shoe on the other bank. Many patriots were either killed or burned out by Bloody Bill.
In the early days, prominent families that lived on the north side of the Saluda River besides the Chappells, were the Satterwhites, Moons, Williams, Wells, Vaughns, Scurrys, Jenkins, Dominecks, Smiths, Holloways, Irwins, Boazmans, Watkins, Dickertts, Larks, Reids, Libscombs, Boozers, Summers and many others. Many of these owned thousands of acres of land and many slaves. Living on the south side of the river towards Saluda were the Paynes, Webbs, Culbreaths, and Colemans.
The first charter for the ferry was granted on Dec. 20, 1800 to John Chappell, son of Thomas and Delia. John also had the first store at Chappells. He built the Chappell-Holloway house, and had a toll gate out front where tolls for the ferry were collected.
John Chappell built the first bridge over the river in 1845, a single span wooden bridge which was washed away in the great flood of 1854. William R. Smith SR (my g-grandfather) was the last owner of the ferry. In 1885, he donated the site for a steel bridge to be built across the river, which has now been replaced a little up river with the current concrete bridge.
The home that John Chappell built was later the home of my great grandparents, Dr. W.J. Holloway and his wife, Vicie Jennings Holloway. At age 14, “Old Doctor, joined the Confederate forces as a water boy with Kershaw’s Brigade 15th Reg, later riding with the 6th Calvary. He settled in Chappells soon after the War of Northern Aggression was over.
The first stores, three in number, were down by an old spring. In 1884, a tornado destroyed these, as well as many other buildings. Five people were killed and others were injured. One that was killed was the Station Master who had been struck by a large splinter. The storm was so powerful that a freight train was derailed. Six of the eight freight cars were blown 40 feet from the tracks and the contents scattered by the wind.
The town was then laid off in lots, and William R. Smith (my other great grandfather) was the first mayor.
William Robert Smith SR was born and raised in Chappells. He entered the Citadel at age 16. He contracted typhoid fever, and when his mother, Susan Cornelia Boazman Smith received word that he was ill, she sent a black slave that had grown up with Wm. with horses, letters of passage and money to Charleston to bring WR back home. They traveled by night and hid out during the day in barns and old sheds—eating whatever food they could find. He was the only child of Archie and Nelie to survive to adulthood. He was a planter and a cotton broker. All of his help called him “Captain Billy.”
In 1853, the Columbia and Greenville Railroad was completed. As the name had not been changed to “Chappells” until 1881, the official train stop name was “Chappell”. Soon thereafter, Chappells became the passenger and freight railroad center for an area with a radius of some fifteen miles.
Downtown Old Chappells was the gathering place for the men of the community. After they had checked on the fields and the hands in the morning, they would go to Chappells to sit around the stores, talk and play checkers. There was a “special bench” that they had rigged up with an electrical current that they would invite strangers to sit and then be shocked. They went home for dinner (lunch), took a nap, came back to town for a few hours, then headed out to the fields to check on the day’s work before going home for supper.
On October 20, 1908, the town was issued a Charter for incorporation . By the next year, Chappells could boast of the Farmers Bank, two hotels, garages, livery stables, general mercantile stores, a jail, blacksmith shops, cotton brokerage offices, building for storing cotton, grist mills, butcher shops, churches, three doctors, a barber shop, and even a black marble fountain where soft drinks were made, Ice cream and ice were sold. They came in on the train from Columbia. At its peak, there were 15 stores.
In the early 1900’s there was no electricity, running water, and only one telephone that was in Henry Dipner’s store. A few homes had carbide lights and windmills for running water.
The roads were all dirt and there were only two of them: the Laurens-Augusta road going down Main Street and over the bridge, and the Newberry-Greenwood road that came into what is now #39 a mile above Chappells. Travel and shipping were mainly done by train.
The Farmer’s Bank was chartered Oct. 1909 and operated until Jan. 8, 1931
Solomon Basha was Syrian and before WWI, it was said he killed an officer in the Turkish Army. He escaped and the rumor was that he first went to Cuba where he was a jewelry thief and ran rum. Somehow he came to Chappells and ran a little place called the “Beer Parlor and Music House.”
The first post office was called “Chappells Ferry” in 1820 with Abraham Anderson as the first post master. In 1851, the name was changed to “Chappells Bridge” with John Chappell as post master. In 1881, the name was officially changed to “Chappells”.
Rural mail delivery began in 1899.
By 1910, Chappells was paying more per pound than any other market in the state. At this time, 8500 bales of cotton were being shipped each year. It was a strong competitive market for cotton and cotton seed. At times there was not enough room to park a wagon between the stores and the railroad. There were three cotton brokerages in town: Mr. Carson, from Saluda, drove his buggy to Chappells every day to buy cotton, Pope Coleman and Lump Scurry, and William Smith SR and Jr.
The first drinking water was brought from the spring between the home of W.E. Spearman’s and the present Hwy #39. Later a well was drilled several hundred yards above the depot, to be used by the town. Water for the train was pumped into a water tower from the river. Mr. Louis Betts operated the pumping station.
In the early days, each family had tutors and governesses to teach their children. The first public school was of log construction and built in 1871. It was located three miles north of town. In 1889, a more modern school building was built in the same area where the present Chappells Baptist Church now stands.
By 1909, a large two story building was constructed where the Community Center is now located. The building had six class rooms and an auditorium—4 classrooms downstairs, and the auditorium and 2 classrooms upstairs. After the tenth grade, students were sent elsewhere for education .The school operated with two teachers until 1918, when another teacher was added. Sometimes western movies were shown on sheets at the school by arch lamp projectors.
On April 4, 1923, a tornado struck the building, carrying the top of the building across the ball diamond and across over the field. John Coleman had just pulled the teacher from the front porch when it hit, saving her life. It blew the brick walls around the auditorium down level with the floor. Many saw the funnel shaped streak as it passed. A Thanksgiving service was held the following Thursday, for no one had been hurt. School continued in the “Pink House” across the street until repairs could be made.
After the repairs, the building was the same with the exception of the columns—there were only two instead of the original four.
That fall, school opened again in the building with five teachers.
In 1934, WPA money was used to level the old building, and build a new brick school. The high school was closed in 1943 and classes 1-4 lasted another 13 years, closing in 1956 when the Chappells School was consolidated with the Silver Street. The building is now used as a Community Center and voting.
There were many churches for the people of this area, for church meetings were important, and served as gathering places. Big meetings were attended by all dominations and visiting preachers were encouraged to come and speak or preach. Cross Roads Baptist Church was organized in 1814. The creek behind the church was damned up to make a pool for baptism. Pigs roamed loose, often sleeping under the church—so fleas were plentiful. In 1835, the present building was built.
Throughout the woods and pastures, old cemeteries abound. Walking through these old resting places, markers tell of past lives of devoted fathers and mothers, and many of children who died young.
Others warn the living “Look here Reader, as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I..As I am now, so you will be..Prepare for death eternity.” Looking out around the surrounding area, there are sunken in graves marked only with field stones—silent markers of unknown slaves.
Gypsies arrived each spring in their ornamented wagons and camped in pasture between Dr. Willie’s house and the church. The women, in long colorful dresses, told fortunes, and the men traded horses and dogs. At first, Pop, from afar at night, would watch them cooking wild greens in pots over fires, listen to their music and children’s laughter. It was rumored that they stole children, but Pop and JD decided this wasn’t true since they tempted them on several occasions and there were no takers…
Aunt Mayme, remembered seeing the first car in Chappells in the early part of the nineteen-teens. Jordan, Mayme and their parents were seated at the supper table when they heard a noise coming down the road. Jumping up from the table and they ran outside to see what it was. There was a Model-T slowly making its way down the road towards Chappells with the driver trying not to get stuck in the ruts. They all watched it until it was out of site. It was the main topic of conversation for days.
In 1916, Dr. Willie took his family to Newberry to see D.W. Griffin’s ‘Birth of A Nation” staring Lillian Gish. Pop said it took 2-2 1/2 hours to drive to Newberry from Chappells. It was winter and since the Model T didn’t have heat, Gramps took car lap robes and wrapped hot bricks in them for warmth. The movie was shown upstairs at the Old Newberry Opera House. At all the silent movies, there was always someone in the orchestra pit that played the piano and another played the violin. “Birth of A Nation” was the longest movie ever made at that time. When Pop came back to Chappells, he told the story repeatedly to his friends for weeks.
About 1920, Pop saw his first airplane. It was a by-plane that was used for “barnstorming.” The pilot would fly about the countryside, land in an open field and charge admission to take people up for a ride. The pilot had run out of gas, and landed in a field near Scurry’s Store. All of Chappells went up to take a look at the plane. Since the Model T’s used a low octane gas. The pilot stayed overnight at Cuddin Lump’s house while someone went to Newberry for aviation fuel. All of Chappells talked of nothing else.
My cousin, Carolyn Smith Lockaby, told me of 3 events each year that Chappells looked forward to. They were the school play in the spring, the Big Church Meeting in the summer and Chatauqua Festival in the fall.
Chatauqua was a traveling entertainment show that went all over the south. There would be advertising for weeks prior to arriving.
Big tents with sawdust floors and plank benches were set on Main Street. Black smoke rose from pitch torches. The show lasted a week, with performances of plays, quartets, solos, patriotic songs, and dramatic readings. Carolyn remembers the play “Rip Van Winkle”. When the dwarves would roll the ball to knock down the pins, thunder would boom loudly.
Sharecropping was a way of life for many. Landowners provided seed, fertilizer, 10 acres, a mule and a small stick frame house. Sharecroppers provided labor, and profits were split 50/50.
Black families outnumbered the whites 20 to 1. They worked from sun up to sun down Monday through noon Saturdays . Saturday afternoons and Sundays were theirs. They all had gardens, and every Saturday they would go by the landowner’s house to pick up their week’s ration—a sack of flour, one of cornmeal, some hog meat and cane syrup.
Rich voices expressing wisdom of Aunt Tabe, Uncle George, Aunt Quilla, Big Sis, Old Myme, Punk, Doll, Jessie, Tobe and Lila, Uncle Henry, Viney, Preacher and Ethel, and others still echo in the minds and hearts of all who knew them. Uncle George was once asked what good he was to Dr. Willie (my grandfather). He replied “I’s Dr. Willie’s shade in de summer and his sunshine in de winter.”
Troubles for Chappells began in the mid and late 1920’s and early and late 1930’s came not in single file, but in droves. Pop was attending Webb School in Tenn. His parents letters were filled with their concerns over flu outbreaks, the weather, damaged crops and social events called “Doos.”
In 1923, first boll-weevils arrived. Aunt Mayme remembers when Dr. Willie went out on a rainy day to check on the cotton. When he came home, he said that the boll weevils had arrived and the squares (cotton bolls) were dropping everywhere. Before DDT, the only defense was using a mixture of arsenic and syrup in a bucket and a stick wrapped in rags to mop on the mixture on the green squares. About the same time, farming was mechanized in Texas which was not used in the SC until after WWII, then the depression hit, and the dethroning of king cotton no longer made farming profitable. Whites and Blacks alike left in droves.
Merchants failed. The Farmer’s Bank paid all the depositors 100% on the dollar before closing--it has been said that this was the only bank at that time in the US to do so. In 1928, Chappells flooded again and the old bridge washed away. Carolyn remembers people in boats in the flooded street.
The new highways by-passed town, replacing the railroad as a means of transportation leaving Chappells a ghost of it’s former self. The fire of 1939 destroyed even the ghost.
Before WW II, farming was still a way of life, with families raising most of their vegetables and livestock. A potato bank was built out of dried stalks of corn and held up like a wigwam. Dirt would be piled up around it and the potatoes were put inside. As needed, the potatoes were dug out of the bank.
Blocks of ice would come in on the trail. At home, the ice would be packed in cotton seed hulls to keep it cool.
Unbleached wheat flour was used. Corn was used for grits, hominy, corn meal, corn on the cob, stewed corn for human consumption and dried corn for the livestock.
Most all of the meat products were chicken or pork. Beef was seldom eaten.
During the late 1920’s, letters that my grandfather wrote my father, who was attending Webb School in Tennessee—told of surveyors coming to the Chappells are looking for a site to build Lake Greenwood. Dr. Willie said that they had looked at the Coleman Place—the farm that Old Doctor had purchased in 1903. Thankfully, for my family because we still own the farm, the lake dam site was moved up river to the “Buzzard’s Roost”
In the late 1930’s, the construction of Buzzard Roost Dam and Lake Greenwood began. The lake flooded farmland, and over 17 miles of the Saluda River disappeared, including Old Doctor Holloway’s bottom land where the lake is now in front of Greenwood State Park. As a boy, my father remembered going by wagon to this bottom land with his grandfather.
In 1972, the sidewalks, drains, and buildings were all torn down. A hole was found in a brick wall where certain bricks could be removed. Money was hidden and at an agreed time, the customer returned to retrieve a bootlegged bottle of whiskey. Back during the days of Prohibition, Lange Domineck, a well known bootlegger, had a booming business.
Stores were built at the intersection of the new highways, along with the new post office.
Scurry’s Store was built 2 miles away toward Cross Hill. For years, it was the hub of the community, folks gathering around the heater, telling tales of the past and trading hunting and fishing stories. Sadly, it closed in the fall of 2004
Pop once wrote:
“Though much is lost, more remains. The Chappells area is nestled in the crook of the arm of the Saluda River, and Greenwood Lake is a fisherman’s paradise, a bird watcher’s aviary, and a nature lover’s dream. The old fields have been reforested—timber is now king. The deer, wild turkeys, ducks, beavers, and otters have returned.
The Community to the descendents of the old families who stayed on, and to those of us who have returned, remains a haven of fond memories—the Garden Spot of Newberry County and of the world.”
Little remains in Chappells today, a few stores, the post office, the churches, and a school now a community center. Most importantly is still a sense of unity and kinship.
In closing I would like to read a quote from Loren Eisley:
“When the past intrudes into a modern setting, it is less apt to be visible, because to see it demands knowledge of the past and the past is always camouflaged when it wears the clothes of the present.”
Barbara Holloway Smith copyright 2006