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First Schoolhouse in Cherokee County
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The location of the dividing line between the two Carolinas was quite uncertain until the King of England ordered it to be surveyed in 1772 from the coast to the "Indian Line,"which was at the northwest corner of what is now Spartanburg County. Even with the boundary line surveyed the dispute continued and many of the inhabitants of the area along the disputed boundary held grants from both states. The early records of South Carolina refer to the area as Craven County, whereas early records of North Carolina designate the area as being either Mecklenburg County or Tryon County. There were several occasions on which difficulties arose because two persons laid claim to the same section of land under the authority of grants that had been issued by both states.
Even after the boundary was established the settlers still referred to the area as Craven County. In 1769, the area officially became part of the overarching Ninety-Six District. It was not until after the American Revolutionary War that the settlers gave up the use of the ancient name of Craven County.
In 1785 the legislature of South Carolina, realizing that the population was too scattered to properly control and expose to the courts if the outlying districts were retained, passed the County Court Act and appointed commissioners to sub-divide the "overarching Districts" of Beaufort, Camden, Charleston, Cheraws, Georgetown, Ninety-Six, and Orangeburg into counties of a convenient size not more than forty miles square, unless where the number of inhabitants and situations of the land required some deviation. Richard Anderson, Simon Berwick, Thomas Brandon, Levi Keysey (Casey), Andrew Pickens, Arthur Simkins, and Phileman Waters were the commissioners appointed to sub-divide the Ninety-Six District.
The Ninety-Six District was divided into six counties, one of which was to be called "Spartan." Its boundary was Laurens County on the north, the Indian Line of the west, the North Carolina boundary to Broad River, and then down the river to Tate's Ferry, then along the road to John Ford's plantation on the Enoree River. In the original survey, Spartan County included one thousand and fifty square miles. Union County was also created in 1785 within the Ninety-Six District. The Camden District was also sub-divided into seven new counties, of which one was York County, also established in 1785.
In 1791, the South Carolina legislature created a new "overarching District" out of part of the existing Ninety-Six District and part of the existing Camden District, named as the new overarching Pinckney District, with its District Seat of Pinckneyville, which was in eastern Union County. The Pinckney District included the counties of Spartanburg, Union, York, and Chester, but it only lasted until 1800, when the legislature completely abolished all "overarching Districts."
From 1800 to 1868, the people of what is now Cherokee County were content to remain part of Spartanburg, Union and York counties. The first effort, in the records, to create a new county came in 1868 when William Jefferies and Dr. John G. Black tried unsuccessfully to generate enough interest to force the state legislature to create a new county. Another attempt was made in a town council meeting on May 8, 1882. Resolutions were passed and a committee was appointed to arrange plans for the creation of a new county. This movement met with stiff resistance from the counties which stood to lose land and prestige by the creation of a new county. Having failed in their early attempts, the interested citizens continued their efforts throughout the seventies, eighties, and nineties. About one year after the Gaffney Ledger was established, the editor picked up the desire that was being voiced by a small number for the creation of a county and developed this desire into a crusade. Soon, most of the residents of Gaffney were supporting the idea. Finally, in 1897, Cherokee County was created from a large part of Spartanburg and smaller parts of Union and York counties.
This success began when a well-organized campaign, with energetic leadership, was launched in 1896. The Gaffney Ledger stirred the populace, public meetings were held, delegates were elected from each township to persuade the legislature at Columbia to be favorable, and accurate surveys were made. Everyone expected a spirited contest and no one was disappointed. Quickly the forces drew up their heaviest artillery and opened devastating barrages upon their opponents. The entire state and many observers from North Carolina watched the struggle with interest. Dr. W.C. Hamrick was appointed chairman of the steering committee to lead the struggle. Since the undertaking required political and diplomatic maneuvering on a high level, he was joined by a number of citizens in the effort.
Prior to 1895, the only method by which a new county could be formed was through action of the General Assembly. The last county to be formed in this manner was Florence County, which was formed in 1888 from portions of Clarendon, Darlington, and Marion, counties. The former procedure to create a county was difficult to set into motion. When the new law was passed by the legislature some hope of relief was given to those who desired to create new counties. However, in reality, the legislature had been successful in throwing many obstacles in the way of the promoters. T. B. Butler voiced the public's opinion concerning this new law when he stated that "the law entitled How New Counties are to be Formed should have been entitled How to Prevent New Counties from Being Formed." One of the many restrictions was the requirement that those advocating a new county had to secure the affirmative vote of two thirds of the qualified voters who resided within the area to be incorporated into the new county.
Although it would appear that such a task formed an unsurpassable obstacle, Cherokee County was one of the first of a number of counties to be formed under this 1895 law.
A. M. Wood, the mayor of Gaffney, and L. Baker, J. A. Carroll, J. F. Garrett, R. A. Jones, F. G. Stacy, and other prominent men launched the plan for countyhood. The first step was taken by T. B. Butler, the town attorney, when he drew up a petition to Governor John Gary Evans asking for a plebiscite on countyhood. The first meeting held to promote the enterprise was held in September of 1896, in a wooden building in the rear of Martin Brothers Grocery Store. Those who had already been designated as delegates from the affected areas and a group who were afraid that a new county would mean higher taxes were present. After a spirited debate in which both sides of the issue were aired, the town council agreed to have an official meeting to ask the leading citizens of Gaffney to sign a bond to secure the building of a court house and a county jail. The following resolution was passed:
"Resolved that the delegates assembled elect a committee of seven to act as trustees to pass upon the validity and value of bonds to be given by the people of Gaffney, to erect the court house and jail and to buy the site. That said bond be made and its validity passed upon at Gaffney, South Carolina, September 15, 1896."
Twenty-seven of the towns businessmen signed the bond. The seven men elected as commissioners were John B. Brown from White Plains; N. W. Hardin, Cherokee; J. D. Jefferies, Draytonville; J. T.Moorehead, Gowdysville; J. E. Mosteller, Limestone No. 2; R. P. Scruggs, Spartanburg, and W. C. S. Wood, Limestone No. 1.
This meeting was followed by a formal County Convention the first ever to be held here in the Council Chamber. On September 1, 1896, A. N. Wood, the mayor called the convention to order. W. D. Camp of Cherokee Township was elected chairman and J. M. Greer of Gowdeysville Township was chosen secretary. Ed H. DeCamp was elected assistant secretary. T. B. Butler welcomed the thirty-eight delegates and one hundred spectators. Everyone was allowed to participate in the deliberations, but voting was restricted to the official representatives. Those who are known to have been chosen as representatives were J. B. Brown, T. S.Bryant, T. C. Green, Gaston Littlejohn, and B. G. L. Pettit from White Plains; V. C. Hames, R. Ray, J. A.Scruggs, R. P. Scruggs, and Jonas Vassey from Cherokee (Spartanburg County) J. D. Jefferies, W. E. M. Kirby, Thomas Spencer, and J. O. Tate from Draytonville; S. F. Estes, J. M. Greer, J. H. Littlejohn, T. H. Moorhead, and J. L. Walker from Gowdeysville; J. G. Black, W. D. Camp, W. N. Hardin, T. W. Moore, and E. R. Sapoch from Cherokee Township (York County); J. R. Godfrey, J. E. Mosteller, M. T. Phillips, Cicero Price, William P. Self, and W. C. S. Wood from Limestone Township No. 1; L. Baker, J. A. Carroll, Dr. J. P. Garrett, R. A. Jones, and A. N. Wood from Limestone Township No. 2.
After returning from a recess for lunch the convention by a vote of twenty-five to eight adopted the following resolution, which was a restating of Gaffney's actions:
"Resolved, by the delegates assembled, that the proposition of the town of Gaffney be accepted, viz: That the town council lease to the commissioners of (blank) County, the city hall, for a period of 20 years, and that they make a guarantee bond, approved by a committee elected by the delegates, in the rum of $15,000, conditioned that the subscribers will build a court house, jail and furnish the land upon which these will be erected within 12 years and all other expenses included in the formation of said new county. When the court house is erected the lease of the city- provided that the site and plan of said building be left to the board of county commissioners; that the court house be located at Gaffney, and that this convention receive this proposition as information to carry to the respective townships here represented."
When these official functions were finished, the fight began in earnest. Committees of various kinds were formed and almost every man in the area was canvassed. Those for the formation of the new county took as their slogan: 'Are You for the NEW County?" Speeches, both pro and con, were made in every section. The Union County section received special attention since the strongest opposition to the new county was found there. Such prominent men as J. L. Walker, W. I. L. Walker, W. Samuel Lipscomb, and J. M. Greer led the opposition in that quarter. Misrepresentations were rampant, motives were impugned, and deliberate falsehoods were circulated. The distance of the proposed new county territory from the county seats of Spartanburg, Union, and York proved to be one of the most effective weapons in the fight.
Colonel T. Larry Gantt, editor of the Piedmont Headlight, a newspaper published at Spartanburg, led one group against countyhood. John B. Brown, M. C. Lipscomb, J. L. Walker, and W. R. Walker followed his leadership to bitterly oppose countyhood because they were honestly afraid of higher taxes. A local employee, Luther Sherrill, of the Gaffney Ledger also had a sizeable following. He wrote a column for the paper which he signed "Flaw-picker." Many of his articles supported the drive for countyhood. Many good men believed the change in the county status would be disastrous and these threw the might of their influence against the tide.
On one of his trips to Cherokee Township in which he was accompanied by R. M. Jolly, Butler spoke at Holly Grove School House. After an elaborate introduction by Jolly in which Jolly found great satisfaction, he delivered his speech. At the end of which he asked if anyone had any questions. Robert Parker, the brother-in-law of Dr. W. C. Hamrick speaking for many of the group, voiced opposition to the proposed name of the new county. When asked what name he would propose, without hesitation, he said, 'Cherokee." He reasoned that the Cherokee Indians had lived here long before white men came and the settlers, who staked their claims here in the 1750s called the territory, "The Cherokee Area." Also the best known early village of the county had been Cherokee Falls. Butler, who hoped to squelch the opposition, called for a show of hands of those who approved of calling the new county "Cherokee."
Everyone voted in the affirmative. Then he asked how many would vote for the formation of the new county if it were named "Cherokee" and again everyone's hand went into the air. By this simple tactic of changing the name of the proposed county to that of their township, Butler converted the entire body of voters. The word was passed throughout the township, and when election day came a vast majority of the residents of Cherokee Township, York County, voted in favor of creating Cherokee County, although some of the voters wrote in "Limestone" for the name of the county. There were a small number in Cherokee Township who followed the lead of N. W. Hardin, who advocated locating the county seat at "Pond Field," about five miles southeast of Gaffney. This group contended that this site would be nearer to the center of the county. However, the proposal was never given serious consideration by many people.
After the territory was thoroughly canvassed and both the whites and blacks (for some could vote) had signed a petition, the document was taken to Columbia by T. B. Butler, W. H. Carroll, M. M. Tate, and A. N. Wood and presented to Governor John Gary Evans. Evans assured the delegation that he favored the formation of small counties. After he had complimented the committee upon presenting a well-prepared petition, be asked what date would best suit to have the plebiscite and the committee suggested December 8, 1896. The Governor accepted the suggestion and ordered the election held on that date.
Campaigning began in earnest now that a date had been set. Those who lived in the lower part of the proposed new county began to take the blacks to Union County by the wagonload, to have them registered as voters. The others from the southwestern area of the county who favored creating a county decided to fight fire with fire and began to "purchase a few" of the blacks themselves. They chose a prominent black voter who they felt had sufficient influence to sway the black citizens. His pockets were "lined with gold" and he was instructed to see that it was properly and safely invested. Word soon reached his backers that the funds were not being invested according to the agreement, so J. N. Lipscomb was appointed a committee of one (Butler says that in his frame of mind he was plenty) to see that the remainder of the funds were returned. The manner and means for achieving the goal was left to Lipscomb's discretion. Whatever the means, they resulted in the funds being returned one hundred per cent.
At the time, Ben R. Tillman, the senior senator of South Carolina, was a power with "One gallus boys," a name he loved to call the farmers of his state. He cultivated their friendship in many ways. The author's great-grandfather related that once he was on a train with "Pitchfork Ben" journeying from Washington to Gaffney and about the time the train passed Grover, North Carolina, Tillman arose from the seat they shared and retired to the men's room. He was wearing a fine ruffled shirt and cutaway suit when he entered the men's room and when he came out he was wearing overalls with the sleeves of a work shirt rolled above the elbows. After he was again seated, he took a chew of tobacco. In response to the question directed to him as to why he bad changed his dress he replied, "This is the way people in Gaffney expect to see "Pitchfork Ben' and I would not disappoint them."
Because he was a senator and because of his popularity with the farmer, it was deemed best to have him speak on the Saturday before the election on Tuesday. The Gaffneyites braced themselves against the day of the speechmaking. When that day arrived, it appeared that every man, woman, and child in the territory affected by the proposed county had assembled. The streets of Gaffney were clogged with horses, wagons, and buggies. Several blocks around the site of the speakers' stands quickly became impassable. Wagons and buggies were left untended in the streets as everyone attempted to obtain a good vantage point to hear the speeches. Children and their dogs, who were swept up in the air of excitement which engulfed the adults, added to the bedlam. Before the speeches began, heated arguments led to fist fights, and a number of the belligerents, encouraged by their hip flasks, became too boisterous. They failed to hear the speeches after the law officials put them in the "bull pen" at the cotton warehouse until they sobered up.
The crowd in town was much larger than the group of about two thousand that heard Tillman speak. The Blacksburg delegation came to Gaffney on a special train, bringing a brass band, which discoursed music throughout the day.
M. M. Tate acted as chairman for the meeting. The Reverend J. D. Crout, pastor of the Methodist Church, began the meeting by invoking divine blessings upon the people assembled and upon the speaker who was to address them.
When Tillman was introduced, he spoke and spoke and spoke some more. Quite a few regretted that he had accepted the invitation to come. Those who especially wished he had failed to attend were those who favored the creation of the new county. Constantly he told "the boys" it would cost something to set up housekeeping, and at every opportunity he criticized the bond which had been given to build a court house and jail. Several times he reminded June Lipscomb and a number of the other "Young bloods" that they had met once before when Lipscomb had headed a bunch of young men in the area in a campaign against him. The young men had gone to Spartanburg wearing soda caps (A cap made from a soda sack. Tillman's followers wore white caps called 'Tillman's White Caps') and had attempted to howl Tillman down in one of his earlier campaign speeches.
At one point in his speech Tillman was disturbed by someone talking in the crowd. He stopped and looked directly at the talker with his one good eye, and said: "If that man is going to talk, I'll wait until he gets through." The crowd cheered and Tillman continued his speech without further interruption.
At the end of his tirade he gave what he thought would be his trump card to discourage forever the people's wish to form a new county. He spoke at length on the fact that Rock Hill would give a hundred thousand dollars in cash for a court house. The idea was to persuade his listeners that a new county would cost them at least this much. However the reference to Rock Hill had an effect opposite to that which the senator desired. The local people knew that Rock Hill was one of his favorite towns and the rumor had been that if Cherokee Township of York County did not become a part of the proposed county, a new county with Rock Hill as the county seat would be established. The local people perceived that this was what Tillman hoped would happen if he could persuade them to drop their idea of countyhood. The creation of a county with its court house at Rock Hill would leave Cherokee Township isolated and desperately poor. The local people now became firmly convinced that they had to form the new county.
Later that evening a delegation of townspeople went to Tillman and demanded that he retract his statements which they thought had been meant as a slight to the $15,000 bond, when he coupled it with a statement, "There is many a slip between the cup and the lip." Although he received them with an air of cordiality, he refused to retract what was to them a serious allegation by commenting on his own lack of tact in a folksy, jokingly, good nature manner.
Butler was to later write, "It might be well to say that the audience received Senator Tillman's speech in the manner that Mr. R. M. Jolly advised his hearers to when he introduced him, when he said, "I introduce Senator D. R. Tillman and ask you to give him your divided attention.'"
The following Tuesday the election was held and when the ballots were counted 1,432 people had voted in favor of the creation of the new county and 442 voted against the proposal. Gaffney City citizens had cast 542 votes in favor and only eight against forming the new county.
The section known as White Plains cast the largest vote against the formation of the new county. The residents there cast 132 against and nine for the proposal. Gaffney was chosen as the county seat by 1,319 and Cherokee was selected over Limestone for the name of the county by a vote of 1,000 to 243. However, the election did not end the fight. An appeal was made to the county board of Spartanburg by J. B. Brown and M. C. Lipscomb to declare the election illegal.
The election was contested on the grounds that the books of registration were not at the various polling places, that the managers required of many voters to show evidence of having paid taxes, and that large numbers of persons who had secured registration certificates the day before the election were allowed to vote.
Judge D. E. Hydrick was asked to rule upon the action taken by the county board. He heard the evidence, read the board's decision, and declared that the election was properly conducted and was legal. However, the struggle was not conceded. C. P. Sanders carried the fight to the General Assembly and T. B. Butler appeared as the representative of the people (he was the official lawyer of Gaffney City).
The bill to create the new county passed the House of Representatives by a unanimous vote but was debated for a time in the Senate. After the debates ended it appeared that the bill would be passed by the senate without further trouble. However, without Butler's knowledge, Sanders had secured from Senator J. T. Douglas, a surveyor in Union County, an affidavit which showed that if Cherokee County was created that it would not leave Union County with the number of square miles required by law. Douglas, who favored the creation of the new county and was a friend of Butler, told him of Sanders' plans. Butler immediately informed A. N. Wood, who went to Union and, while not questioning too strongly the accuracy of the figures, offered the surveyor $75 to make a new calculation. He now included one-half of the waters of the streams which would border the new county and added the land included within each, incorporated city and town and proved that Union and Cherokee Counties would contain more than the required number of square miles. When the matter came before a Senate committee the affidavits from the same source conflicted and committee reported to the Senate chamber that all the requirements for countyhood were in order. On the final vote Spartanburg's Senator E. Archer, York's Senator Love, Orangeburg's Senator O'Connor, and Kershaw's Senator Hay voted "No." In each case these senators represented a county that was affected by this bill or another new county movement in their county.
There was great jubilation when the result of the balloting was announced. A huge celebration was staged and people from all over the new county attended. Bonfires blazed, bells rang, whistles blew, and blank cartridges were fired. A blacksmith's anvil was used to explode black powder. When the sledge hammer struck the powder on the anvil an explosion resulted which sounded like a cannon firing. Speeches were the order of the day and everyone who wished to do so was allowed to speak. One of the speakers, a local character, who imbibed too freely, made the shortest and, perhaps the most-factional speech of the evening. Having reeled to the speaker's stand, he blurted out, "Now that you've got the new county, what the hell you gonna do with it?'
The speeches were made near the present site of Carroll Motor Inn (now First Piedmont Federal's Granard Street office) and the Gaffney Bank. At the time there was a large two-story house on one corner and a shoemakers shop on the corner which faces the front of the present hotel. The celebration continued until after dark, when to provide adequate light for the festivities, the revelers stacked two wooden barrels, one on the other over a kerosene fire to provide a flu from which there leaped a tall column of flame that illuminated the entire area around the depot.
The first election held in Cherokee County was a primary conducted on March 20, 1897, to elect candidates for treasurer and auditor to be recommended to the governor for appointment to these positions. Two candidates sought the office of treasurer and five men campaigned for the office of auditor. J. B. Jones was elected as the county's first fiscal officer and W. D. Camp, a Confederate veteran, won the race for auditor. One thousand three hundred and sixty-one men cast ballots in the first election of the county.
When the day of the general election came - the date of which had been changed to Saturday, April 3, for the convenience of the farmers - there were a number of candidates for clerk of court; seven for supervisor; three for probate judge; three for superintendent of education; nine for sheriff, four for the senate; and seven for coroner. The result of the voting was the election of William Jefferies as clerk of court, J. B. Ross as sheriff, Nathan Lipscomb as supervisor, J. E. Webster as probate judge, W. F. McArthur as superintendent of education, R. M. Jolly was manager of roads, and A. J. McCraw as coroner.
W. D. Camp died in office and was succeeded by John E. Jefferies. J. W. George became the next auditor.
Even after the election the fight to kill the county continued. Those who opposed the county sought through legal means to prevent the town treasury from paying the notes given by the town council during the creation of the county. After a rather long legal hassle the courts ordered the town treasury to honor the debts created by the earlier administration. When the order was carried out Gaffney City paid practically all of the expenses incurred in the formation of the county.
After all the legal requirements for countyhood had been met and the county had been formed there were certain intricate matters to adjust between the new county and the parent counties. The chief problem was the adjusting of the bonded obligations of the three counties. Bonds were outstanding on the Airline Railway, the Spartanburg & Asheville Railroad, the Greenwood, Laurens & Spartanburg Railroad; and each county had issued interest bearing notes to various individuals.
The state legislature created in 1897 a commission of five persons consisting of one member from each of the counties concerned and one member from the state at large, to settle the financial matters. Dr. W. C. Hamrick represented Cherokee County. The other members were S. G. Brice of York, D. E. Hydrick of Spartanburg, J. Clough Wallace from Union, and I. G. McCalla of Abbeville for the state at large. The commission met in the spring in 1897 in Gaffney. Dr. Hamrick acted as host for the several days of hard work which were required to complete the task.
At the time of the formation of the county, only Draytonville, Gowdeysville, and Cherokee Township were in the Sixth Congressional District, but by an act of the General Assembly the entire county was placed in the district. The county was also in the Sixth Judicial Circuit, which was composed of the counties of Chester, Fairfield, Lancaster, and York. When additional circuits were created, Cherokee was placed in the Seventh Circuit, which was composed of Cherokee, Spartanburg, and Union Counties.
At the time the county was formed the portion that was taken from Union County was represented in the house of representatives by C. W. Whisonant of Wilkinsville, that portion taken from Spartanburg County was represented in the house by W. G. Austell of Gaffney City, and Cherokee Township was represented in the senate by John G. Black of Blacksburg.
The first legislative delegation to represent the county after its formation consisted of Senator William Jefferies and Representatives W. G. Austell and C. W. Whisonant. About six years were to pass before a political machine was developed and the county came under its control.
A number of other people from our county have held public office. W. D. Kirby was elected for one term as director of the state penitentiary and J. C. Otts, while serving as senator was appointed solicitor. He was succeeded by A. E. Hill of Spartanburg. T. B. Butler, who was later to be the lieutenant governor, was elected as one of the two national electors at large for the state when Bryan was defeated in his third bid for the presidency.
A few days after being sworn into office, Jefferies, clerk of court, requested that the clerks of Spartanburg, Union, and York Counties submit the names of all citizens in the areas who were eligible for jury duty. When they were received, the panel of veniremen was established, and the first session of criminal court was held in early June with Judge James Aldrich presiding. E. P. Macomson was foreman of the first grand jury. By the time the court began, a rather lengthy string of cases had been produced; therefore, court lasted for several days.
The first session of court contained a murder charge. During the latter part of May, Charles Jaggers and Robert Owens, from Chester, had brought a flying trapeze act to Gaffney City and were doing a brisk business. On Sunday afternoon a small group of young men went to visit them in the tent where they had their living quarters. There was some drinking during which Jaggers and Owens displayed for the gullible visitors their contempt for danger by cavorting with a loaded pistol. The weapon accidentally discharged and fatally wounded Owens. Jaggers, who had been holding the weapon, was held for trial and convicted of criminal negligence. Judge Aldrich sentenced him to serve two years and eight months at hard labor.
The county's first grand jury presentment read:
"The new county of Cherokee was formed from portions of York, Union, and Spartanburg counties, which has thrown together a new people, with new ideas and different views on many questions pertaining to the welfare and prosperity of the county. Your most excellent and intelligent charge given us on our first appearance before you has enlightened and benefited us and materially aided us - to more fully and effectual discharge the punishment of the guilty, the duties that devolved upon us as grand jurors.
"We believe in the enforcement of the law; the conviction common feelings for humanity would suggest that even the criminal be humanely treated and for and in this connection would recommend that the supervisor and county commissioners at once take the proper steps to secure the needed accommodation for the convicts of the county.
"Our information is to the effect that a jail is to be furnished the county without cost to the taxpayers and we fail to observe any such structure or accommodation and unless a jail is immediately erected, the people of the county will necessarily have to be taxed to furnish the requisite care and accommodation for our convicts and other prisoners and we feel confident that if the county commissioners will do their duty in the premises, that the people will be relieved of this unnecessary burden.
"The poor and the destitute are always among us. The new county has no poor house; no facilities for taking care of the poor. They are dependent upon our charity for existence.
"We respectfully recommend that the supervisor and county commissioners take such steps as may be necessary to take care of and protect the poor of the county.
"All persons are equal under the law. We most earnestly protest against the habitual carrying of concealed deadly weapons which is causing so much bloodshed throughout the land. We shall endeavor to have all violators of the law apprehended and punished, and we earnestly call upon all officers whose duty it is to enforce the law aid us.
"We heartily commend the municipality of Gaffney City for the prompt and efficient manner in which they have so faithfully carried out - in part - their contracts with the people; the court for the uniform courtesies shown us, and we bespeak for the new county of Cherokee, under the management of our present efficient and obliging county officials, an era of peace and prosperity."
The era of prosperity was nearer at hand then the era of peace, since the county was one of the hottest political battlefields in the state for years after its creation. The conflicts were so numerous and so rapid that in political circles the saying, "If anything out of the ordinary is going to happen, it will happen in Cherokee County," became a cliche.
As the citizens "cooled off" from the white heat of the formative process, they became more reluctant to take sides in a bitter strike. By 1900, the population of 21,359 people were hard working farmers and modest textile craftsmen who, although they desired to be allowed to pursue their chosen avocation in peace, were avidly interested in politics.
Public education in Cherokee County has developed almost entirely since the American Civil War, and largely since the county formed in 1897.
The early schools of importance in Gaffney were private and the public school system wasn't established until 1897. The first schools typically consisted of one room and rarely operated for more than two or three months per year.
Early schools were poorly attended, especially during periods of bad weather, and students often walked miles to school each day. There was only one teacher and all students were taught at the same time, regardless of age or grade level. The McArthur family is believed to have founded the first county school and most early schools have since been destroyed.
Peachoid Water Tower - Gaffney, SC
One early school which does survive is the Possum Trot School, which was built in 1880 on a site near what is now I-85. The school building was later moved a short distance to where Radon Medical Imaging is currently located near the Peachoid Water Tower. The school was built by Jimmy and Tom Pettit and various other county residents. It was restored in 1969 by Louise Phifer Camp to honor her husband, Wofford Benjamin Camp (known as the Cotton Man), who attended school there. The Cherokee County Historical Society moved The school to a site near Hamrick's Department Store in 1992. Present Cherokee County students and other visitors occasionally visit Possom Trot School to learn how their ancestors went to school.
The Gaffney school district was organized under legislative Act shortly after the county formed in 1897, and Central School, which was a private institution, was taken over as the Gaffney High School. This school had 225 students in eleven grades and was taught by Superintendent W. S. Hall, Principal F. C. Hickson, and teachers Edna Harris, Carrie Sams, Mary Lynn, and Eva Sams. A literary society and a small library was also operated at the school.
A school for black children was opened in the black Methodist Church on Buford Street. Other public schools were opened at Limestone Mills on Cherokee Ave., Fairview, and the Cherokee Avenue Grammar School in 1907. Granard School for Blacks opened in 1907 followed by West End Grammar School in 1919 and Elm Street Grammar School in 1923.
The movement from private to public schools was not without controversy. In January of 1898, private educators like R. O.Sams and H. P. Griffith debated others, such as Ed DeCamp on the merits of public vs. private education. Proponents argued public schools attracted good citizens and that a well-educated society would reduce crime. A tax increase was approved that February to support public schools.
In 1901, a group of county residents established the first kindergarten. Gaffney mothers were asked to attend a meeting to form a "School For Infants" to organize a kindergarten school for the city. 24 students, ages 3-7, were accepted and the organizers hired a teacher. No further information on the school is available.
Construction on the first Gaffney High School began in 1923 and was completed three years later at the current site on Frederick Street. An addition was added and the original structure was replaced with a new building in the 1970s.
In 1948, Cherokee County had 41 white and 38 black schools, including four high schools. 26 were one-teacher schools, 25 had two teachers and only 11 white and two black schools had over four teachers. There were 7,188 students and 250 teachers in 28 school districts. Schools were delayed that year by the outbreak of polio, a crippling disease which caused the City Council to bar public gatherings for children under 17 except for church. The City Council briefly lifted the ban but re-instated it after superintendent Jonathan F. McKown postponed opening schools until September 15th.
Between 1951-1954, the school system consolidated from twenty-eight (28) districts to one (1) in 1954.
In the landmark 1954 case, "Plessy vs. Ferguson,"
the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregating public schools was unconstitutional.
Despite the ruling, the early 1960s saw white students still
filing into Gaffney High School and black students reporting
to Granard High School.
The Cherokee County school board's first plan was rejected by federal civil rights representatives (two from Dallas, Atlanta, and one from Washington). Trustees agreed to began phasing out Granard High School during the 1968-69 school year with grades 7-8. The next year grades 8-11 would go, and grade 12 would move the final year.
This plan was not approved and instead trustees were told by the Health, Education and Welfare Department to close Granard High School all at once as an all-black high school and send students from that school to Gaffney High School. Granard High School was converted to a junior high school and was renamed West Junior High. East Junior High was on the other side of town.
In 1971, hundreds of black students walked out of classes because of GHS student council elections, protesting the elections were unfair after all black candidates were eliminated from the ballot.The students returned peacefully after discussions with the administration.
The school board awarded more than $3 million in contracts
to construct new Blacksburg High, West End, and Elm Street Elementary
The Cherokee County NAACP chapter filed suit in late 1992
to stop school board elections and contest districts. NAACP representatives
wanted to redraw district lines to allow for an extra black-majority
voting district. A federal judge postponed elections until Spring
After years of neglecting school buildings, Cherokee County became polarized in the early 1990s over whether to renovate or build new schools, particularly for Gaffney High School. The school board unveiled a multi-million dollar plan to build a new GHS and consolidate several county schools. Stop Waste in School Spending (SWISS), a group of county citizens organized against the building plan and filed suit against the school board. Former GHS principal Wayne Whiteside also filed suit to see if the school board could legally continue with their plans. After his death, his wife and daughter continued the suit.
However, SWISS-sponsored school board candidates won enough seats in the 1993 school board election to stop the building plan. In August of 1994, more than 70 percent of county voters approved a referendum for a $47 million building program. The referendum called for a 1-cent sales tax to fund another building program which would construct a new Gaffney High Schoolk, three new elementary schools, and renovate several other county schools.
Former board chairman Waite C. Hamrick sued the school distinct to test the legality of the sales tax. In May of 1996, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the building program. The school board has since awarded contracts for five of the projects.The building program is scheduled for completion in 1999.
The school district barely resembles the old school houses of yesterday. The district consists of 19 schools with 8,438 students and more than 300 teachers. Schools range in size from 150 to more than 1,500 students. Today's students don't walk several miles to school. In addition to reading, writing, and math, their days are packed with gym, music, art, library, and countless other classes. They are also learning how to use computers and preparing for technical careers but one thing hasn't changed. Students still listen to a teacher discuss a topic in a classroom just like their ancestors did a hundred years ago.
Cherokee County (the name is from the Indian nation) was organized in 1897. It is in the famous piedmont section of the Carolinas, touching the North Carolina line. Its area is 373 square miles, 238,720 acres.
The last census gave the county a population of 27,570, of which number 18,955 were native born white, and 8,595 colored. The present estimated population is approximately 30,000. There is practically no foreign born population.
Gaffney and Blacksburg are the incorporated towns in Cherokee County. The county seat is Gaffney, located in the center of the county, with a population in 1920 of 5,065. The estimated in 1926 is 9,250. Blacksburg's population numbered 1,512 in 1920.
The main line of Southern Railway from Atlanta to Washington traverses the county. The total railroad mileage is 48. Highways run in all directions, many of which are paved, and practically all unpaved are sand-clay.
Cherokee County is mainly agricultural. A number of cotton mills are within the borders of this county, all of which are prospering under the favorable labor conditions that obtain. Cotton is the major crop. Corn is largely grown. The soil lends itself admirably to trucking. Fruit growing is increasing, and dairying is receiving the attention of many farmers. The soil and the climate combine to produce favorable conditions for cotton, corn, fruit, and dairying. Poultry raising is also on the increase. The growing season, that is, the number of days between the average late spring and early autumn killing frosts, numbers 215 days.
Both the religious and educational life of the county are constantly developing. Congregations of practically all the Protestant faiths are in evidence. Schoolhouses are numerous, with a constant tendency toward consolidation. In Gaffney, the county seat, are four well-appointed buildings for the grades, and a modern $200,000 high school edifice. In Gaffney is also Limestone College, a senior college for young women, chartered in 1845. Limestone has a campus unsurpassed in natural beauty.
Cherokee invites the consideration and investigation of those who may be considering agricultural or industrial pursuits. A ready market is convenient for those who desire to engage in stock raising, poultry, or fruit. Reasonable sites are available for the location of industries.
A county farm demonstration agent, together with a secretary of the chamber of commerce are at the disposal of those who may desire to make inquiry. The progressive spirit of the industrial and agricultural interests of the county are evidenced by an annual county fair.
Immediately above, published in "South Carolina: A Handbook," prepared by The Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industries and Clemson College, Columbia, South Carolina, 1927. In the Public Domain. [with minor edits]
Click Here to view/download an Adobe PDF file of a brief sketch of the history of Gaffney and Cherokee County as written in 1897 by Tilman R. Gaines.