Crossing a Great Divide

Chapter 4 | My Granddaddy's land

Farmers J.D. and Martha Shirer like Lone Star the way it is. Pecan-shipper David K. Summers Jr. wants retirees and golf courses.

May 17, 2007 

Everybody around here has been here forever, say farmers Martha and J.D. Shirer, and a new bridge and roads won’t help them. ‘The only thing that would thrive would be drugs and crime.’

PHOTO BY GERRY MELENDEZ

Love of land may spring from family ties to place, from attachment to beauty, from gratitude for its usefulness or from dreams of its potential.

J.D. Shirer and David K. Summers Jr. see their homeplaces and their futures differently — and so they see the bridge differently. Shirer's 250 acres stretch beside what was Lone Star's downtown, toward what was the powerful Saluda River. Downtown is ghostly, the river is tamed, but Shirers still hand down and farm land.

The Briggs-DeLaine-Pearson Connector would slice through land Shirer leases to a nursery, then his farmland and the center pivot of his irrigation system, penning his brick home within a triangle of roads.

Shirers have been cutting trees and planting crops at Lone Star for at least four generations. J.D. Shirer's grandfather, William Perry Shirer, logged and farmed land at and near Low Falls Landing. After two children died of malaria, he moved his home five miles away from the water to escape the mosquitoes.

He bought up cotton in the 1920s, stashing it in Augusta, Ga. When cotton prices crashed, he lost the cotton and the land. J.D.'s father, Jesse D. Shirer, bought the land back, acre by acre. He owned a livery stable, a saw mill and a cotton gin and logged the Upper Santee Swamp, as had Shirer's grandfather.

"They used to run barges from Buckingham Landing to ship stuff to Charleston," says J.D. Shirer. That ended when the S.C. Public Service Authority, better known as Santee Cooper, bought and cleared land for the lakes.

"I say they took the land," says Shirer, 64. "They lease land or sell it now and get a big price. I don't see where that's right." Shirer doesn't find Clyburn's bridge plans "right," either. He says he confronted Clyburn at Lone Star and in Washington, telling him, "If you want your name on something, put a plaque on the railroad trestle."

Wife Martha Carson Shirer says: "My daddy had land that was his daddy's. When granddaddy died, his land was divided among the children.

"It goes back. Everyone around here has been here. Sometimes, if someone wants to buy an acre of land, it disturbs us. They won't hold onto it like we do because it's sentimental.

"We would like to hold onto what we have and keep it like we have it."

While the Shirers' kin and farming neighbors share that view, minutes back down S.C. 33, in Cameron, another white landowner sees change coming — and approves.

"Oldest Buyer and Shipper in the Carolinas" boasts the sign over Golden Kernel Pecan Co., its country-store facade adorned with railings and rockers, its shelves inside holding pecans and more pecans: in tins, tubs, boxes; orange-frosted, butter-roasted, honey-roasted, chocolate-covered.

David K. Summers Jr. and brother Bill Summers run the store and shelling plant, with the help of David's wife, daughter and son-in-law. Home for the brothers is right across S.C. 33 — Bill in the family house, whose front rooms served as an office for a physician grandfather, David next door in an imposing Georgian colonial.

Dr. S.J. Summers, their grandfather, was the state's first to plant pecan seedlings on a commercial scale. David K. Summers, their father, was the state's first to start a shelling plant in the Carolinas. He died young — and in that death is a story to come — and the sons took over in the '60s.

David K. Summers Jr., in his 28th year on Calhoun County Council, wants the Briggs-Delaine-Pearson Connector. A crafty politician, he's paying attention, and he expects more Lake Marion residents, particularly retirees.

He cites access to hospitals — Orangeburg's Regional Medical Center of Orangeburg and Calhoun Counties on one side of Lake Marion, Sumter's Tuomey Regional Medical Center on the other, and farther on, Columbia's hospitals.

He cites access to Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter.

He foresees increased golfing, hunting and fishing.

You could call this Summers' second-wind theory. From the 1950s on, little towns dried up as their residents moved to "magnet cities" and jobs. But, at this century's start, retirees are returning.

Those with good incomes are buying second homes and may prefer a lake to the crowded and costly beach. Florida "halfbacks," escaping the high cost of living and hurricanes, are moving halfway back north, to Georgia and the Carolinas.

"The lake area is getting ready to pop," says Summers. "If you put in a bridge, it's like a racetrack around the water."

In South Carolina, "right now" always includes "back then," and for Summers, back then includes his father's 1950 death and another reason to support the Connector.

"He had a check on a bank from Georgia, and they wanted to charge him a large fee to cash the check," Summers recounts. "He did business with a Sumter bank, and thought, ‘I can go over there and they'll cash it.'"

He did, and it cost him his life. His 1949 Mercury was hit by a tractor-trailer; he was thrown out, his neck broken. "He bent the steering wheel, trying to hold on," says Summers.

“I was a little young fella. I heard then talk about the U.S. 301 bridge was supposed to come in here, cross Lone Star and Rimini and go to Orangeburg. It's a straight shot, Orangeburg to Florence, but politics got into it and kept it from going that way." Summers repeats a conversation with James Cuttino Jr. before the Sumter state representative's death. Cuttino reminisced about his 1960s efforts to get a bridge, a bridge that "would have cost $4 million," says Summers, who lingers on that sum, which seems small now.

This time, Summers believes it will happen; he's betting on Clyburn. He says environmentalists erred in opposing their ally. "Those tree-huggers, Clyburn was the only friend they had," he says. "You beat up a guy in public, he'll show you who walks the dog."

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