Thursday, February 03, 2005

Up the River (Parade of Shacks)

We're going to take a little road trip here. We'll head northwest, up the Savannah River on South Carolina Highway 28, never getting too far away from the water. If you take this drive, once you leave North Augusta you'll quickly find yourself in a landscape of old shacks. If you're the sort who's inclined to get out of your car and go into the shacks, you can have your own sort of low-rent Parade of Homes. Only, they're shacks. Parade of Shacks. It's more interesting than the Parade of Homes, anyway. Take this aluminum shack, located in the middle of a pine clearcut. It appeared that it had been used for meetings. What were they meeting about in the middle of nowhere? Beats me. Not being authorized, I could only get a picture from out front.

One of the first noteworthy things we see on our drive is the J. Strom Thurmond Dam, which controls the Savannah River as it flows toward Augusta. In the early part of the century, Augusta was underwater a lot. The first recorded flood was in 1796 and carried off a bridge, a warehouse, and a wharf. It was called the Yazoo Freshet. A freshet is sort of a cute word for "flood." By the early 20th century Augusta was a bustling city and the floods naturally did more damage. A flood in 1908 killed 18 people and destroyed every single bridge. Another flood in 1911 brought the number of times Augustans had found themselves bailing to something over 20 and resulted in the construction of a levee. The levee worked...for awhile. A huge flood in 1929 increased the river's flow to 36 times its average rate and overtopped the levee, which was subsequently heightened. But people had lost confidence in the levee and, in 1940, after a storm swelled the Augusta Canal, killed three people, and flooded 50 blocks, the ball began rolling to build a dam. Here's another shack in the same clearcut as the one above.

Completed in 1954, the Clark Hill Dam (later renamed in honor of J. Strom Thurmond, like most things in S. Carolina) is over a mile long (5,680 ft.) and 200 ft. high. It's a good bike ride across. The area designated for the dam encompasses 137,000 acres of land and water, and the 70,000 acre reservoir is one of the largest inland water bodies in the South. The dam impounds water for 40 miles up the Savannah River and 26 miles up the adjacent Little River. Remember when Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, and Ned Beatty went canoeing down the (fictional) Cahulawassee River in north Georgia, just before the river and the town of Aintry were put underwater by a dam? "Dammit, they're drownin' the river. Just about the last wild, untamed, unpolluted, unf--ked-up river in the South. Don't you understand what I'm sayin'?" Anyway, people living along the banks of the river in N. Augusta now hope that the dam was built to be as sturdy as old Strom himself. If you take the Riverwalk, you can see markings representing high water in each of the major floods. Some were definitely doozy's. Incidentally, in 1916, a fire in Augusta levelled 32 blocks and 746 buildings. There wasn't much left. As far as I know, Augusta has never been visited by a plague of locusts...but there was the bollweevil. For some reason I never took a picture of the dam. So, there'll be no corresponding picture with this paragraph in honor of the dam's absence.

Just past the dam is the town of Modoc, SC. Everything you can know about Modoc seems to be here. But I can do a little better. In 1875, the town of Bountwell, SC was established. At that time the US Government had just ended a protracted war with the Modoc tribe of the Northwest. In 1873, the Modoc subchief Captain Jack shot Gen. Edward Richard Sprigg Canby, who'd been sent to broker a deal to get the warring members of the tribe out of California, where they'd been hiding, and back to the Klamath Reservation in Oregon. Thus the army went after Captain Jack (again), but the Modoc were tired and many surrendered. On June 1, 1873, Captain Jack was captured. He and three of his warriors, Boston Charley, Black Jim, and John Schonchin, were hanged on Oct. 3, 1873. During the fighting the Modoc had scalped a number of men who'd been working on laying a rail line. When the train depot was built in Bountwell in 1882, the name of the town was changed to Modoc, in honor of a station of the same name on the much-beleaguered line in the Northwest. I don't really know why the original station was named after the folks that wanted to scalp the railroad workers, but apparently renaming Bountwell as Modoc was intended as a snub to the tribe. Above is a happy color photo of the shack in the clearcut, just outside Modoc.

Geez, I just gotta say a word about J. Strom Thurmond. As you may know, Strom Thurmond was a staunch segregationist for a good part of his political career. After Strom's death just over a year ago at the age of 100, it was announced that he'd had a daughter by a black girl who'd been a maid in his father's home. The affair had occurred back in 1925, when he was 22 and she 16. Thurmond eventually met his daughter in 1941 and had provided money to support her at a pre-arranged meeting once a year ever since. Thurmond called her "a lovely daughter" and she was apparently quite fond of him. That's why she waited until he was dead to say anything. Anyway, there's a story about Strom and a colleague discussing how they were going to deal with a group of African-Americans who weren't too happy about some government policies. Strom laughed, clapped his colleague on the back, and said cryptically, "Don't worry. I'll handle it. I've got an in with these people." Ah, politicians! Yeah, yeah, here's another shot of that same damn shack. No, I don't know what's wrong with me. Which reminds me...

I was perusing Robert Burton's sprawling, three-volume 17th century masterpiece, The Anatomy of Melancholy, and came across an interesting tidbit. Apparently, back in those days, it was thought that you could make a lamp out of a person's blood that would track their life. You treated the blood in a certain way (incantations or alchemy or something), put it in a glass lamp with a wick, and lit it. When the flame was bright, things were going well. When dim, things were looking grim. When it went out...well, that was it. There was also a story of a man who believed that if he were to piss he would flood his town and drown all the citizens. As a result, he'd been holding it for some time. In order to get him to finally relieve himself the doctors had the fire bells rung, then told him the town was on fire and that the only way it could be put out was for him to let go. Burton says it resulted in a full cure. Above is a DIFFERENT shack, just on the other side of the clearcut. I discovered it was also located in the middle of a raspberry bramble.

I've got more shacks for next time when we go farther north along the river and check out the Parksville/Plum Branch area. I also just got some film back from my December trip to Augusta. Man, there's some bad shots in there. But I think I can cobble together some halfway respectable posts. Also, I believe I'll be getting a slide scanner, so I can stop saying, "You can't see it 'cause it's not digitized." Now you WILL see it. So, we're set for the foreseeable future. This is the inside of the above shack, in Hitchcockian black and white.


The Author said...

Those are some nice pictures you took!

Please, take a minute to read
and vote for "Jodi & Andrew" on the site mentioned there. We'd really appreciate it. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This is a great site.Could you please post or do some sort of coverage on the mountain towns.Do you know if there are anymore mountain towns?Are you from the south?Do you know about any Civil war sites there?If so could you put them in your next cover story after your cover story on the mountain towns.Thank You.I myself and the others here are waiting for your next footage.I told my kids to keep checking your site.We are haveing some faimly comeing in this june 2006. So that cover story that you will be doing on the mountain towns will be really nice to show and entertain out of town guest.We dont watch or use or even have a television box so Were really looking foward to your storys and photos.My wife and two children and myself spendour faimly time in front of the computer.Sometimes we spend the whole Saturday with the kids looking at the animals they have at the zoo and telling stories how much we would like to see a real cougar or elaphant,or zebra.But your stuff is the best.Cant eait to see more. Thanks alot for helping my wife and kids and I.

Jmhouse said...

Hello and thanks very much for your comments! First, no, I am not from the South, although as of yesterday I am in eastern Tennessee, and that means that for the first time I'm very close to mountain towns--and, yes, they do still exist. I'm looking forward to taking some photos and posting stories of these places. I've already been given the name of a good book to read about the area. As for civil war sites, I did do a post on Fort Jackson, LA on October 14, 2005. The fort was nailed by Hurricane Katrina, but I got some photos a few months prior to the storm. I'll try to get to some more Civil War sites in the future. However, I'm starting a new job so I'm going to be a little busy for a bit. As soon as I get a chance I'll get out to have a look around and write something. So please keep checking back. Thanks again for your kind words--I really do appreciate it--and stay in touch.
Take Care,