Darlington County teeming with historical markers

Brian Gandy, center, Director of the Darlington County Historical Commission, stands with the Historical Marker for the Hartsville Passenger Depot, the newest marker in the county. Photo contributed

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Riding along the highways, city streets and rural roads of Darlington County, you can’t drive very far without running across some intriguing facet of yesteryear commemorated by an official historical marker. With approximately 561 square land miles in the county, we have roughly one historical marker for every 7 square miles.

“Darlington County ranks third in the state for historical markers. We just erected our seventy-sixth marker in Hartsville at the site of the passenger rail depot, and our seventy-seventh is already in the county. We’ll put that one up soon at the Marion Street Cemetery,” says Brian Gandy, director of the Darlington County Historical Commission.

The process of getting a marker approved, cast, and placed can be complex. Gandy says that while those with the drive and knowledge can fund and submit their own historical marker proposals directly to the state, the folks at the Commission stand ready to help with research and funding for new markers to spread awareness of our county’s rich and broad-ranging heritage.
The Historical Commission Board maintains a list of approved sites (currently numbering around 75), and fully funds the casting and erection of two new markers each year.

“We pull from that list of approved sites, and as new people come in and request that their historical treasure or location or representation of a person be commemorated with a marker, we will add it to that list as well,” says Gandy. “That list already has about fifty markers already on it, so at the rate of two a year, you might have to wait twenty-five years on your historical marker.”

There is a faster track to getting a marker done: if applicants raise money to pay for the marker themselves and don’t require financial help from the county, they can essentially jump the queue and go straight to the review and approval process, and then on to casting and placement.

“If the applicant wants to fund their own marker, it pulls them right up to the top of the list and we can go ahead and do the research for them,” says Gandy.

Such was the case with marker No. 1677. Sponsored by the City of Hartsville, it was erected at the Hartsville Passenger Station on November 11 after only about two months of processing.

The text on the marker relates in swift order the history of the depot and the building’s enduring relevance to the local community. With a quick sweep of the eyes, a visitor learns that the Hartsville Passenger Depot was built by the Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) Railroad in 1908 and serviced the town until 1940 when ACL discontinued passenger service to Hartsville. Remodeled in 1948 as ACL Board offices, the building was used to conduct railroad business for many years thereafter, and was occupied by former ACL chairman A.L.M. Wiggins until his death in 1980.

As you might imagine, taking over a century of existence and distilling it down to a few lines – sometimes as short as 17 characters per line – takes a bit of skill, and a lot of patience.

“In some cases it’s a very quick process, and in others it’s a very long process. We’ve worked on the Darlington Manufacturing marker now for a year and four months,” Gandy says, observing that everyone involved wants to convey the full impact of the mill’s role in town life.

Fitting all that history – including the employees’ attempt and Unionization, the mill’s subsequent closure, and the ensuing lawsuits that took decades to settle – onto a two-sided marker is a tall order. Gandy says they want to be sure to get it just right because once the marker is cast, it’s too late for corrections or regrets.

“Once we get the text settled, we submit it to the South Carolina State Archives, which is the state governing body that approves all historical markers. After we get their approval, all markers are submitted to one place in Marietta, Ohio called Sewah Studios and they do the final cast,” Gandy says.

While the final products are strikingly handsome and quite durable under normal conditions, Gandy says that the rising cost of raw materials has resulted in both higher prices for casting markers and less flexibility to fix broken plaques. He explains that a decade ago, markers were made of cast aluminum and cost only about $500, while the modern casting process uses aluminum aerated with silica and costs about $2,500 per marker. The use of aerated metal also means that when a marker is damaged, it cannot be welded back together and a replacement must be ordered.

To learn more about the Darlington County Historical Commission and their historical marker program, visit them online at www.dchcblog.net or on Facebook, drop by their offices at 204 Hewitt Street in Darlington, or phone 843-498-4710.

Author: Duane Childers

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