Visit the Places of Georgetown
My husband and I were having lunch at one of my favorite eateries in Georgetown: Thomas Café on Front Street. I love this quaint little diner. Although the restaurant is usually full of locals and tourists, this morning, however, it was littered with only locals.
We popped in to find Virginia, a regular, as the only dine-in customer sitting in the back at her favorite antique wooden booth. Chrissy Thompson was just leaving from picking up a take-out order as we came in. We spoke briefly about my new granddaughter and, also, my new post as a columnist for GAB News. We did wish each other a good day as we seated ourselves in the corner at a table for two followed by greeting the waitresses, Livvy and Des (not to be interchanged with Desi).
We asked after Kelly, another waitress who is currently out on medical leave. “She’s doing a little better,” Livvy answered and talked some on how her leg is mending.
“Where’s Ashley?” I asked and noted that for the last few visits to Thomas’ Ashley has been noticeably absent.
“She’s off today,” Livvy stated as she headed back to work.
Shortly thereafter, we realized it was 11:00 on the nose because Catherine came in for lunch. Daily, you can find Catherine sitting at her little two-seated table by the lunch counter between the hours of 11-2 pm. All of the locals who come in to eat know that is her table.
Barry Price and his wife followed in behind Catherine. As Barry and I discussed my possibly doing an interview with him for the Meet Georgetown segment of my blog, it dawned on me how much of a home-style local hangout Thomas Café is. It has such a casual and laid-back atmosphere that I thought nothing of offering him some of our onion rings and likewise, he thought nothing of it, either. It’s just something you do in polite company at Thomas’.
I was reveling in the simplicity of this nostalgic restaurant when Phil Brady came in and sat at the table next to us. Phil is one of my favorite subjects. I realized I left my camera at home when I went to snap my usual picture of him. I almost always take a picture of Phil whenever we bump into one another in town.
“There you go, Michelle,” Barry says to me from across the restaurant, “There’s a good subject to write on.”
“Who?” Phil and I both asked in unison.
“You – Phil,” Barry said with a motion in Phil’s direction.
“I’ve already written about Phil,” I replied. “I wrote about Phil a long time ago.
(I guess that means I’m back to writing about Barry)
Phil and I chatted a few minutes about his next magic adventure. Being a local talent, he likes to travel (by train or car) to different magic events and perform.
Thomas Café is known for their Shrimp N’ Grits with a side of Southern Fried Green Tomatoes. That just happened to be what I ordered for lunch. As I was about to dive in, I turned to our table-neighbor and asked about his next show.
“There’s a Winter Carnival in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, on March 8th,” he answered as he opened his newspaper. “There will be four of us going together.”
“Train?” I asked simply.
With a smile, Phil answered, “No, we’re driving. We’ll leave the night before and drive up there.”
We all talked to each other without haste or worry and just enjoyed our lunch together like one would in a home filled with old friends. As we were finishing up our meal, I sat back and, again, thought about the simplicity of this restaurant. Yes, it’s absolutely lost in time, but that’s part of its charm, its allure: the simple nostalgic era of the early twentieth century.
How wonderfully and beautifully amazing this place is, Thomas Café.
I finally made my way to the Kaminski House and met with Robin Gabriel and Kim Leatherwood who are currently the director and the assistant director of the Kaminski House Museum. Graciously, Kim sat down with me to talk about the history of this magnificently beautiful home and establishment. There are only a handful of places in Georgetown that are absolutely lost in time. It’s as if you walk in and are whisk away into another era. The Kaminski House is one of those places.
The Kaminski House, which overlooks the Sampit River, is a very historical dwelling in Georgetown, South Carolina. It’s one of the oldest structures, being an original plantation house. It was built by Paul Trapier, a wealthy businessman, who reportedly had given the house to his daughter the night before the onset of the Revolutionary War in 1769.
Originally, it was a single house with a stairwell in the middle, separating the two upstairs and downstairs rooms. The original kitchen was located outside (it has since burned down), where the servants would make the food and then bring in the meals to the dining hall. Now, the kitchen is off the dining room on the first floor. The slave quarters, and later, the servant’s quarters are now the gift shop for the museum.
A lot of remodeling has been done to the Kaminski House, started by Mayor George Congdon in 1840. He was the first to enlarge the house. Later around the 1940’s, it was remodeled and enlarged again by Harold and Julia Kaminski.
“Julia Kaminski, the last Kaminski, passed away in 1972,” Kim explained. “She left the house to the city and it is run by the Friends of the Kaminski House which is a non-profit organization.
“She and Harold were world-class travelers and so she collected a lot of 18thand 19th century artifacts and antiques over the years. Julia requested that if anything be sold off, the money goes to a charity: The Seeing Eye Dog Foundation.”
I know some of stories from taking a couple some tours in the Kaminski House. One of those stories is about Julia and Harold’s dog, Frank. Since they were not able to have children, Frank was their child. I’d heard stories that Julia would sometimes dress him in doggy clothes and when he died, they had a full dress funeral. Although Kim did confirm the dog’s name was Frank, I forgot to ask her more about him and where exactly his gravesite is as he’s buried on the property. I’ll have to take the tour again to find out.
The other story I’ve heard was about an elementary class taking the tour and at some point, a little boy asked the volunteer, “Who was the man sitting in the corner smoking a pipe?”
There was no man there for the guided tour. There was only the volunteer and the class. Many have guessed it was the ghost of Harold Kaminski enjoying the stories of lore about his lovely home.
I’ve noticed there are a lot of events that take place with the Kaminski House and I asked Kim about the different things.
“We have a lot of things to offer here,” she explained. “Outside of the three tours we do six days a week, we do a lot of weddings.”
“My daughter was married here,” I offered.
Kim nodded, “Yes, it’s a beautiful place and many people, not just locals, but people from all over come here for their wedding. We also do annual Easter Egg Hunts, we do Candlelight tours in November and December, and recently, we have a very fashionable Christmas with extra decorations.”
“You decorate the house for Christmas?” I asked.
“Oh yes, every year,” she answered. “We also have an all-day event during the fall with Family Fun and Literacy doing special events for children. They do a lot of crafts like making cornhusk dolls, they have a scarecrow kit and make scarecrows, there’s pumpkin face making time and also story time. They’ll read a story in between the crafts and the children just love it. It’s really a fun time. As you can see, it’s more than just guided tours and weddings here. We do so much more at the Kaminski House.”
Kim and I sat and talked about many things, including the Stewart-Parker House which is next door, and also a part of the Kaminski House Museum tour. Although, I did know about the tours, the weddings and the Stewart-Parker House, I never knew about the other social events of the museum and I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised.
The children’s events give our local children a chance to learn about their heritage, their town and the history thereof. The projects encouragingly stimulate and educate the children of their town’s history. These occasions are not just limited to Georgetonians; children and adults from anywhere can join and be included.
Friends of the Kaminski House and Anderson Brothers Bank bring some of the other events that take place around the house. They sponsor the Indigo Choral Society, which performs on the front lawn of the Kaminski House on the Fourth of July. This event includes songs from the American and Carolina genre, as well, as a salute to our Armed Forces. Don’t forget the snacks and beverages, either.
Kim tells me that Jazz Under the Oaks is a big hit amongst the crowd. It has music from Denny Hess Trio, a Sweets Tent and even a wine tasting event.
“I don’t know if you know Kevin Jayroe, but he often makes a special appearance with Denny Hess Trio,” Kim added.
The Long Bay Symphony Youth Orchestra also performs on the lawn of the Kaminski House with “some of the area’s most talented young musicians.” The days and dates vary, but I will be sure to call the Kaminski House in the future to find out the current times. I cannot wait for the Jazz Under the Oaks to come around again!
Thank you Kim Leatherwood for your time and thank you Julia Kaminski: Without you, we would have a blank page in our town’s beautiful and nostalgic history.
Black Mingo (Belin) Baptist Church
I’ve always known that Georgetown County was the third settled area in South Carolina following Beaufort and Charleston. All three cities predate the Civil War. Just recently, I found a tombstone dated in the late 1600’s, which means it also, predates the Revolutionary War.
Through research, I discovered a town that was established in 1685: Willtown, or Willtown Plantation, interchangeably. It was an old English settlement, first named New London, and then later changed to Willtown Plantation in 1708.
By 1745, the Act of General Assembly was in effect providing Charles Woodmason the permission to build the first store near Willtown in Black Mingo. The small Colonial town flourished so much that by the early 1800’s they had established a tavern, several homes and built a waterway on Black Mingo Creek for boats that carried local products back and forth between there and Charlestown.
Prior to the Revolutionary War, a case of Malaria broke out and nearly wiped out the small town. Although they were able to get back on their feet following the viral epidemic, many claimed it just wasn’t the same so they shorted the name of their dwelling from Willtown Plantation to just Willtown.
This old English colony sat far enough away that the ride to town from Willtown to Black Mingo took approximately forty-five minutes to an hour by horse and buggy, or a couple of hours or so on foot. The post office was built in 1801 but later closed in 1824 (Black Mingo Post Office, which still stands, is now a convenience store known as “Mingo’s”).
Around the mid 1800’s, Cleland Belin built Black Mingo Baptist Church on his own property. The church doubled as a meeting place for the township people and congregation. It was a simple two-story rectangular shaped structure with a cemetery surrounding it. The upstairs was known as the slave gallery where the slaves were allowed to attend worship services.
In August of 1980, the National Registry listed Black Mingo Baptist Church as a historical site and placed a marker. The church was still active and held a steady congregation up to its demise in March of 2000 when it was burned to the ground.
Barry Dean, a Nesmith resident, acted as my tour guide and led me to the site of this pre-Civil War church. Suffice to say, without Barry’s guidance, I would have never found this place. On the corner still stands a sign pointing the way to Willtown. In the center of the cemetery, you will see brick pillars where the church was once built, and all throughout the grounds, grave markers and headstones are found, including that of Charles Belin.
“Look at the Rebel Flags,” I said, pointing them out to my host.
“Oh yes,” Barry acknowledged. “A lot of Confederate soldiers and Revolutionary soldiers are buried here. Back here, in the woods are some wooden grave markers where the slaves were buried.”
Amazed that he could even find place, I asked, “How did you know this place was here?”
With a chuckle he answered, “When I was a boy, we used to run around here through the woods playing all the time. We didn’t know what the wooden stakes meant then and didn’t care much about them at the time. The Black Mingo Creek is over there,” he pointed with a wave of his hand. Barry went on to talk a little about the church. “My grandmother used to go here until it burnt up in a fire.”
“How did it burn down?” I looked around at the vacant area of the church grounds trying to visualize how a fire could be started.
“Some kids, a group of teenagers, did it out of mischief,” he explained. “Up until the fire, they still held regular church. I remember coming to church here as a young boy. And, the slave pews that were upstairs still had the shackles attached to them for when they brought in the people for worshipping.”
As we began the trek around the grounds, Barry warned me about wandering into the wooded area citing he’d found several rattlesnakes out there already. I heeded his warning and stayed close to the established, fenced in, graveyard. I did note that a few concrete headstones were resting up against trees as if someone laid it there for just a moment and were possibly coming back to tend to them.
Near the back of the cemetery is a lone cement stone marked Bill. “Bill was a slave who was respected, honest and trusted,” the gravestone reads. He was in charge of much of the products and merchandise that were delivered in Willtown. The fact that Bill had a stone marker and not a wooden one told me he was important to the town and, yes, he was respected. They cared enough to give him the highest honor in death, a stone marker.
“Is this place haunted?” I asked Barry.
“They say it is,” he answered of the town’s people. “I’ve never seen anything but the stories around here are that it is haunted with a lot of ghosts. I can tell you this: you don’t want to be here at night. It’s really creepy.”
I’ll take his word for it and if I ever can find the place again, it will be during the daylight hours. I thanked my host for the tour and then followed him to a reputed nearby haunted house.
By Michelle Cox
Copyright September 2016 ©
I’ve managed to research the history of this infamous church, which dominates a lot of Plantersville and Georgetown’s history. Once billed as Prince Frederick’s Episcopal Chapel, Old Gunn Church was established in 1734 in Plantersville, South Carolina. The church was originally part of the Prince George Parish here in Georgetown, but was later separated and the congregation moved to its present location on the outskirts of town just off Hwy 701.
It became a very popular place of worship amongst rice plantation owners that lived in the Waccamaw Neck area along the Great Pee Dee River. Throughout the rest of the 1700’s and about half of the1800’s the church was very active. Rev Hugh Fraser had donated the property the church is currently located on in 1835. The reverend enjoyed and often preached reverberant sermons from the pulpit inside.
In 1846, Joseph Hunter took the pulpit as a Unitarian Theology preacher (preaching about one deity versus a trinity). He frequently included and used antiquarian analogies to his preaching (historical and ancient teachings). His sermons gained so much popularity, almost doubling the congregation in size, that by the mid 1800’s it became apparent they were going to need a larger and bigger chapel in the church.
1859 was a crucial year for Prince Frederick’s Chapel and for Rev. Hunter, as it was the year the Gunn brothers were hired as architects and contractors to expand the size of this beloved chapel. Their plans included a gothic structure of enormity. However, less than a year after construction began one of the Gunn brothers slipped off the steep roof and fell to his death (in 1860). As a result, the construction of the new gothic renovations to the parish completely halted.
The Civil War, which began in 1861 and ended in 1865, all but destroyed the unfinished church. The building remained abandoned until after the war, but in 1876, someone donated a handsome amount to finish the construction of the establishment and bring about its once lustrous glory. However, the congregation never was the same and the parishioner's eventually just faded away.
In the 1950’s, the church, now called and known as, Old Gunn Church, officially closed off the property. It has since been fenced in preventing visitors from touring the grounds and church graveyard. The church (officials) were afraid the structure would collapse and someone would be injured so they dismantled the building leaving only the bell tower from which Mr. Gunn had fallen to his death. The remains still linger filled with folk lore and legend.
I had the pleasure of walking through the graveyard about fifteen years ago. I noticed many of the grave markers to be well over 150-200 years old. I also noted the Flagg family, a once very prominent family in Georgetown, also has gravestones in the cemetery. As I strolled about, I felt a very distinct presence and had the feeling of being watched, possibly followed. I definitely had a sense of curiosity overwhelm me from an unseen presence.
Now, no one can access the bell tower that remains erect, minus the bell it used to house. However, that doesn’t stop many Georgetown residence of seeing lights illuminate the tower anyway. Some say you can still hear Mr. Gunn screaming as he falls to his death all over again. The most chilling story I’ve heard is that if you’re at Old Gunn Church between the twilight hours of sundown and dusk, you can still hear the boisterous singing of a phantom choir resounding from inside the chapel that no longer stands.
Copyright September 2016 ©