Exhibit celebrates heyday of Palmetto Park

Back in the depths of the Jim Crow South, there was a place in North Augusta where whites and blacks came together through a mutual love of swing and big band music.

 

It was known as Palmetto Park, a swimming pond and dance hall for blacks off Carolina Springs Road.

Throughout the 1930s and into the early '40s, the park played host to some legendary performers.

Earl "Fatha" Hines performed there in 1941, a banner year for the park. Ella Fitzgerald also graced the stage that year, as did Cab Calloway and his Cotton Club Orchestra; "Queen of Swing" Edith Curry and her orchestra; Maxine Sullivan; Erskine Hawkins and his orchestra; Lil Green with the Tiny Bradshaw Orchestra; and legendary trumpet player and bandleader Louis Armstrong, with guest vocalist Ann Baker.

They drew crowds to the two-story dance hall that held 1,000. Buses at the corner of what is now James Brown and Laney-Walker boulevards offered free rides to patrons on the Georgia side of the Savannah River. Advertisements in The Augusta Chronicl e for those special appearances often noted that seating would be reserved for white spectators, too.

In the late 1920s, the park was used for gatherings of black churches. In 1932, a black social club called The Dragons began booking swing bands there.

That led barbecue restaurant owner Duke Lamback, a member of North Augusta's Old Storm Branch Baptist Church, and youthful local black show promoter Joe Minnick to bring in the truly big names.

Other Palmetto Park performers included Graham Jackson and his Seminole Syncopators in 1932. Jackson was an accordionist best known from a Life magazine photo of him playing Going Home with tears streaming down his face as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's body was being carried from Warm Springs, Ga.

World War II led to the park's demise as young black men joined the service and left the area. By the 1950s, it was a community of mobile homes.

Palmetto Park's heritage is celebrated in an exhibit on display through April 17 in the North Augusta Arts & Heritage Center, 100 Georgia Ave.

The exhibit features biographies of many of the park's best known entertainers, photos of how it looked in its heyday, Chronicle ads and articles about performers, original interpretive paintings and photos by North Augusta artist Margaret Estep.

Chronicle music columnist Don Rhodes serves on the board of directors of the North Augusta Arts & Heritage Center.

If you go

WHAT: Palmetto Park exhibit

WHERE: North Augusta Arts & Heritage Center, 100 Georgia Ave., first floor of the Municipal Building

WHEN: Through April 17

COST: $3 adults, $1 per student, free to age 5 and younger and center members

CALL: (803) 441-4381