Originally created 07/13/97

Beech Island offers rich, storied past



BEECH ISLAND - Until the arrival of a large paper mill and plastics plant, this community that borders the Savannah River was primarily agricultural.

To an outsider, the area appears little different from the hundreds of other rural communities one passes throughout the Southeast, but a Sunday excursion down some of the area's forgotten roads chronicles a rich and storied past.

In an attempt to secure this community's antiquity, a group of "ordinary" citizens have joined forces to incorporate their community.

A public meeting on the issue will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Beech Island Fire Department on Sandbar Ferry Road. The question of whether to incorporate will be answered, ultimately, by the community.

The historical significance of Beech Island, which rests in the southwestern portion of Aiken County, can be traced to the late 1860s. The late Harold S. Maness, whose book, Forgotten Outpost: Fort Moore and Savannah Town, found that a walk through a freshly plowed field near the Savannah River may yield artifacts of Indian cultures from pre-history to the coming of man. That same soil has uncovered artifacts associated with the early Spanish exploration of the Southeast.

"Our main goal is to preserve our territory," said committee chairman Dan Johnson. "As time goes on and expansion progresses, Beech Island as we know it could simply disappear."

The U.S. Postal Service has already threatened to close the community's only post office, and it no longer has a doctor or pharmacy.

"We are continuing to lose out on everything that we once had," Mr. Johnson said.

In addition, Beech Island - the state's second oldest community next to Charleston - has been passed over for community grant money time and again because it was not incorporated.

"Not too long ago, Kimberly-Clark would have given us a $25,000 grant, but it was eventually given to Burnettown," said committee member Harry Emmette.

Another area of concern is police protection. The Aiken County Sheriff's Office patrols the community, but not often enough, Mr. Johnson said. "We need more law enforcement," he said. "We appreciate what the sheriff has done, we just need a lot more."

Burglaries and car thefts are two things the community contends with weekly.

"One night we were at a deacon's meeting at Heights Baptist Church and someone was in the process of stealing and breaking into cars in the parking lot, 25 feet away from us," Mr. Emmette said.

Incorporation, say committee members, would allow the community to charter its future - decide its own tax base, establish the town limits and elect a governing body.

"We realize that we're going to have to pay for some of these services in the form of additional taxes, but we feel the advantages of incorporation far outweigh the disadvantages," Mr. Johnson said.

For two months, committee members have talked with officials from the S.C. Municipal Association and the Secretary of State and "we are confident that we can achieve this goal, if we can get the rest of the community behind us," Mr. Johnson said.

"For some of us, Beech Island is our entire life, and we just want to make it better," he said.