Originally created 04/29/01

Crafting history



BEECH ISLAND - Wearing a watch didn't matter much to the small army of sightseers meandering the manicured grounds of Granville Plantation, a stunning cornerstone of Beech Island.

For four years now, James Goodman's 160-year-old home, hidden beneath an umbrella of Darlington live oaks spun in Spanish moss, has been the place to celebrate the settlement of what is now known as Beech Island.

Since 1987, thousands have flocked to Heritage Day to relive the long history of the town.

This year's event caught the attention of about 2,000 people, who saw a living snapshot of life in previous centuries.

Beech Island was established in 1685, making it one of the oldest settlements in South Carolina and the oldest in Aiken County. The British, eager to advance their hold in the New World, promised land to Protestants who would help settle the frontier.

Later, in 1734, a colony of Swiss came to the area to escape religious persecution.

Bucking tradition this year, organizers decided against a choreographed Civil War re-enactment and for the first time invited The Men of the Menendez from St. Augustine, Fla., who live as Spanish soldiers - similar to the ones who once scoured the area for gold.

It also was Robert Hill's first tripto the event. A gunsmith from Georgetown, he kept himself busy engraving guns, silver and other pieces from the Revolutionary War period.

He is a self-taught weapons maker, who began working on his skill in the 1980s because the kind of gun he wanted would have cost a small fortune that neither his wallet nor wife would stand for, he said.

After several years, he finished his first brass-mounted, American-long rifle. Most of the guns he makes - only about three or four a year - mimic the kinds made in the Carolinas during Colonial times.

One of his customers is Lynn Thompson, who asked Mr. Hill to engrave an 18th century silver fork she had found at the event. She looked the part of a Revolutionary War soldier's wife, with her long blond hair pulled away from her face, and her figure hidden inside a linen dress embroidered in crewel - wool thread.

"I'm comfortable in these clothes," Mrs. Thompson said. "I believe I once lived during this time (between 1740 and 1840)."

She gets so comfortable in fact that she sometimes forgets to take them off after she leaves a living history show. She has been known to walk her dog or do yard work in them.

Mrs. Thompson can't quite put into words how she feels when she steps into her colonial costume and attaches the accessories, which always includes a shatelaine - a giant key ring of sorts that holds her sewing utensils. When she triesto explain her feelings, she has to stop in mid-sentence to clear the lump in her throat.

Her home in North Augusta is on the National Historic Register and inside is a sprawling collection of Colonial period pieces. The bed she sleeps on is 231 years old.

"I'm just fascinated by it all," said Mrs. Thompson, who was there to remind people that there was another war besides the Civil War. "I should have been born in an earlier lifetime."

Even so, the other war was not forgotten Saturday. Faux Confederate soldiers were at the event to give history lessons. Southern belles weren't far behind. Young people proudly wore painted rebel flags on their right cheeks. And bumper stickers plastered on cars said "Keep it flying."

Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.