Most of South Carolina’s 47 counties support some sort of museum. Some more generously than others. I’ve visited several, most recently Barnwell County’s.
But only a few towns or cities sponsor their own museums. Cayce, South Carolina is one of those exceptions. With good reason, as I learned during a visit last Friday. They have an important story to tell.
Next chance you get, drive from Columbia across the Congaree River via the Blossom Street Bridge onto Knox Abbott Drive. Turn left onto 12th Street at the Krispy Kreme intersection. You’ll find the Cayce municipal office complex and Museum about a half-mile down on the right. It’s a short drive, in other words. AND, you have a good excuse to stop at Krispy Kreme on the way back for a donut or three.
I’ve been through this intersection dozens – hundreds! – of times since arriving in Columbia in 1986. It’s the shortest route to the Columbia Airport from the University, for one thing. And, of course, there’s the Krispy Kreme factor…. But I’ve never bothered to visit the Museum. Heard about it, but didn’t make the turn onto 12th Street. What a mistake!
A mistake I decided to rectify last Friday while searching for a more respectable way to procrastinate from drafting the third chapter of this second Ray Raether and Samantha RV travel mystery. Truth be told, my expectations were limited.
Well! What a surprise. Walking up the neat brick-lined path from behind the building you see at the top of the page I found this DAR monument.
Click on the image above to read the inscription. In case you have difficulty, here’s the text:
“In 1775 the building upon the ground adjacent hereto was used as a store. Upon the fall of Charles Town in 1780 the British seized the store, fortified it, and established here “The Post at the Congarees.” Attacked Feb. 19, 1781 by Gen. Sumter, who on the 21st destroyed the magazine and supplies in sight of Rawdon’s Army across the river, he having come from Camden to relieve the Post. Captured by Lee, May 15, 1781. Reoccupied by Rawdon, July 1, 1781, Reoccupied by Greene, July 4, 1781.”
Now, that’s a lot of fighting! A lot of military effort. “Fort Granby, or “The Post at the Congarees,” must have been important to both the Patriots and to the Royalists. I learned last Friday that it most certainly was.
Granby, according to the Museum’s “History of Cayce” webpage, was laid out in 1735. It soon “… became the most important inland commercial town east of the Mississippi River.” That’s quite a claim. But by the end of my visit I was convinced.
The trading post at Granby built in 1765 is what you will see when you visit the Museum. Well, an accurate replication, anyway. Local builder, John Ellisor created a detailed model of the original, which survived for over 200 years, and constructed the present building himself from measurements taken from that model.
This means we can be quite sure the 1765 structure that became the Royalists’ “Post at the Congarees,” and then the Patriots’ “Fort Granby,” looked much like this building. I forgot to ask the square footage, but even today this is an impressive structure. It would have been far more impressive in the mid-eighteenth century.
Inside, the Museum’s displays are arranged in four rooms: two downstairs and two upstairs. After contributing a modest admission fee, you might want to head straight upstairs to the American Indian collection. To begin at the beginning. Or, what we know of the beginning, anyway.
This display, covering the walls and two rows of glass cases in the center of the room, has to be one of the finest and most comprehensive in the country.
I’m especially interested in early American Indian history in the Southeast [Click here to see 17 posts from a tour I made of three American Indian mound complexes in the Southeast in 2010] Well, I should have visited this Museum before making that tour. Thousands of artifacts, skillfully displayed and explained.
After ten minutes or so I realized I must come back and spend a few days in this room alone. With camera and notepad. It really is remarkable.
Now, take a look at this. The Granby Toy Store! The Town of Granby must have been a going concern if it was able to support a store devoted exclusively to children’s toys in the mid-18th century.
One might expect a store or two that sold foodstuffs. Probably a blacksmith shop. A clothing or general store. Maybe a saloon or two. Or three. But a store specializing in toys for children! That suggests a level of mid-eighteenth century prosperity I, at least, didn’t expect here in the Midlands of South Carolina. Granby had to be an important town.
Also, look carefully at the items displayed here. What did children play with in this era? Mostly, items that to them represented the adult world in which they lived. This exhibit too will require much more time to absorb its lessons.
Each of the displays at this Museum is accompanied by an explanatory note. It would be possible to go through the whole collection on one’s own, without a guide.
But if he is available, I urge you to meet Museum Director, Leo Redmond. Mr. Redmond knows every piece on display and can describe its significance. Talking with Mr. Redmond about the Cayce area is like taking a boat ride on Chesapeake Bay with James Michener. He’s interested in and knowledgeable about it all. From the earliest American Indians to present.
In a weak moment during our conversation last Friday Mr. Redmond agreed to do an audio interview for CarolinaConsidered, once I can learn enough about this important area of our State to ask useful questions. So stay tuned. This will be a treat.
So, now I have an excellent reason to procrastinate from the second novel project. The Cayce Historical Museum has much more to offer than I was able to absorb during a single visit. Fortunately, it’s usually open. Closed Mondays, but open 9 to 4, Tuesdays through Fridays, and even on the weekends, 2 to 5. That’s unusual too.
See the photo above? With the red arrow pointing to a table. Next time I’ll tell you where that table came from. Bet you’ll be surprised.