2017-09-28 / Opinions

ACROSS THE SAVANNAH

A Sunday drive into the past
By TOM POLAND
a southern writer

Used to be customary for folks to take Sunday drives. I don’t think people today tend to do that as much as the older folks did but they should. It’s enjoyable and revealing. Of course we still use “Sunday driver” to describe a driver who dawdles, and dawdling is in order when the drive itself is the destination.

Sunday, September 17 my sister, Deb and family friend Teresa took me to an old cemetery I’d never seen. Across the Savannah we went over the new bridge into McCormick County toward Willington. We dawdled, making us true Sunday drivers but we had good reason to take our time. We were looking for opportunities to photograph interesting sights along the back roads and pathways of the Sumter National Forest. We were not disappointed.

We considered visiting Badwell Cemetery and its springhouse but time ran out. Finding the old cemetery Deb and Teresa had seen before took some time. We took several roads and had to do some research to find our way but after a lot of twists and turns we ended up on the longest dirt road I’ve seen in many a year. That road resurrected memories of dirt roads I’d heard about as a boy ... narrow lanes deep in forests where the “white thing” used to send horses into a panic. The white thing would step out onto the road beneath a full moon and off raced many a carriage. The white thing was probably an albino eastern panther. We didn’t see any white things but we did see some black things. We drove up on a tremendous wake of buzzards. At first we suspected they were dining on a dead deer but that was not the case. They were just resting in several trees to the left of the road we were traveling. I got out to photograph them and they took off, their wings sounding a bit like plastic container lids slapping together. That’s the best description I can muster for it did not sound like feathers beating the air at all.

Onward we drove and finally we began to ascend a rutted hill where the going was rough. We were traveling a ridge and the land to the right fell off steeply, so steeply that we could have taken a photograph of it and fooled you into thinking we were in the North Georgia mountains. We kept driving and finally up ahead we saw a good sized brick wall, a private cemetery, and not just any cemetery. It was a family plot overlooking what was once the Savannah River before man dammed it. It was the Noble Cemetery and in it sleeps a South Carolina governor.

Now this cemetery gives the term perpetual care true meaning. No one mows it. No one sees that flowers adorn graves. Someone has applied cement and supports here and there to keep the wall standing. But nature takes care of this beautiful old burial ground, and apparently it always will. High grass obscured all graves and markers. And, yes, the obligatory fire ant mound was present. And grasshoppers. Something about old graveyards attracts grasshoppers or hopper grasses as an old story-telling gentleman used to call them when my mom was a girl. No historical marker stood at the cemetery. We found it four miles away in Willington. As you see, we found, too, in Willington a beautiful old home built in part before the Civil War.

I’ve noticed in many an old cemetery that the flat covers of graves are hard to read. Apparently water sits on them and weathering takes place. (Some of you are thinking acid rain.) Vertical stones, however, are much easier to read. I suppose they shed rain more easily and it can’t sit in the engraving and dissolve it. Making the flat markers (sepulchers?) even harder to read were the early leaves of autumn that had tumbled onto them. Nonetheless, a close inspection determined the grave that was the governor’s. That would be Patrick Noble who was born in 1787 near Willington. More precisely, Patrick Calhoun Noble was born in 1787 at Oak Hill Plantation in Abbeville County near Willington, the son of Alexander Noble and Catherine (Calhoun) Noble.

Governor Noble was an educated man. He got his education at Moses Waddell School at Willington and at the College of New Jersey (Princeton). He was a lawyer and a major in the South Carolina Militia.

It turns out that the South Carolina General Assembly elected Noble governor by secret ballot. Well, that’s politics as they say. Noble died in office April 7, 1840, and was buried at the family cemetery in Oak Hill Plantation. We saw no signs of a plantation or old home place. Nature has a way of erasing man’s attempts to change things doesn’t it?

I find it remarkable that a governor no less lies in a remote, hard to find cemetery but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We found it peaceful on the hill where that walled cemetery sat. Few signs of visitors were visible.

On we went on our Sunday drive into Willington and it was here that we came across the historical marker for the Noble Cemetery. We came across, too, a beautiful old home. Its owners told us it was built before the Civil War as a one-story dwelling. In the early 1900s the grandfather of the fellow we talked to added a second story, having to extend the chimneys. A windstorm ripped off the second story porch leaving evidence of the porch just below the roofline. We were invited to go inside and see it but time was short. We’ll come back another day.

I intend to make more Sunday drives into the backcountry. It’s peaceful, beautiful, and educational. I encourage you to do the same. Take a camera along. Photograph the old homes, bridges, and cemeteries you stumble across. When you get home research where you’ve been. And do one more thing. Add the word “blue collar historian” to your name. Folks will thank you for making a record of things. If we don’t do it who will?

(Visit Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net or email him about most anything at tompol@earthlink.net.)

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