Brickhouse a testament to beauty of classic architecture

riser brick house

Located seven miles from the nearest town, the structure known as the Brickhouse is almost as isolated today as it was when it was built in rural Upstate South Carolina 185 years ago. Yet in its prime, it was a central locale that served not only as a large plantation and stagecoach stop, but was said to be a place Confederate President Jefferson Davis rested as he fled south from Richmond in the waning days of the War Between the States.

Today, the all-brick two-and-a-half-story structure shows the ravages of time, with the occasional missing window and cracked mortar evident, yet still retains much of its elegance. While it sits near the corner of a country intersection, trees and vegetation have grown up over the years and it’s easy to miss despite its proximity to the road.

The Brickhouse is described as possessing a simple facade containing evenly spaced nine-over-nine, double-hung sash windows with gauged arches, stone sills and a central-entry door, crowned with a fanlight and decorative arch.

Located approximately seven miles west of the small town of Whitmire and seven miles east of the even smaller community of Joanna, on the Newberry-Laurens county line, the structure possesses a rich history.

Classified as a double-pile I-house, with dual chimneys at both ends, it was built of bricks made nearby, quite possibly by slaves.

The property was originally owned by Dr. Francis Fielding Calmes (1794-1865) and served as a stagecoach stop on the Whitmire-Joanna Road, which today is known as South Carolina Highway 66.

Calmes sold the property, which included several thousand acres, to Major Samuel Young, who transformed it into a major operation, with approximately 100 slaves by the time the Civil War began.

By the final weeks of the war, as the Confederacy crumbled, Jefferson Davis and his cabinet escaped south from Richmond, through Virginia and North Carolina, and into South Carolina.

Brickhouse Laurens 001 cropped

It’s said that Davis and his entourage stopped at the Brickhouse sometime in April 1865 to water their horses and rest briefly before moving west. The Confederate government would hold its final cabinet meeting on May 2 in Abbeville, SC, and Davis and what was left of his government were captured on May 10 near Irwinville, Ga.

Less than four months after the purported visit by Davis and what remained of the Confederate government, Samuel Young died and the property passed to his son, Rev. William Young, a local Baptist minister, who lived at the site until 1878.

In 1903 the home was purchased by the Riser family. Their descendants still retain ownership of the grand structure.

The Brickhouse is uninhabited today, but the family appears to live in a house just a few hundred feet away, allowing them to keep watch over this majestic edifice.

(Top: The Brickhouse, built in 1830 and located along the Newberry-Laurens county line in Upstate South Carolina.)


Mysterious stone carving shows up at British yard sale


A British archaeologist and television producer, perusing a yard sale in Leicester, England, came across an item being sold as garden ornament that was unlike other objects being proffered.

Instead of a garden-variety garden ornament, the stone carving had a complex pattern that “may be some form of writing,” according to James Balme, who purchased the article.

Weighing approximately 60 pounds, the stone is about 18 inches long and 5-1/2 inches wide at its base.

The stone appears to have been used as “a keystone from an archway or indeed a vaulted ceiling,” according to Balme.

While its exact date is uncertain, Balme believes it’s from the Anglo-Saxon period, which began when the Romans abandoned Britain around 410 AD and ended with William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066, according to the online publication RedOrbit.

The sandstone carving has been used as a garden ornament for several years, Balme told the Danish publication Jyllands-Posten.

In an effort to identify the use and exact date of the stone carving, Balme is turning to social media such as Twitter to try to learn more about the stone.

(Top: Stone found by James Balme on sale as a garden ornament in Leicester, England.)

Some lessons aren’t worth the experience they impart


Given that the following involves death and serious injury, I’ll suspend comment other than to say that in addition to it being a tragedy I simply can’t fathom how things like this even happen.

Last Saturday two teenage sisters, aged 16 and 18, were riding together on a Yamaha four-wheeler in rural Sumter County, SC, when they crashed into another ATV, driven by a 15-year old, that had slowed in front of them. Both siblings were taken to a hospital in Columbia, SC.

The younger sister, Samantha Turner, who was 34 weeks pregnant, survived but is in critical condition. Her baby was delivered through an emergency c-section.

The older sister, Ashlyn Turner, who was 22 weeks pregnant, did not survive, nor did her unborn child.

The girls’ father Sam Turner told a Columbia television station that he taught his girls how to ride their ATVs safety.

“He also says he tried to encourage them not to ride since they were pregnant,” according to WIS-TV.


An unintended consequence of minimum-wage laws

Borderlands Exterior

Borderlands Books is a privately owned San Francisco bookstore that has been in operation for nearly 20 years.

Concentrating on science fiction, fantasy, mystery and horror works, Borderlands has overcome a number of challenges since opening in 1997: a 100 percent bump in rent in 2000; the trend toward online sales; the increasing popularity of ebooks; and the impact of the Great Recession.

Still, according to store officials, Borderlands managed to overcome each of the trials. In fact, last year was the best the store had enjoyed.

“At the beginning of 2014, the future of the business looked, if not rosy, at least stable and very positive,” Borderlands officials wrote on the store’s website. “We were not in debt, sales were meeting expenses and even allowing a small profit, and, perhaps most importantly, the staff and procedures at both the bookstore and the cafe were well established and working smoothly.”

Despite that, Borderlands recently announced it would be closing, by March 31 at the latest.

The reason? Last November San Francisco voters, out of touch with the realities of running a business, overwhelmingly passed a measure that will increase the minimum wage within the city to $15 an hour by 2018.

Borderlands Books as it exists cannot remain financially viable in light of increased minimum wages, according to the store website.

Unlike some businesses, bookstores are hindered in their ability to adjust for rising costs.

There’s a limit to how much a bookstore can increase book prices because publishers set prices. In addition, companies such as have siphoned off consumers from brick-and-mortar bookstores and made it more difficult to get them to pay retail.

In other words, adjusting prices upward to cover increased wage costs isn’t an option for Borderlands.

The change in the minimum wage will see Borderlands’ payroll jump nearly 40 percent. That will result in total operating expenses being bumped up by 18 percent. For Borderlands to offset that expense, it would need to increase sales by a minimum of 20 percent, which it doesn’t see as realistic.

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Navy ace who tallied six victims in eight minutes dies at 96

lt alexander vraciu

US Navy pilot Alexander Vraciu, who once shot down six enemy aircraft in just eight minutes, died last week at age 96.

Vraciu, nominated for the Medal of Honor for his actions during First Battle of the Philippine Sea, also known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot,” would go on to shoot down 19 Japanese aircraft, and destroy 21 more on the ground during World War II.

In December 1944 he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire during a December mission over the Philippines. Vraciu was rescued by Filipino resistance fighters and spent six weeks with guerrillas before making his way back to US forces.

Vraciu, who ended World War II as the fourth-highest ranking Navy ace, spent 24 years in all in the Navy. A graduate of DePauw University, he would go on to raise five children with his wife Kathryn.

Vraciu, commissioned a Naval Reserve ensign in the summer of 1942, joined Fighting Squadron Six under Lieutenant Commander Edward “Butch” O’Hare, the navy’s first ace of World War II. The move proved propitious as O’Hare made Vraciu his wingman and gave him invaluable advice regarding air combat.

The squadron entered combat in October 1943, flying from USS Independence.

Vraciu registered his first victory during a strike against Wake Island on Oct. 10, 1943. He followed a Japanese Zero to Wake Island, where it landed. Vraciu strafed the fighter plane on the ground, then spotted a G4M Betty bomber and shot it down.

When the squadron moved to USS Intrepid, Vraciu saw his totals began to grow: he shot down three Betties on Jan. 29, 1944, and four fighters over Truk Atoll on Feb. 17.

Vraciu’s most successful day as an aviator occurred on June 19, 1944, during the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. He intercepted a formation of Japanese dive bombers, destroying half a dozen in just eight minutes.

After Vraciu landed, ordnancemen discovered that he had used only 360 bullets. That meant that, on average, each of the six kills had followed a burst less than five seconds long.

The next day, escorting bombers in an attack on the Japanese Mobile Fleet, Vraciu downed his 19th and final enemy plane.

For his actions at the First Battle of the Philippine Sea, Vraciu was nominated for the Medal of Honor. He would instead receive the Navy Cross.

Vraciu, a native of Chicago, retired from the Navy in 1964 and entered the banking profession. He spent his last 50-plus years in California.

(Top: Photo of US Navy ace Alexander Vraciu following his 19th and final air victory, in the late stages of World War II.)