Hard times hit South Carolina long before the Great Depression

black sharecroppers sc

The Great Depression is rightly regarded as the most tumultuous time, economically speaking, in US history.

But for South Carolinians, the downturn brought on by the 1929 stock market crash was simply a continuation of hard times that began shortly after the end of World War I nearly a decade earlier.

The state, hardly more economically diversified in 1920 than it had been in 1860, was still largely dependent on agriculture, and cotton was still the predominant crop.

Beginning in 1920, the state’s cotton industry was hit first by the loss of overseas markets and overproduction, then by the boll weevil and drought. Between 1920 and 1922, cotton production in the state dropped by more than two-thirds, according to Walter Edgar in South Carolina: A History.

Cotton prices plummeted from 38 cents a pound in 1919 to 17 cents a pound a year later and to less than 5 cents a pound by 1932, and by the early 1930s many South Carolinians found themselves destitute, both hungry and out of work.

No one was worse off during this period then the rural poor. Sharecroppers, forced to focus on the crop in the field, which held their only hope for any return on investment, had little time or money to raise food for themselves such as vegetables, cows, hogs or chickens.

“With such a meager diet, poor in nutrients and vitamins, malnutrition and disease ran rampant among the rural poor,” according to the book South Carolina and the New Deal.

“’New’ clothes were most often fashioned out of old clothes or flour or feed sacks,” wrote author Jack Irby Hayes Jr. “Children dropped out of school to look for work, because they did not have clothes to wear or were so malnourished or sick they were unable to attend.

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Sacramento railyard reveals past industrial prowess, bygone era

sacramento railroad shop

Sacramento, like many state capitals, is known today for being a government town, but it wasn’t always that way.

As the terminus of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad, Sacramento quickly saw its population swell in the second half of the 19th century as blue-collar laborers poured into the city in droves to secure work as machinists, painters, carpenters and boilermakers for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

By 1900 as much as one-third of all workers in Sacramento were employed by Southern Pacific at the corporation’s massive Sacramento industrial complex, the largest industrial site west of the Mississippi River.

Among them was my great-grandfather’s brother, who worked as blacksmith for Southern Pacific in the 1890s.

Today, the complex, shuttered in 1999, is a shell of its former self, with just eight of 50 structures remaining. The survivors, many of which are still-impressive brick buildings that show the ravages of time, weather and use, appear to be biding their time until a colossal housing development is built on the location.

Like much of California, Sacramento’s railroad shops grew quickly.

Just 14 years after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 and only a dozen years after the state was admitted to the Union, four Sacramento merchants – Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker – joined with Theodore Judah, who had surveyed and engineered the Sacramento Valley Railroad, to incorporate the Central Pacific Railroad.

Their plan was as straightforward as it was audacious: Build a rail line over the Sierra Mountains and on further east, where it would become part of the first transcontinental railroad.

“The groundbreaking ceremony took place on Jan. 3, 1863, at the foot of K Street in what is now Old Sacramento,” according to Kevin W. Hecteman in his work Sacramento’s Southern Pacific Shops. “Stanford, who at the time was the president of the Central Pacific and the governor of California, deposited the first shovelful of dirt for the railroad’s embankment …”

Designs were in place for the Sacramento shops by 1867 and two years later, by the time the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad had joined together at Promontory Summit in Utah, connecting the nation by rail, a machine shop, blacksmith shop and car shop had already been constructed in California’s capital.

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Doctor’s role in reviving SC rice industry highlighted

carolina gold rice

Dr. Richard Schulze Sr. had predatory rather than culinary goals in mind when he planted Carolina Gold rice in the mid-1980s.

The Savannah eye surgeon was looking to attract ducks to his Turnbridge Plantation in Hardeeville, SC, about 30 miles northeast of Hilton Head, for hunting, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The birds didn’t much cotton to the long-grain rice, but chefs and rice connoisseurs shortly began to take notice.

Today, Carolina Gold rice is essentially the basis for the U.S. rice industry, no mean feat considering that virtually no one had grown rice in the South Carolina Lowcountry in the previous 60 years before Schulze’s efforts.

Initially, Schulze started by planting regular rice on his plantation. He then decided to switch to Carolina Gold, known as the Cadillac of rice for its taste and quality. The lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia was known for its high-quality Carolina Gold rice prior to 1900, particularly before the War Between the States.

“Well, I figured if we’re going to do rice, why not get the original stuff,” he told the Morning News.

Schulze requested Carolina Gold from the USA Rice Council, and was redirected to a rice research scientist with the US Department of Agriculture in Texas.

He was able to secure 14 pounds of Carolina Gold seed, which he planted in 1986.

Schulze faced the additional obstacle of hulling the seed. Sending rice out of state for milling and then having it sent back was impractical.

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100-carat white diamond brings $22.1 million at auction

100 carat diamond

Someone – perhaps interested in making a very good impression on their significant other – snapped up a flawless 100.2-carat diamond Tuesday for $22.1 million.

The gem, mined by De Beers in South Africa, sold in just three minutes of bidding at Sotheby’s auction house in New York.

The perfect classic emerald-cut D color diamond, about the size of a walnut, was mined by De Beers in southern Africa within the past 10 years. It weighed more than 200 carats before it was cut and polished, a process that took more than a year.

Both the seller and buyer wished to remain anonymous, with the winning bid coming in by phone.

Just six perfect diamonds weighing more than 100 carats have been auctioned in the past 25 years, according to Sotheby’s.

The diamond was described as “the definition of perfection” by the head of Sotheby’s jewelery department in New York.

“The color is whiter than white, it is free of any internal imperfections and so transparent that I can only compare it to a pool of icy water,” Gary Schuler said before the sale.

Two years ago, a flawless pink diamond known as the Pink Star set a world record price for a gemstone at auction when it sold for $83 million in Geneva, according to the BBC.

(Top: Photo of 100.2-carat diamond auctioned by Sotheby’s Tuesday for $22.1 million.)

When fates and florists conspire to skewer good intentions

wilted_red_roses

What follows are a few of the impractical skills that I’ve honed over the years: making my children laugh during church services; catching snakes, turtles and a variety of other very bitey wildlife; and, to a lesser degree, committing myriad marital gaffes.

In the latter case, I’m fortunate to have a wife who is not only loving but also very forgiving.

Like a benevolent pontiff lovingly passing out absolution to the masses in St. Peter’s Square, she has forgiven me many transgressions over the past few years, including:

  • Bringing a large rat snake into the house while she was away working one weekend afternoon;
  • Letting a box turtle roam free in the house for several hours while she was working on another weekend afternoon. (She has a fear not only of snakes but of all reptiles);
  • Getting my car stuck in a giant mud hole – twice – while out in the country and requiring it to be pulled out by a wrecker at no small charge;
  • Losing my driver’s license in New England while we were on a recent vacation up north, forcing her to not only handle much of the driving from that point forward but also having to deal with a unionized Department of Motor Vehicles employee in Rhode Island who proceeded to display every stereotype connected with the rude, disinterested veteran DMV employee; and
  • Committing countless foolish acts too inane or embarrassing to specify through being forgetful, oblivious and/or an all-around general oaf.

Suffice it to say, Mrs. Cotton Boll has received many a flower bouquet over the years from yours truly.

Last week arose yet again another of those instances when it came time for me to try to make amends. But, given the gravity of my latest faux pas, I thought my actions warranted a delivery from florist instead of store-bought flowers. And because we live in the so-called information age I turned to the Internet.

While there’s no question the Internet can do some wonderful things, such as putting an amazing amount of knowledge at our fingertips, I’ve found that it’s been staggeringly proficient at creating chaos, as well.

Let’s just say that my attempt to smooth things over with the Missus by relying on technology has ended up causing an inordinate amount of grief, nearly all of it mine, which is now stretching into its fifth day.

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South Carolina conserves oldest state document, dating to 1671

1671 charleston deed

After several months work and an expenditure of $15,000, South Carolina’s oldest state document – dating back nearly 350 years – is back in the state archives.

A deed for a lot of land at Charleston’s original location at Albemarle Point dates to May 28, 1671, the year after English settlers landed at what is now the Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site, and is included in Records of the Secretary of the Province 1671-1673.

Those records and a companion volume, Records of the Registrar of the Province 1673-1675, feature 26 handwritten sheets recently conserved at the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Mass.

Among the documents is an accounting of property owned by two men from Barbados forming a partnership to create a plantation, according to the Associated Press. It lists items ranging from the value of their tools to the names of indentured servants.

Charleston was established in 1670 by English colonists from Bermuda, under the first governor of South Carolina, William Sayle, on the west bank of the Ashley River a few miles northwest of the present city. It was moved to its current location on the Charleston peninsula a decade later.

“I think it’s a tribute to all those people who came before who recognized the significance of all these public records and recognized the need to take care of them,” SC Department of Archives and History Director Eric Emerson said. “This is the first record. It’s really kind of the genesis of record-keeping in South Carolina and the genesis of the archives.”

Decades ago, the 1671 deed didn’t appear destined to be around much longer.

It was described in 1944 as “a battered document having fallen victim to ‘storms, earthquakes and wars,’ making it a difficult document to read or preserve,” according to Archives and History spokesman Geoffrey Hardee.

Seventy years ago it and its companion documents, which for many years had been kept in the heat and humidity of the Statehouse basement, were sent to Virginia to be preserved using what was then cutting edge technology – lamination with a sheet of acetate.

Since then, conservators have determined such treatment did more harm than good as the acetate deteriorated over time.

In Massachusetts, the laminate was removed with acetone, ethanol and water, the acid was removed from the paper and then the paper was lined on both sides with a special transparent tissue paper.

“A staff member accompanied it up there and a staff member brought it back,” said Charles Lesser, a retired department archivist and an expert on early colonial documents, who noted that the state wasn’t taking any chances with its records.

“This is the oldest government record that has survived here,” he said. “This has been in state custody from 1671 until the present.”

The department keeps state government records in temperature- and humidity-controlled vaults at its headquarters just outside Columbia.

It has an estimated 80 million documents, including such items as the state’s copy of the Bill of Rights ratified by state lawmakers in 1790 and the Ordinance of Secession passed when South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1860.

The Records of the Secretary are the first documents of what would later become the South Carolina state government, according to the Associated Press.

In those days, such things as recording deeds and wills were the responsibility of the state, Lesser said. Later those functions passed to South Carolina’s counties, according to the wire service.

(Top: South Carolina’s earliest state government document, a 1671 deed for a lot at Charles Towne Landing, is seen at the SC Department of Archives and History in Columbia, on March 27, 2015. Photo credit: The Associated Press.)

Center for Pecan Innovation sees “tremendous opportunities”

pecans-ground

While I’m of the opinion that the highest and most noble use of the pecan involves their placement in a pie, the folks at the Georgia Pecan Commission have higher aspirations. They recently established the Center for Pecan Innovation, with the goal of finding new uses for Carya illinoinensis.

The initial focus of the Atlanta-based center will be new food products made from pecans, according to John Robison, the commission’s chairman.

“The recent 30-year study from Harvard University showing that regular nut eaters were less likely to die of cancer or heart disease is just one more supporting voice to the center, which was established to encourage more companies to find ways to use pecans in their products,” he said.

Beyond that, the commission sees opportunities for biodegradable pecan shells, from roadbeds and packing material to bath products. Cosmetic companies are looking for natural products to replace plastic micro-beads in facial cleansers, and the Journal of Food Science reports that a new study shows that extract from pecan shells may be effective at protecting meats such as chicken from listeria growth.

The US produces the vast majority of the pecans harvested annually – as much as 95 percent, or 300 million to 400 million pounds.

Georgia leads the nation in pecan production, growing 40 percent of the US total, more than the next two states – New Mexico and Texas – combined, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Map showing, in blue, US states where pecans are grown.

Map showing, in blue, US states where pecans are grown.

“In 2012 Georgia led the nation in pecan production, harvesting 100 million pounds for the domestic and global markets,” Robison said. “China is one of the biggest markets for our in-shell pecans, but there still is tremendous opportunity for companies to use pecan pieces – even the shells.  The Center for Pecan Innovation will work to develop new products that use Georgia pecans.”

Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black said the Georgia Pecan Commission is taking a creative approach to agriculture by establishing the center.

“Farmers today do far more than just grow food and fiber,” he said. “They take an active part in promoting their crops to grow their markets, as we have done with our Georgia Grown program. The Center for Pecan Innovation is yet another step to increase awareness for Georgia pecans.”

The Georgia Pecan Commission, begun in 1995, funds research, educational and promotional programs in order to increase demand for Georgia pecans.