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An Article about Branchville History

The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, SC

Sunday, July 9, 1961, page 3

From the stagecoach to the railroad to the automobile, bus and truck--that in a few words, summarizes Branchville's history.  Or it might be paraphrased, from the Indians to the Colonial pioneers to the present day residents, many of stout - hearted German stock now blood mingled with the English, French and descendants of other European countries who have made this country so great.

Branchville is one of the state's older established communities. The first settlement was at the branch of an old Indian trail which, leading from Charleston, split at a venerable old oak tree, now gone.  One branch of the trail led to the west, joining other trails at what was then called Fort Monroe, now the present day of North Augusta.  the other veered to the north, following the north Edisto River toward what is now Orangeburg, and continuing to the town of Granby, now known as Cayce.

J. Gary Smoak, a retired rural mail carrier, who is Branchville's unofficial historian and who possesses original tracts and plats dating from1735, one bearing the signature of Provincial Governor Willliam Moultrie, vouches for the authenticity of the facts in this article.   A man devotedly interested in people and just as interested in their backgrounds and the history of his community, he is credited with knowing every property line, every cemetery and every person in Branchville.

Smoak enjoys remembering stories told him by the late John D. Fairey about a negro slave, Tom Sweat who, during the Revolutionary War, saved the lives of James Berry and George Hartzog.  According to the story, a Tory, since known as "Bloody Bill" Cunningham, was roving the countryside killing all able-bodied settlers opposed to British rule.  Berry and Hartzog had hidden in what was known as "Berry Bay," and  "Bloody Bill" captured the Negro, threatening to hang him if he did not reveal here the men were hidden. The faithful Negro, refusing to tell, was saved even after the noose had been put around his neck.  General Francis(Swamp Fox) Marion in a sudden raid, cut the hanging rope with his own sward while his men routed and killed many of Cunningham's followers. Today, Berry Bay is sometimes referred to as "Sweat's Pond."

With a knowledge of surveying, running property lines and drawing plats and other papers, Smoak has used such work as an aid to his historical interests.  Let a line he runs across a graveyard, Smoak wouldn't continue until he has read the inscription on every tombstone, noting the historical facts and later incorporating them into his own knowledge.  It was while on one of his surveying ventures that he came across what was probably the site of a long-gone Indian camp, located in Simmons Swamp, there were trees standing which still bore carvings presumably some by the Indians.  Inscribed on one beech tree was the following, "Gibb, 1707." another carving read "Tub, 170," and yet another had four crosses followed by the dates 1700, "plus" 64.

For there were a number of Indian camps in the immediate vicinity of what is now Branchville.  One was known as "Beech" camp, another as "Penn" camp, and the third, "Sunset" camp.  Midway between the three was the old oak marking, " The Branch," as the community was first known.

When traders began making use of the trail from Charleston to "The Branch," they would work out of that point to the west and north, bringing their goods to the junction of the trails until enough accumulated to be hauled over the trail to Charleston, for sale or for overseas shipment.

The first white settlement at "The Branch" came shortly after 1734 when a group of settlers, led by Andrew Frederick of Prussia, arrived in Charleston from the Old Country and followed the trail to the old oak the following spring at the invitation of Indian traders who promised they would find friendly and peaceful Red Men.

Frederick, was a leader having been educated in Prussian military schools and later serving as an officer in the Revolutionary war.  He brought his followers, most of them from Germany and Holland, to "The Branch" where according to legend, they were met by Indians from Sunset camp who joined them in a worship service of thanksgiving.

Later, the settlers built a log meeting-house where services were held regularly. (Smoak has an old plat dated 1736 on which the location of the meeting-house is shown.

Grants were made to many of the settlers in the area and community life began.  One of them, owned by Smoak, shows that Colonial Governor John Rutledge owned a tract on Penn Branch and the Edisto River.  The grant is dated Aug. 28, 1767.

As the community grew and prospered, a more comfortable and efficient means of travel to and from Charleston became necessary. It was then that the stage-coach, which meant much to the young town, began trips to augment the walking and horseback riding on which transportation had hitherto depended.

It was not until 1832 that the railroad phase of Branchville's history began.  It was then that the South Carolina Railroad's tracks reached the site of the present Branchville, and that was the end of "The Branch."

Some 170 acres of land were purchased by the railroad company which proceeded to lay out the town. Present-day dwellers of Branchville say that the company used excellent foresight in its planning. Only one street in the town is less than 100 feet wide!  Few towns or cities can lay claim to such a distinction. 

Branchville then became the first railroad junction in the world when the railroad company extended its rails on to Hamburg, across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia and to the north, to Orangeburg and Columbia.  Both rail lines closely paralleled the Old Indian Trails!  The "Best Friend," the first steam railroad in the South, if not in the United States, hauled freight and passengers over the Charleston to Hamburg line through Branchville!

The Town of Branchville was incorporated on Dec. 23, 1858, taking in all of the property within a radius of one mile of the railroad station.

Smoak says it is interesting to note that the three Indian camps were part of the land area comprising the town, but there are no records written or stories handed down of any trouble between the Whites and the Indians!

Branchville's importance as a rail center continued to grow; at one time, there were 16 trains, passenger and freight, passing through the junction.  Today, only one passenger train passes, coming and going each day.  No passenger trains run to Hamburg or Augusta.

During the early days, passenger trains did not carry dining cars.  As a result, the railroads adopted the same practice as used by the stagecoaches in stopping at selected spots on the line to permit the passengers to eat and seek refreshments. 

To satisfy the demand, the railroad persuaded a Mr. Chatrand, operator of the tavern known as "The Branch Eating House," at the fork in the Indian trail, to move his establishment to the Branchville depot, Chatrand did so and erected the same sign used by his old establishment.  But for railroad purposes, this was not satisfactory, according to old accounts.  Hence, the "ville" was added to the name of "The Branch," which soon became known by its present name, "Branchville."

Submitted by:  Mrs. Colleen Newsome Jolly


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