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Villages: A horse and wagon meant wealth in Henry Gethers' day

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally printed in the Coastal Observer on Jan. 31, 2008, as part of our Voices from the Villages series. It is being re-posted online in honor of Gethers, who died this month.

The Pawleys Island of today is a world apart from the one in which Henry Gethers grew up.

The two don’t even vaguely resemble each other, said Gethers, 75, who lives at St. Elizabeth Place and grew up in the village of Georgieville.

“It stopped being a family community when people started buying and developing everything. It became commercial,” Gethers said. “The average person can’t even buy no land now. You can’t do it with a regular wage anymore.”

When Gethers was growing up the area was mostly farmland and 90 percent of the land was owned by black families when he moved away in the early 1950s to join the Army.

When he decided to move back to the area for good in 2000, he was almost unable to manage it because of how much property values had increased. The only reason he was able to stay, he said, is because someone told him about St. Elizabeth’s, a HUD-subsidized apartment complex for the low-income elderly that is sponsored by Episcopal churches.

While the transition of the Pawleys Island area from rural farm land to a resort community, crowded with expensive housing and retail developments, has been good for Realtors and wealthy developers, it’s priced out much of the black community, Gethers said. As those who were born in the area have had to relocate and a new crop of folks have moved in, the area’s history is being lost, he said.

Now, the area is divided into a few basic parts — the island, the Litchfield area and communities named after residential neighborhoods, such as Heritage Plantation and Hagley Estates. Those neighborhoods exist within the boundaries of old plantations, which they draw their names from.

Those who were born here and worked the land, however, view the area in different terms.

When Gethers was a boy, the area was divided into small villages, usually named after the families who resided there, he said. Georgieville, where he grew up is in the area north of Litchfield, around Sandy Island Road. Gethers doesn’t know where it got it’s name.

Those villages are today marked by little more than street signs placed on roads named for the villages they run through.

But for folks like Gethers, who were here before development came in, these villages are how they mark the land. The villages exist on the outskirts of plantation land, likely having developed from old slave communities.

Heading south from Georgieville are Annieville, Parkersville, Fraserville, Marysville and Simmonsville.

The villages all had a family-like atmosphere, he recalled. Actually, most of the families in each village were related. And most of a families’ dealings were done with other families within the village, he said.

In Georgieville, he said, there were about 20 families when he was growing up.

“You didn’t have no transportation, so you wouldn’t even know people just down in the next village,” Gethers recalled.

“People in Murrells Inlet wouldn’t know people just down in Parkersville, even if they lived there all their lives.”

Some families had an ox cart or a mule and wagon, but most traveling was done on foot, he said.

“Life was hard back then, when you had to walk and get everything. The nearest store was right at Ford Road. It was a supermarket owned by Isaac Brown,” he said.

His grandmother used to have him run errands at the store for elderly folks in the village, he said. By the time he was finished, he’d be worn out, but sometimes they’d send him right back out to make the same trip again for someone else.

“It would take maybe two hours to go to the store,” he said. “I’d have to go hide in the woods, because as soon as you get back, somebody else would come.”

He remembers his aunt sending him a bicycle when he was about 10 and what a blessing that was. Cars, when they made it to the area after World War II, were rare for some time. Gethers said he was afraid the first time he saw one.

“They called it an iron horse and it ran in the woods,” he said.

His father later went on to become a car salesman. You could buy a car for about $350, he said.

But for most of Gethers’ younger days, carts and wagons were the way to travel for families who had them. Oxen and mules were more prevalent, because horses were expensive.

“You would start out with an ox and a cart,” he said. “Then you’d get a little more money and you’d get a mule and a wagon. A guy’d think he was something if he had a mule and a wagon. Then you get some more money and you’d get a horse and a wagon and everybody would be jealous. People would think you were rich if you had a horse and a wagon.”

Gethers said life was much harder when he was growing up than it is for kids today, but he thinks he had the better end of the deal.

“That’s the right way to come up,” he said. “You can’t learn nothing if you don’t do nothing.”

Gethers said he had to get up early as a boy, to start doing chores at about 6 a.m. before heading off to school. He’d have to feed the chickens, cows and hogs. If he was late for school, he’d get “a beating,” with a strap. He remembers Latin being among his studies, along with music, algebra and shop.

When he got home, there were gardens to water and work in, or he would go down to the creeks to try to make some money catching and selling crabs and shrimp. He said that was much easier than farm work and he went to the creeks every chance he got. He’d sell crabs for $2 a bushel, he said, and could sometimes make $10 a day, which was good money back then, certainly better than what could be made working a farm.

“A guy could work on a tobacco farm for a whole year and get $2,000,” Gethers said.

But even though there wasn’t a lot of money in farming, it did ensure there was always food on the table.

When Gethers was a student at Howard High School he became the area’s first black school bus driver under a program that trained students to take over the task. That was during the late 1940s and it was also the period in which Gethers said he learned what the word “boycott” meant.

When he first started driving the bus, he said some of the parents boycotted, because of concerns about his driving abilities.

“Some people said they wouldn’t let their kid on the bus with that young person driving, because they thought I’d get them killed,” he said.

A year later, those same folks were commending Gethers for being such a responsible driver. He said he was never late and never had any problems during his three years on the job.

He had 40 passengers, he said, and his route started in Georgieville and went up to the Horry County line, through Brookgreen Gardens to pick up people from Sandy Island, down through Parkersville, Simmonsville, Arcadia and over a wooden bridge down to Georgetown.

After he graduated, Gethers joined the Army as a paratrooper. He trained at Fort Jackson and then traveled all over the world, spending quite a bit of time in Japan. He was there during the integration of the armed forces, he said.

Gethers left the military in July 1955 and returned home for about a month before moving to Philadelphia, where he went to work for a supermarket chain, moving up the ranks of management.

He was there for about 30 years, then moved to Willingboro, N.J., where he started a construction business. It proved to be hard work, he said, and after five years, he was ready to move on again.

He headed back to Philadelphia, where he worked for an educational radio station for a few months, then went to work as a consultant for an association for minority contractors.

It was a major snow storm that made Gethers decide he wanted to head back home to warmer weather, he said. He made the move in 2000. It was the first time in more than 40 years he’d been back for an extended period.

“I came back and took a bicycle and rode from the river to the sea,” he said.

He traveled through Litchfield and Hagley, looking at all the old villages. He was struck, he said, by how much had disappeared and what had taken its place, he said.

McKenzie Beach, as the south end of Litchfield was once known, had been the black beach. There were concrete buildings going all the way up to the waterfront. Now, it’s all hollowed-out ruins, covered in vines and weeds.

“It all seemed like a dream,” Gethers said. “When I left here, it was a farming community and 90 percent of the land was owned by blacks. Some of the people were so poor they didn’t even have a match to light a fire. Now 90 percent is owned by whites and you see shopping centers everywhere.”

Gethers said he can’t imagine how the area will transform in another 20 years.

“You probably won’t be able to recognize it again,” he said.

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