Monday, October 13, 2014

Tangible history fills South Carolina's Union County

Rose Hill Plantation

The people who tell you about the history of Union County in South Carolina are probably related to the people who made it.

Rose Hill dining room.
Take Rose Hill Plantation, a State Historic Site 8 miles from the county seat of Union, SC. Begun in 1811 by Francis Fincher Gist, whose family laid out the city of Baltimore, MD, it is best known as the home of his illegitimate son, William Henry Gist. William, a lawyer, state representative and governor, remodeled the house, adding front and back two-story porches and covering its bricks with white-painted stucco.

General and Governor William Gist
He was an outspoken advocate of slavery, having turned his 5,000 acres into a working plantation with a slave population that grew from 20 in 1818 to 178 in 1860. Secessionist William even fought a duel with his State's Rights nephew. When elected governor, William became known as the "secessionist governor" and from 1858 to 1860 the three-story home served as the Governor's Mansion. David, one of two sons to survive to old age, fathered 25 children; the last granddaughter died a matter of months ago. Need I say there are a lot of Union county residents, black and white, named Gist?
Graceful bannister at Rose Hill

Cross Keys House
 As we headed into Union, we passed the Cross Keys House, site of an old stagecoach stop and circa 1809 post office at the intersection of the Old Ninety-Six (Old Piedmont Stage) and the Old Buncombe (Charleston) Roads. Completed in 1814 by Barrum Bobo (southern for Beaubeau, his family were French Huguenots), a prosperous merchant, it is an excellent example of Georgian Colonial style.

Jefferson Davis stopped here April 30 for lunch during his flight from Richmond and every April some 1,400 re-enacters recreate the event and its times. Held in the Bobo family until 2006, it is now owned by the Union County Historical Society and is open for tours on Saturdays.

It wasn't Saturday so we paused instead of toured, but the house has survived four earthquakes so that, too, can wait for a later date.

Union's Main Street where you'll find its museum.
We did stop at the fascinating Union County Museum in Union, where historian Ola Jean Kelly, who had accompanied us on our morning tour, pointed out some of the highlights of the 5,000-square feet of collections:

This dress brought seven brides good luck.
• Display of wedding gowns from 1825, including one worn over the years by seven brides.

Revolutionary War SC battle flag
• Two of the three South Carolina flags remaining from the Revolutionary War.

Secession table
• The table of secession upon which Benjamin F. Arthur of Union County drafted the Ordinance of Secession in Charleston, Dec. 20, 1860.

We were tickled to find out where the expression, "We'll thrown you under the jail" may have originated. No prisoners ever escaped from Union County's jail because they were housed underneath it, literally. So were those in Chester County but that's a story for the next post.

We ended our brief visit to Union County with a truly memorable meal at Midway BBQ in nearby Bufffalo, SC. The venerable establishment is now run by Jay Allen and owned by his wife, Amy, whose father was founder Jack O'Dell.

Jay Allen keeps the hash pots simmering.
Both Southern Living and Garden and Gun have sung its praises and it doesn't take long to see why when you enter this combination butcher shop, restaurant and community gathering place.

Everything edible here is good.
It is justly famous for its Carolina hash, a state specialty. Not pretty to look at but delicious to taste is this melange of beef (occasionally up to 5 percent pork), onions and butter assembled and cooked over a 24-hour period. It is what many diners drive 100 or more miles to eat. Equally famous should be the chicken stew, a rich bisque that soothes the soul with heartiness but would be right at home in a bone china bowl at a gourmet gathering.

We tried to sample it all.
Good Girls never quit so soon, though, and we tasted our way through the excellent pork barbecue, the sublime squash casserole, tangy turnip greens and a sweet potato souffle more satisfying to the sweet tooth than most desserts.

The things we do for our followers, burp.

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