Georgetown, SC is only 16 miles south of our campsite so we chose to go exploring one Sunday afternoon. Everything was closed except a few restaurants even a historical home whose website said it was open. This did give us a chance to walk around, enjoy the old homes close to Front Street and the waterfront of South Carolina’s third oldest city. The following week we returned to tour the Rice Museum and Kaminski House.
Georgetown is located about 30 miles north of Charleston on Winyah Bay and surrounded by 6 rivers whose names such as Waccamaw, Sampit and Pee Dee are taken from Native American tribes of the area. This location is the reason it was settled in the early to mid 1600s. Whoever looked at those old growth cedar swamps and decided that they’d make good rice fields was certainly an optimist! Many of these trees were so large that it would take 2-3 people to reach around them. They had to be removed by hand as the ground was too boggy to use machinery. Can you imagine working in thigh deep swamp water with alligators, snakes and mosquitos? No way Jose! I’d be on the first boat back to the old country. In addition all of the planting and harvesting of rice was done by hand. At first the Europeans tried to enslave Native Americans. Since Indians knew the terrain so well they kept escaping. After a while, the colonists stopped chasing them. Native Americans were sold off to the Caribbean and the slave trade from Africa began to replace them. Slaves from Senegal were very highly sought as rice cultivation had been established there long ago. By the early 1700s, Georgetown was the second largest rice exporting city in the world next to Calcutta, India. Between 1730-1860 the area was home to at least 150 rice plantations. Some were grand homes with Tara-like settings and others simple farmhouses. The area was so heavily dependent on slave labor that the area was 90% black and 10% white at the peak of the rice era.
Fortunes were made on rice. These wealthy families built large city homes and furnished them with the best money could buy from Europe. Then everything changed after the Civil War. Without slave labor the rice plantations couldn’t compete with states like Arkansas and Texas where mechanized rice farms flourished. Over the next 70 years the number of plantations dwindled. The last commercial rice farm in the area ceased operation in 1930. Today the history of Georgetown’s rise and fall of rice production is retold at the Rice Museum. The museum is located in the old town bell tower c 1842. Next door in the former Kaminski Hardware Store is the gift shop and additional exhibits on the second and third floors. On a map at the Rice Museum we learned that where we are staying, Murrell’s Inlet, was originally called Murray’s Inlet. The oldest ship raised from American waters, the Brown’s Ferry Vessel is displayed here. The boat sank in the Black River at Brown’s Ferry sometime between 1730-1740. It’s actual age is unknown. It was a merchant ship about 50 feet long and most likely ran cargo between South Carolina and the Caribbean. After being excavated in 1976 it was taken to Columbia for twelve years for study and restoration. When it was returned to Georgetown for display the roof of the museum store was removed and a crane lifted the boat onto the third floor. What a sight that would have been! Pictures of the recovery are from the SC Department of Archives and History website. On the second floor we found an interesting video and poster about Joseph Hayne Rainey. Never heard of him? Neither had we. He was born a slave but was able to buy his freedom. He became educated and among other things was the first black US Congressman from SC just after the end of the Civil War. There is also a display from the Kaminski Hardware Store. You’ll hear more about this when we tour his home.
We walked down Front Street to the Kaminski House. We were just in time for the last tour of the day. As luck would have it, we were the only ones on the tour. The home is owned by the city of Georgetown but managed by the Colonial Dames. We’d toured another home earlier this year where the Colonial Dames had been instrumental in the restoration effort (see Hanover House in the Clemson and Coneross post). In both places the tours were excellent. We’ll keep our eyes open for any other of their properties as we travel the east coast this summer. The Kaminski House was originally built in the 1770s for the daughter of a wealthy planter. The first Kaminski came to the US as a 14 year old boy fleeing being drafted into the Polish Army. He arrived penniless in Charleston and was apprenticed to a hardware merchant. He served in the Confederate Army and after the Civil War ended he moved to Georgetown and opened a hardware store. He sold what everyone needed in the post-war era. All the wealthy families of the antebellum period had land and material goods but no money. So he took furniture and other goods in trade. The Kaminski House is furnished in exquisite antiques that were part of this barter system. No photographs are allowed in the home so we’ll refer you to http://www.kaminskihousemuseum.org/history.htm for pictures and a more detailed history. The last residents of the home were Julia and Harold Kaminski who remodeled and renovated the house. Mr. Kaminski was a Navy retiree when WWII began. He requested to be reactivated but at the age of 51 the Navy wasn’t going to send him aboard ship. Thinking they’d keep him “safe” he was assigned to Pearl Harbor. He was on duty when news that the Japanese were on their way to Hawaii. He forwarded the information which was disregarded by the Top Brass. We all know the rest of the story. If you ever watch the original Tora, Tora, Tora take note of his character. Then we went next door to the Stewart-Parker House, another property managed by the Colonial Dames. This is one of the oldest homes in Georgetown, dating to 1730.
After such a full day we opted to eat dinner in town. We stopped at Limpin’ Jane’s. About a week later we returned to town after another tour for lunch at Krazy Fish. Both places had great food.