|Church Street Memories - Part 1
|Church Street Memories - Part 1
by Mike Bailey
Church Street Memories - Part 1:
Library Rules: All works/images are Copyright © 2012, 2016 by Michael T. Bailey Sr., Marietta, Georgia. All rights reserved. Reproduction, adaptation,
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Every story has places mentioned and a cast of characters that completes the story for it is in
those places that the characters come alive and become part of the story.
410 – The Central Place
The central place in this story about my childhood memories is a huge old two story frame house
located at 410 Church Street, Sumter, South Carolina. Built in the late 1800s, it was already old
when my grandmother’s family moved there in 1916.
My maternal grandparents, John C. Humphries and his wife Nettie Tiller Humphries moved to
Sumter from their farm off Tombfield Road (about 4 miles south of I-20 below Camden off
present day US-521), to the big city of Sumter.
With eight of their 13 children in tow, they made this epic journey using 16 2-horse drawn wagons.
My grandparents, some of the older kids, and the other adults that helped with the move (like drive
the wagons for one thing) and all the household furniture, traveled (rode) to Sumter on the old
Sumter/Camden dirt road in the wagons. All the small kids, my mother included, rode in their Uncle
Ben’s huge 1915 Buick Touring car.
My Uncle Andrew who I grew up with at “410”, used to tell me that until he became a Crew Chief on
a B-24 during WWII, riding up Ballard's Hill (near where the present day Hillcrest community is)
was the most exciting thing he had ever done in his life. The old car -- loaded down with screaming,
giggling kids -- back fired and roared loudly as it sputtered up and over Ballard’s Hill.
Needing a large house, they settled in there on Church Street and life was never the same again for
anyone who passed through her doors.
Over time, the house became known (worldwide, I might add) simply as “410”. While I was growing
up there in the 40s, it never occurred to me that there were people in the world that had never
heard of “410”. I even remember being asked by my first grade teacher, “And where do you live,
Mike?” Without hesitation, I proudly said, at “410!”
After the laughter died down (didn't know why they all laughed), my teacher smiled and said, “410
what … what street do you live on?”
I was blown away -- I thought everyone in Sumter knew that “410” was on Church Street! Oh well!
Cast of Characters
The following people lived at “410” while I grew up there:
- Grandmother – it was her house
- Grandmother’s son -- my Uncle Carl Humphries
- Grandmother’s son -- my Uncle Andrew Humphries
- Grandmother’s son -- my Uncle John Humphries
- Grandmother’s daughter -- my Aunt Ethel Stubbs
- Grandmother’s daughter -- my mama (Alma Bailey)
- Grandmother’s grandson -- Me
- Grandmother’s grandson –- my brother Storm
- Grandmother’s granddaughter -- my sister Sabra
- And sometimes, my father, L.M. Bailey lived there
The following family members were regular visitors:
- Grandmother’s sons -- my Uncles Hugh and Roy Humphries, all with families:
- Grandmother’s daughters – my Aunts Sarah Owen, Louise Lyon, and Jennie Price, all
Christmas time. Was it crowded? Oh yeah -- crowded doesn't’t begin to cover it but, it was all
- Some family visitors stayed for days, like Uncle Roy and family and Aunt Sarah and family at
wonderful and joyful times and I can not image it being any other way.
from Chesterfield or Camden, where ever.
- Then on other special days or just a Sunday afternoon visit, many of our cousins showed up
The point is that “410” was from the very beginning in 1916 like Grand Central Station with
revolving doors at both ends of the house. 24 hours a day, seven days a week, some one was either
coming from or going to “410.” It wasn't until some time in the mid 70s that an honest to goodness
key lock was finally installed on the front door at “410”.
Up to then, all that was there was one of those 2-inch wide metal bow-tie looking things mounted to
the door frame that could be turned to swing out to be across the edge of the door to help keep
the door close when the wind blew hard!
Lots of characters, including the wind, found a safe and loving home there at 410 Church Street.
|Menu to help you read about my love for Church Street, Part 1
The stories and memories recanted in this book are not a chronological ordered remembrance of my
childhood from 1942 when I was born at “410” in mother’s room until 1960 when I left home and
went to college.
The times and years are all mixed up and are in no particular order. It was (still is) the memory/
event that was important -- not what the year or time of day it was at the time. If the date was
truly important to the overall sense of the memory, I gladly included it.
However, what I did try to do was to write chapters that collectively captured similar memories --
regardless of the times and places. I also tried not to mention by name every friend or person I
knew or encountered along the way. Some names were specifically omitted to possibly save them
from a tiny bit of embarrassment.
And so it begins…
When I first set out to write this book, I had no idea of where to start. Thousands of memories
flooded my mind –- all clamoring “Talk about me … me first!” Finally, I begin to settle in on a place
where to start my journey that held so many of my memories
While it is true that most of us kids (that I knew) growing up in Sumter in the 40s & early 50s
spent a great deal of time hanging out in the great outdoors -- while not in school, at the Rex
Theater, or it was not summertime -- a lot of us had another favorite place to congregate and enjoy
all the wonderful benefits of it.
This place was in my case the kitchen at “410” where I grew up. Kitchens are considered by a lot of
people (including me) to be the heart of a home. It is here that people gather to talk, laugh, and
relate all the great adventures that might have been experienced that day, and to smell delicious
aromas stirring in the air -- teasing all of a great meal to be served soon.
One of the things that my grandfather brought with him in 1916 from his farm along Tombfield
Road was a gigantic cast iron coal/wood burning stove.
This stove was huge -– weighed over 700 pounds –- and had a wide, double row of 4 each stove top
pot holes for access to the coal/wood fires below and also had a built-in hot water tank plus oven
and bread/food warmer. They had to build brick columns under the floor in the kitchen where the
stove was placed to keep this monster from crashing through to the ground below.
I can not even begin to imagine the difficulty Grandfather had in moving this monster from the
farm down to Sumter. They might have even had it shipped by railroad car from Camden down to
Sumter –- I just do not know. This unfortunately, was one of those questions about my early family
days that I waited too long in life to ask.
There is no way to describe all the wonderful, delicious foods that were faithfully and loving
prepared for the huge family that lived in that great old house and all those that visited them.
One side benefit (to us kids) to having such a large stove was having on hand the wood and coal to
feed it. Great times were had on wood delivery day when a huge truck backed down our driveway to
a place near an old shed (the coal for stove and four other coal burning fireplaces was stored in
there in bins) and dumped its load.
As the stack was at least 7-8 feet tall and maybe 12 feet across at the bottom, this mountain (in
our eyes) of wood was available to take pieces from and stack them creatively to make forts to
play in. The wood was not your regular split firewood but was instead, mill ends of sawed lumber --
mostly the pieces were of the outer layers when logs were first sawed. These thick boards were
ideal for stacking and usually we had a completed fort built with a few hours.
Unfortunately, the downside to this was the fort slowly disappearing as the days passed because
part of my chores was bringing loads of firewood into the house to be stacked on the back porch.
But -– it was fun for a while.
Surviving until 1954 when Mama finally said, “I’m getting too old for this coal/wood burning ordeal
-- I want one of those fancy new gas stoves,” this fantastic stove relic from the 1800s was literally
the warm heart of our house for since it had a fire going in it almost 24/7, it was the only heat
source in the kitchen up until that time.
Kitchens –- like mine and in all the houses of my friends in Sumter -– were wonderful. It seemed
like no matter what other rooms were in our houses, everyone eventually made their way back to
the kitchen (most were on the back of the houses) to congregate and visit.
Usually (I know for sure in my kitchen) there was always something warm to nibble on or maybe a
piece or two of a cake or pie to enjoy that had survived a recent great meal. Good food, a warm
stove nearby, big table to sit around, counters to lean on, cold drinks in the frig and most likely a
pot of coffee still going on the stove, etc., all made for wonderful “social gatherings that were
enjoyed by all.”
No matter which kitchen all us kids gathered in during our times of neighborhood roaming and
playing, we were always welcomed and usually were rewarded with a treat or two. Then it was back
out the door and onto another great adventure.
At Thanksgiving and Christmas time at “410,” especially when Grandmother was still alive and all her
kids and family came to visit, you could not move in our kitchen -– it just seemed to be all around
pandemonium in constant motion as it was wall to wall people talking, cooking, shooing kids out of the
way, laughing at stories, etc.
For the rest of the year, Saturdays in the kitchen at “410” were days of good times and sometimes,
dreadful hard work (seemed so at the time, at least).
The good times were helping Aunt Ethel while she carried out her weekly ritual of cooking cakes and
pies all day long. All of the next week’s desserts were prepared on Saturdays. Aunt Ethel with
Mama helping out at times, spent the entire day in the kitchen and by supper time, it looked like a
scene from one of those 3 Stooges movies where they had a cake/pie throwing fight complete with
ample handfuls of flower thrown all over everything to make it look like it had snowed in
Tasting everything as cakes and pies were being created was a real treat. Getting to lick the
mixing bowls was the top prize -– so much so that there was never a shortage of friends who just
happened to drop by to see if I could come out and play. Yeah, sure -– all they wanted was a crack
at the large bowl that held the icing that was just spread lovingly all around a three layered
chocolate cake or a dazzling red velvet cake!
Then there were the hard chores.
One of Aunt Ethel’s favorite desserts to make was these huge snow white and frizzy looking
coconut cakes. While everyone who ate a piece loved them and raved on and on about how good they
were, I hated them. Why – because I spent a couple of hours getting the coconut out of the rock
hard shells and then shredding it for cake duty.
First, I had to go out into the backyard by the pile of wood stacked by the old shed and pound on
the hard as rocks coconut shells to bust them open. Could I just whack the devil out of them with
and axe and be done with it -- no -- I had to gently whack them with a hammer to first crack them
enough so I could pour the coconut juice trapped inside out into a bowl so that it could also be used
in the cake/pie making tasks that were underway in the kitchen.
Once the juice was out, I could then finish the task of busting the coconuts into small pieces. Once
this task was done came the hard and boring part –- holding each piece one at a time and rubbing it
against the side of a tall, tin grater with one side with sharp cuts on it to make large grated pieces
and the other side had small holes to make finely-grated pieces.
I dutifully sat on a stack of firewood and using the fine graded side of the grater, I grated all the
broken pieces up. By the way, if your fingers slipped, etc, you could very easily not only grate the
hard coconut, but you could do a good job of grating the skin off your finger tips or knuckles. In
case anyone was wondering, this is why even to this day, I hate coconut -– by itself or mixed in any
food item that might be eaten.
Not only did Aunt Ethel spend hours on end in the kitchen on Saturday’s but when certain fruits,
nuts, and berries in our yard were ripe, Mama was in there as well whipping up some wonderful
things also like her almost world famous crabapple jelly/preserves, pear preserves, pecan pies, and
blackberry or strawberry pies. By the way, all these wonderful ingredients came from our own yard.
Most of all these cake and pie recipes were holdovers from Grandmother’s days on the farm and
trying to help feed 13 growing and hungry children. No one could ever say that Grandmother’s
family (all of them) did not have a sweet tooth!
Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, by late afternoon it usually looked like a bomb had gone off in the
kitchen. To this day, it still blows my mind how many pots and pans, bows, cups, and dishes of all
sizes were used by Aunt Ethel or Mama on pie/cake making days.
Yes, you guessed it -- yours truly had a large part in helping her clean the kitten up for come 6 PM,
supper preparation was next on the day’s schedule. Meal times at “410” were set in stone and that’s
just the way things were in those days.
Except for two exceptions, the midday meal, called dinner when I grew up, was served at 1 PM
sharp everyday at “410.” Being late to the table was not an option and could result in missing out on
a larger helping of food you might have wanted or possibly, missing out completely as all the good
stuff disappeared first.
The two exceptions that I mentioned above were Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Some years
when the crowd of guests was large, it might be 2 or even 3 o’clock in the afternoon before we were
finally able to dig into and enjoy some of the best food to ever come out of any kitchen in Sumter.
Evening meals -- supper as we called it -– was set for 6 PM. As with dinner time, missing it or being
late was not an option. While dinner was always served on the huge old extendable wooden table in
the dinning room and was more formal, supper time was held in the kitchen around a large table
As with breakfast times in the morning at 7:30, supper time was an easy, laid back time at “410”
and was when the day’s events -– forthcoming or completed –- were casually discussed so that all
could join in on or laugh at whatever had happened, etc.
I remember one time at the breakfast table when I was in high school I was sitting there very
quietly and just trying to hide so to speak. I had been initiated into a social club called the Counts
the night before and part of that initiation was to have all of my hair shaved off. Uncle John, not a
man of many words, just looked up at me from the other end of the table and said without cracking
a smile, “Well, I see you haven’t quite figured out how to shave yet.”
I was devastated. But he then broke out into a huge smile and laughed and within seconds, everyone
around the table was laughing hard -- including me. For whatever reason, that episode made my
hesitation about going outside and especially to school with a shaved head just fade away.
In general, all three meals were prepared in the kitchen under the control of three different
people. Breakfast was Aunt Ethel’s turn at being kitchen boss and head cook.
Dinner time and the kitchen were under the control of the several cooks we had over the years who
prepared some of the finest meals to ever be served in any home. While others might be allowed to
assist, those ladies were in charge and it was best to just follow their lead and advice.
The evening meal, supper time, was Mama’s turn at being kitchen boss and head cook. Since she
worked 11 PM - 7 AM at the hospital and slept during the day up until around 3:30, she was the
most rested of the household late in the day and gladly served her time in the kitchen.
This sharing of household duties was one of those great life lessons I learned early on while
growing up at “410” that served me well as I grew up and eventually had my own household to
So many of my memories of my childhood are related to the kitchen there at “410” -- even those
in times like a death in the family. Even then, it was a gathering place to comfort each other and
to recall and retell stories about the people we loved.
Our kitchens -– those that I grew up in while growing up in Sumter -- gave us warmth, a place to
gather as a family and with friends, allowed us to share not only good food but to hear excited
stories of times at play, or a great game we played, or a movie we watched, or tales of new girl
friends or boyfriends -– the list was endless as it should be.
They helped us celebrate all the great things we enjoyed in life and comforted us in our hours
What more could you ask for in a home?
As I continue to think back to those day when I grew up in Sumter and living on Church Street, I
am flooded not only with those memories but realizations of things associated with them that puts
a whole new layer of understanding on things that affected me then and as I continued on in life.
A lot of my memories and I suspect a lot of yours also, revolve around physical resources we had
while growing up and I guess at the time, none of us ever even considered them that or for that
matter, even understood what a physical resource might be.
For example –- my yard -- while it was only about 75 feet wide and over 200 feet deep, I thought it
was huge. It was big enough to play baseball in the front yard with the steps to the front porch
being home plate and the two huge oak trees being 1st and 3rd bases and the intersection of our
sidewalk with the street sidewalk being 2nd base. There was even a round hole (broken cement) in
the sidewalk going out to the street right where the pitcher’s mound was located. I mean, was this
great or what?
The driveway at “410” was dirt and ran for about 100 feet down the left side of the yard to a point
I will call the junction and then it sort of split (forked) into three shorter extensions. I will talk
about these later in a chapter called Transportation.
As a child, this long ribbon of clean sand with a little clay mixed in it was one of my favorite play
areas. Some of my oldest memories are centered on me and one of my dearest friends as he and I
played in this huge sandbox together. Ransom Cooper grew up next door in his grandmother’s house
and the two of us spent many, many hours in the driveway.
Dirt driveways were a good physical resource to have growing up because they not only provided a
huge sandbox to play in but they also helped with other things like good health and practicing how
I can still hear my grandmother telling me, “Boy, go outside and eat some dirt -- you look sickly --
it’ll do you some good!” I am convinced to this day that one of the primary reasons I have been
basically healthy as a horse my entire life is that whatever germs, bacteria, etc., was in the dirt
outside my home, gave me an immunity to most ailments that so many others seem to have
“Thanks grandmother … you were right!”
When I grew up in Sumter, Mama was a nurse at Tuomey Hospital and in the late 40s became Head
Nurse and Night Supervisor on the 3rd shift. Mama was a natural born bootlegger runner or race
car driver if there ever was one.
She drove a 4-door 1948 Oldsmobile and would come roaring into the yard after her shift was over
and zoom down the driveway, turn the wheel slightly when she passed the back of the house, slam
on the brakes and slide into her parking place beside the huge fig tree that was there. What really
were amazing were not her arrivals in the yard but her departures. She could back that Olds 30-40
miles an hour in reverse back out the driveway to the street and never touch a single leaf on any of
the bushes lining the driveway by the house.
Mama starting teaching and letting me drive her car when I was 10 years old. Her excuse to the
others living there at the time was, “Well, he might have to go to the store for me.”
As my skills started to improve, she said, “Boy, if you can’t back up, you can’t drive.”
Then she threw down the challenge. “If you can floor it and back all the way out to the street
without hitting a single leaf on any of the bushes, you can get your drivers license when you
I practiced almost every day and on my 14th birthday, April 9, 1956, I got my SC drivers license.
Three hours later, the ’49 Olds was stuck in the mud behind the Sky-Vue Drive-In Theater on
an old dirt road that had just been cut in half where they were starting to build the bypass
around Sumter. Even Mama could not have backed out of that quagmire -- we were sunk to the
axles and had to be pulled out.
Meanwhile, back on Church Street, the yards we all played in were special. Yes they were our yards
and all were different but in another sense, they were all open and free to play in (on).
No one came outside and ran kids off (well, maybe a few) but by and large we roamed over the
entire neighbor hood -- from the Green-T filling Station on the corner of Church and Broad down
to Charlotte Ave, over to N. Main Street, then north to Dubose Street, then left back around Riley
Ball Park, around the Water Works Plant to Roland Ave, and then all the way back up to Broad
Street by the Elks Club and then back to the Green-T.
Church Street was the center line through this approximately half-mile square of yards and open
spaces and we used the street as our gateway to all our various playgrounds we collectively called
Just about all of our houses had another great physical resource we (the kids) all loved -–
We and our parents, relatives, and friends could sit out on them and watch the world go by for in
a special way, they were a medium, a method if you will -- sort of like Facebook today --
where people could meet and greet each other.
“Come on up on the porch and sit a spell…” could be heard on many of the porches in our
neighborhood. There, neighbors shared a glass of ice tea, maybe a dish of home-made ice cream
and caught up on all the latest goings on with their friends.
However, during play times, these porches –- especially those with great railings around them of
either wood or brick construction -- became our sailing ships, our forts to defend and fight from,
places to hide behind, etc. We could throw a blanket over the railing and ride our horses. We could
have our pirate attacks and leap off our ships by jumping over the railings. Their uses were
limited only by our imaginations and I guess that is why even to this day I love houses with big
For many years, there was another physical resource in my yard that provided for many hours of
carefree fun. There was a round concrete fish pond on the left side of my front yard that was
about 8 feet across and about 2 feet deep in the center.
Shaped like a giant bowl buried in the ground, it served my grandmother’s love of goldfish very well
from 1916 until the mid 40s when I as an aspiring swimmer of 5 years old decided it would be fun to
cannonball the pond and see how many fish could be blown out of the pond.
Needless to say, before too long, I and my associate swimmers – all good friends – had succeeded in
killing all of Grandmother’s prized goldfish. For several years after that, a bunch of us worked
feverishly each spring cleaning out the pond and refilling it with fresh swimming water.
Another physical resource we had to enhance our play time were fences – some wooden and others
made of stone or bricks. Across the back yard of my next door friends, Michael & Danny Hill, was
a huge (tall) wooden fence. With the wide vertical boards with pointed tops and the double row of
cross pieces that they were all attached to, their fence looked just the forts in westerns we
watched in downtown Sumter every Saturday at the Rex Theater.
Many a battle was fought and won on those and other similar fences throughout the neighborhood
as we played Army or Cowboys and Indians and successfully defended our positions.
Streets to skate on, fields to burn or dig caves in or fly kites on, driveways to dig in and play on or
where to learn to drive, porches to jump off of, fish ponds to swim in, fences to climb on and/or
hide behind and fight to save ourselves when attacked by hostile enemies -– all these physical
resources enriched our lives as we explored the world while growing up in Sumter.
And yes, they were also natural resources, like trees, that also enriched our lives and I will write
about them next.
In the previous chapter, I wrote about the physical resources -- like streets, yards, porches,
fences, and driveways, etc. -- we all had in our neighborhood that helped us in our quest to play
and have a good time while growing up in Sumter.
To help compliment the physical resources in our neighborhood that gave us things to play with (or
on), we had an abundant supply of natural resources to round out our list of things to help keep us
busy, happy, and constantly challenged to explode new ideas and adventures.
One of these were trees -– sprawling huge oak, pecan, maple, Chinaberry, magnolia, pine, tulip, and
poplar trees –- you name it and we had them in our neighborhood, including the most versatile
natural resource we had -– bamboo –- a gift from heaven if there ever was one.
Bamboo in our neighborhood was plentiful – so much so as a lot of folks hated it because if left
unchecked, a bamboo thicket can over take a space is rapid order. As it spreads by underground
tubers with tremendous penetrating powers and as we all know, bamboo grows at an alarmingly fast
pace and it could overtake and kill out a garden or flower bed in one season’s growth.
Anyway, with this ample supply of beautiful and strong green wood at our disposal, we had only our
lack of imagination to limit what all we could do with it. We made toys with it, we built things like
chairs, tables, throwing spears, fishing poles, flag poles -- you name it, and we probably had a
bamboo version of it.
I fell in love with bamboo as a kid and love it to this day. I have in my basement right now about 50
25-30 foot bamboo poles I cut out of the back yard at “410” around 1980. While Uncle Andrew was
thankful I cut the poles out of the backyard and got them away from his flower gardens, both he &
Mama thought I was crazy.
They thought this not because I cut them all down but instead, was going to drive all the way back
to Marietta, GA with all of them tied to the top of my station wagon. I must admit, we got lots of
strange looks -- even from a couple of Highway Patrol officers who just looked, shook their heads
in dismay and drove on by.
Back home, I painted them black, wrapped strings of red Christmas lights around them, then stuck
all of them into a holder on the ground so that the poles stood up and arched outwards -- like a sea
urchin –- to make it look like a huge fireworks explosion. At this time in my life, we were putting up
approximately 100,000 Christmas lights at our house (yard, bushes, trees, etc,) as it was our gift to
the community for Christmas.
Anyway, bottom line -– bamboo once again “saved the day!”
The massive oak trees that were not only in my yard at “410” but all over the neighborhood
provided for a never-ending supply of places to climb and more importantly, places to build tree
houses. On a recent visit to the old house there on Church Street, I could still see places in some
of the trees where tree houses had once been nailed to the limbs. One tree in the backyard
completely grew around a huge 4x4 board and literally swallowed it up with just a tiny piece of it
showing on one side of the tree trunk.
One of our favorite trees was up in the next block in a yard on the left side of Church Street
headed towards Riley Park. This tree was a huge old mature magnolia tree that was not only easy
and fun to climb because of the many smooth bark limbs, but was a supplier of items we used
regularly in our playing.
The very large and durable leaves could be made into belts, hats, etc, when stitched together
either with string or sometimes, by just sticking the end of one leaf into the next leaf. While the
girls generally favored the belt and hat making, the boys went for the most prized item – those
magnificent seed pods that looked exactly like all the hand grenades we were seeing in the war
movies we saw at the Rex Theater.
No game of Army was complete in our neighbor without a liberal supply of grenades being lobed
at our attacking enemies!
Now days, when kids are hungry, they run into the house (if they were even outside playing to
start with) and raid the refrigerator or snack cabinet for something to munch on. Not us on
Church Street (at the time) –- we raided nature’s breadbasket.
We were surrounded with things to eat when I grew up in Sumter. As the seasons came and went,
we were constantly supplied with things to munch on while we played and as such, we stayed outside
considerably longer than usual.
In just my yard where I grew up, we had three mature pecan trees, an apple tree, one magnificent
pear tree, a peach tree and one large crabapple tree. Talk about things -– natural resources -– to
much on, we had them.
Elsewhere throughout our neighborhood, we had lots more pecan, pear, and apple trees to pick
from. We also had huge areas, in season of course, that were covered in some of the best
blackberries I have ever eaten. Here and there, watermelons were growing, and other edible
things like pomegranates, sweet corn -- the list was endless.
You have to remember that Sumter grew as a lot of people from rural areas moved to town from
the farms. Like my family that moved from the farm lands up in Kershaw County, they and so many
others just like them brought many things from the farms to help them along in their new home.
For example, we had chickens –- roosters, fryers, and egg-layers –- in the backyard at “410” from
1916 until around 1954. After the chickens were gone, the chicken houses became club houses for
us kids to play in. We also had ducks in the same chicken yard.
One memory I have of the chickens that bothers me now but didn’t at the time was catching them
and ringing their necks so Aunt Ethel and I could pluck the feathers off of them and boil them.
While it seemed fun at the time, I honestly could not do that today.
Lots of people had chickens in their yards in Sumter -- probably up until the mid 50s. Then I guess
as the older generation of that time started to pass on, the need or the desire to have them just
faded away. As more time passed, city codes prevented anyone from having them.
All the fruit and vegetable items that grew every year in the yard at 410 while I grew up there
were part of the subsistence items that my grandparents relied on in the days when they lived in
rural Kershaw Country and when they moved to the big city, they brought those things with them
so as to make their move meaningful and successful.
Long before there were houses on either side of the one directly across the street from “410”, my
grandparents had huge gardens there from 1916 to probably around 1950. What was not eaten on
an ongoing basis was put away or canned for later use. Today, we are so used to jumping into a car
and running to the grocery store and getting the food items we need.
Yes we had grocery stores when I grew up on Church Street but we also had our own fresh eggs
and delicious chickens and bountiful vegetables, jellies and jams made from our own fruit trees
As we roaming kids found out in our wanderings, Sumter and our neighborhood was covered in
another natural resource -– grapes -– million of them. No matter where we turned, we could find
abundant supplies of scuppernong and muscadine grapes to munch on in the summertime.
While a lot of them grew wild with the vines climbing to great heights in some trees, a lot of them
could be found -- like in my back yard –- growing peacefully on top of a wooden (or metal) framed
arbor that supported the vines up off the ground.
As a child, I thought it was the neatest thing in the world to walk under my grandmother’s grape
arbor -– 10 feet wide and 25 feet long -– and reach up and pick and eat as many grapes I could
stuff into my mouth. And the jellies that Mama and Aunt Ethel would make were to die for.
The main thing I loved about our grape arbor was that it was so sturdy and the foliage so thick that
in the summertime, we could prop a ladder up on one end, climb up and throw a blanket over the
wines and camp out there -– staring up at the open sky and seeing all the stars while reaching over
and picking a few grapes to munch on while we anxiously awaited the next shooting star!
While grape arbors were quite rigid and strong, they were not indestructible. The yard behind
ours -– that house faced Crescent Street –- was where Miss Osteen lived. She was of course known
by many as most all of us had her for English classes (59-60 for me) in Edmunds High School. Even
though she could put the fear of God in you at school, she was a wonderful lady and her wisdom and
rules of life she passed on to all of us in her classes stayed with all of us as we left school and set
off on life’s adventures.
I can still hear her right now standing there in class and telling us with solid conviction in her voice,
“A first impression is a lasting impression!” 62 years later, that statement is still dead on and it
served me well in my life’s adventures. “Thanks, Miss Osteen!”
Anyway, she also had a huge grape arbor in her backyard and it was located about 10 feet from our
back fence. One day around Christmas in 1959 while we were on Christmas break from school, some
of us were shooting firecrackers in my backyard and by accident a huge, long string of
firecrackers got tossed over the fence.
What had happened is that the string (maybe 100 firecrackers all tied together) had been lit and
thrown on the ground. Nothing happened and somebody went over to pick it up to relight it. Well,
just as this shall remain nameless individual picked up the string, it started going off and the
startled pick-up person screamed and threw the now popping string up and over his head.
Unfortunately, his throw was strong enough to pitch the well lighted string of firecrackers up and
over the fence and on top of Miss Osteen’s grape arbor. Being in the dead of winter and with lots
of dead leaves still on the arbor, it didn’t take long for the firecrackers to start a fire.
As we watched from our hiding place the firemen leaving her backyard upon extinguishing the
roaring blaze (totally destroyed the arbor), we could see even from our safe distance away the
look of madness in her eyes. Even though it was a real accident, I do not think anyone would have
And yes, going back to school after Christmas that year was tough. She just knew that I had
something to do with it but being the lady that she was, she never said a thing.
Grapes –- what a wonderful natural resource to have while growing up.
Next to grapes in our neighborhood to munch on while out playing were the figs. We had a huge fig
tree in our yard that was another one of those things brought from the country when Grandmother
moved to Sumter.
One of my most cherished memories of my childhood is remembering how I felt looking out of my
bedroom window on the second floor at the back of the house and seeing Mama after she had
zoomed into the backyard after getting off work from work at Tuomey.
After her trademarked sliding stop in her parking space, she would get out of her car parked right
next to the fig tree and start picking a few ripe figs to eat. Some mornings when it was misty, she
looked like an angel floating there in the yard below me. Her moving about the tree wearing her
starched white uniform and long cape and her white cap looking like a bright light absolutely
Straddling the fence line between my back yard and the yard next door where Ransom Cooper’s
grandmother lived, was a huge Catalpa tree –- also commonly called a Catawba tree.
What made this tree a fantastic natural resource for all us fishing buddies was that this tree
supported thousands of Catawba worms. They are the larva of the sphinx moth and they feed on
the leaves of this tree and make fantastic bait for fishing. What is also great is how you can have
them all year long for bait even though their life cycle on the tree was not all that long.
The trick was to place some cut-up leaves in a Mason jar, dump a bunch of the worms in there also
and put it in the freezer. Come time to go fishing, just take out the jar and by the time you get to
your favorite fishing spot, the worms would have thawed out will be crawling around in the jar.
Uncle John did this all the time and it freaked my Mama out – putting the worms in the freezer on
the back porch. She finally made him paint the jars so she could not see the worms inside.
My yard and the yard next door where Michael and Danny Hill lived were blessed with huge,
mature pecan trees. Goodness –- I must have eaten hundreds of pounds of those while growing up
on Church Street. Between just our two yards, there were more pecans than all of us could pick
up, shell, and eat.
There were lots of pecan trees spread throughout our neighborhood and I don’t think anyone was
ever lack in having some. To this day, I can still eat them until I feel like I am going to burst.
Across our back fence and next to it, was a huge Chinaberry tree. While this tree is mostly planted
for the prolific shade that it provides when mature, the wood itself is considered useless -- bad
firewood I’m told, not suitable for building purposes, etc.
However, it did have one redeeming attribute that all of us kids loved -– the berries themselves.
These trees in our neighborhood provided us with an almost unlimited supply of slingshot
ammunition. Need I say more?
By the way, with another abundant natural resource in our neighborhood -– Dogwood trees –- we
had a fantastic source to cut you a forked limb from the tree and make one heck of a great
slingshot. That, along with a discarded ruptured bicycle inner tube to be cut into strips to make
the actual slings, guaranteed us we were never out of weapons to play with.
Natural resources –- yes, we were blessed with lots on them growing up on Church Street. They
gave us things to build with, make things out of, and even provided for those special times when in
the middle of a raging Army battle or a big Indian attack against our fort, we got hungry and
needed something good to snack on.
For all those wonderful times, I am forever thankful.
As I started thinking about old Sumter Memories and things I could write about, I realized that a
lot of them focused on the street itself (or very near it) where I grew up. As I read other
memories posted on social media sites like Facebook, I saw that same thing seemed to be apart of a
lot of our childhood memories -- the house we grew up in, or something about one or two others
near by, or a cross street, or a park or business nearby, an open field, etc.
Looking back on these memories now 60+ years later, I am thankful for all the memories that
Church Street provide me with for in reality, it provided for the physical structure for so many
memories to have been made –- like the roller skating on it that I will talk about in another chapter.
One block north of my house on Church Street headed towards Riley Ball Park was another physical
paradise of sorts that Church Street provided -- a place we called the “Back Field.”
In the late 40s and up through the 50s, Church Street, between Pear and Pine Streets, only had 4
houses on the left side and the last half of the block was a huge field. The field was bordered by
Pine Street to the north and stretched from Church Street all the way over to some trees growing
beside Rowland Avenue to the West.
The Back Field was paradise in that it provide for all sorts of activities. First of all, a lot of it was
covered in tall, lightly tan colored broom straw. I can remember cutting bunches of it for my
grandmother who would then carefully bundle/bind it into whisk type brooms using string to tie it
all together. They made excellent brooms that were used around all the fireplaces in the house.
The abundant broom straw also provided all us enterprising and creative kids a bunch of other
useful rewards -- like hiding in it when we played, cutting maze paths through it and best of all,
setting it on fire and seeing how long it would take the fire department to come and put it out. The
only problem with that was that since my Uncle John was a City of Sumter Fireman, he knew right
off the bat who most likely had been playing with matches.
No matter who might have accidentally struck a match and caught the Back Field on fire, he would
always look directly at me at the supper table that night knowing full well that as innocent as I
tried to look that I was most likely the guilty culprit in this latest brush fire call he had to respond
to. With a stern voice and a tiny grin on his face, he would say, “Well, I guess somebody up the
street has been playing with matches again!”
Anyway, after the fires were put out and things settled down, we would have a place to play
baseball (pretending we were at Riley Park just a block a way). This huge open field also provided
us with a fantastic place to fly kites which by the way were all homemade. I think I was out of the
Navy before I ever had a store-bought kite. It should also be noted that the accidental burning of
the Back Field was a yearly and sometimes, twice annual event!
And finally, this field right off Church Street provided us with ample places to practice the
challenging and rewarding art of cave digging which we perfected to an art form -- caves with
wooden/sod roofs, interconnecting tunnels, chair & tables inside, the works. We were smart enough
to not trust the sandy type loose soil that made cave digging so easy in Sumter and all our tunnels
were completely shored up with timbers and wood. We tried to never make a tunnel longer than
Back behind my house and running along Roland Avenue was another open field that also saw many
caves dug, played in, and then covered up. Cave digging was very popular in my young days and
every kid I knew -- boys and girls alike -- love to dig them and play in them.
The sandy soil there in Sumter made it easy and that allowed for all of us to be creative in our
digging. I dug one cave in my back yard that was at least an 8 foot square and 8 feet deep --
complete with heavy timbers over the opening and that covered with old sheets of tin and then
that covered with dirt.
I even had a wire run down into for lights attached under the roof. The room also had a small table
and two chairs. I thought about building a bed down there but Mama put her foot down and said,
Needless to say, this hole -- no matter how great it looked, etc. -- did not sit well with Uncle
Andrew as it was too close to his flower gardens and alas, I had to fill it back in and go
Anyway, what is really strange to me now is that even after all these years, I still do not know why
we called the large field down near Riley Park the “Back Field.” I just assume it was called that by
those who came along before us and we just stuck with the name.
Anyway, it was a fantastic place that allowed so many of us to be free and just explore all sorts of
outdoor activities. I feel sorry for so many kids today that just sit in front of a TV, or play a video
game all afternoon, etc. We were outside and played hard, imaginatively, and came home happy,
dirty, and hungry!
Thanks Church Street!
In the previous chapter, I talked before about an area near my home at “410” that we all referred
to as the “Back Field.”
As I stated earlier, this huge broom straw covered field was a wonderful resource for all sorts of
things to help entertain ourselves with like setting it on fire to see how long it would take the Fire
Department to get there and extinguish the blaze, digging caves and tunnels in its easy to dig sandy
type soil beneath our feet, and playing baseball and football on it after it had been burned.
While the Back Field did provide for brush fire training for the local Fire Department, it also was
used for one more important activity –- kite flying.
Each year, springtime with its stiff breezes signaled that another year of some great kite flying
had arrived. As the year moved along with long, warm summer and crisp fall afternoons, kite flying
was just a happy time to try and outwit the winds and surprise friends with new designs.
Two things come to mind quickly about those days long ago.
One, I do not remember that any of us ever had a store-bought kite –- it seems like we all made our
own (I know for a fact that I did) and two, because there were so many homemade kites in the air
so to speak, the size, shapes, and colors of all our kites were unbelievable.
For example, something as simple as using the colored newspaper of the Sunday Funnies versus the
regular pages of the newspaper produced a never-ending supply of different looking kites.
As with all the things we did that were associated with playtime in and around Church Street, we
allowed our inventiveness and creativity to be apart of kite building as well. Oh, we all had the
basic diamond-shaped kites – mainly because they were the easiest to build -– but occasionally,
someone showed up with some strange looking contraptions.
“It’ll never fly” was the standard greeting -- followed by a huge chorus of laughter -- given to all
these new inventions or radical modifications to known models that would fly.
All sorts of weird things showed up for testing in the Back Field like a traditional looking kite with
a shark fin-like thing on top, or two of them on the top and angled out like a “V.” Some kites had
holes cut in them, others had multiples tails attached versus some that had very long skinny tails
and then some with tails that had pieces of cloth tied to the tail to make it look like it had a bunch
of bow ties on it.
Some even tried three or fours tails, each maybe 5 or 6 feet long and made out of 2-inch wide rolls
of crepe paper –- all in a continuing effort to find just that one right tail piece that would provide
the ultimate in kite stability and maneuverability.
All these things –- tails, fins, holes, whatever -- were our attempts to make the kites fly higher
and/or be controlled more easily, especially when kite fighting.
During kite fighting, many a kite bit the dust as we stood there and/or ran around the field holding
our kite sting to make our kite hit our opponent’s kite and make it crash.
When I say bit the dust, I mean that generally the two kites got so tangled up together and both
headed for the ground at high speed and crashed or ended up in the trees nearby because we could
no longer steer them safely away from them. Of course, in the case of a double crash, the one that
hit the ground last was the winner of that fight contest.
Another cool thing for us was one day I think it was Sam Porter who showed up with his new
invention –- a dual-string controlled kite. With two strings attached to the kite, he was able to
steer his kite almost like flying an airplane. Wasn’t fair –- his creation sent all our kites into the
ground as he could hit ours easily with his controlled hits.
We even resorted to taping discarded double-edge razor blades to the two end points of the
horizontal cross brace on a standard diamond-shaped kite. During kite fights, the object (intent)
was to fly your kite against the lift string of your opponent’s kite and cut his string with one of
your kite’s wingtips now enhanced with razor blades and thereby assuring instant death to the kite
that was struck.
Needless to say when some parents heard about this little trick/stunt of ours, this form of aerial
kite combat came to a sudden death itself!
Anyway, I clearly remember the day when I showed up at the back field with a new kite design that
my brother had suggested I try to build. After he was discharged from the Navy and returned
home from Korea after the war was over, he told me about all the great kites he had seen while his
ship was home-ported in Sasebo, Japan.
After carefully following his drawings and instructions and after many hours of construction, I
arrived at the back field with my new contraption in hand. As the roars of “It’ll never fly” and
laughter filled the air, even I seriously doubted this thing could fly.
I mean, how in the world could a tall square-shaped box fly?
I had arrived at the back field with a bright red 5-foot tall, 18-inch square box kite. Even now when
I see one flying, I am in awe of the aerodynamics involved that keeps it up in the air. In 1953 when
I was 11 years old, it was just pure magic –- nothing else made sense!
I had a huge reel of my Uncle John’s 50-pound fishing line and soon, I had it attached to the bridle
line on the kite and someone walked away from me carrying the kite. At about 100 feet away, they
lifted the kite up and let go as I started running away in the opposite direction, pulling heavily on
the lift string trying to make my contraption rise higher and higher into the air.
I was immediately scared as the kite created a tremendous amount of drag as I tried to run and
then it started lifting rapidly into the sky above me and this made me even more afraid as I felt
like the kite was going to actually lift me up off the ground.
With the air filled with joyous yelps and screams of excitement, I struggled with the kite --
begging someone to please help me hold the thing, and me as I was scared to death I was going to
be pulled up into the sky. Being stubborn, there was no way in you know what that I was about to
let go of my crazy but beautiful brand new creation.
After what seems hours of hanging on for dear life to the box kite that was now let out on all of
the fishing line I had at the time –- two reels worth of line that was maybe 600 feet in length -– it
was time to reel it back in. Wow –- was that a chore. This kite had so much pull it was unbelievable
and it took several of us to finally pull the kite back down to earth.
Hours later, on my second flight of the day, my beautiful new creation decided it was time to go
solo. The wind had really picked up and the drag and pull on the kite was tremendous and it had
become almost impossible to hold it.
Then just as I started to try and reel it back down to earth, we heard this pop noise –- like a guitar
string breaking -- as the fishing line broke and my bright red box kite headed for the stars it
seemed as it was last seen disappearing from sight as it flew over Riley Park. I often wondered how
far that thing actually flew before it came crashing back to earth.
However, all was not lost as within days, the back field was awash in the latest fad –- box kites.
Kite flying on Church Street was never the same after that.
You ever have one of those days (now) when you sit around and realize that nothing has happened of
any consequence –- not even a momentary disruption of your TV reception (cable or dish)?
Worst still, is when you realize that, wow, nothing has happened all week! I guess that is one of the
benefits of being retired that is not on the “Top ten things you will enjoy after retiring” list you
were handed on your last day at work.
Anyway, sadly that was not the case for me around 60 years ago about this time of the year. None
of us that lived up on the north end of Church Street could have ever been prepared for what went
down that fateful day.
The day started off like any other day on Church Street for us –- cars and trucks running up and
down the street making us constantly having to jump out of the way as we tried to skate or play
stick ball, whatever, in the middle of the street. With us being around ten years old, the street was
one of our playgrounds and cars, trucks, etc, were the nuisance –- not us!
Then it happened.
Without warning, the horrible noises of grinding metal and shattering glass filled our ears with
alarming sounds of disaster and doom. At first, we could not fathom what in the world was
happening to our peaceful world as it sounded like the whole world was coming to a grinding halt.
After what seemed like hours of terrifying screams, grinding metal, and breaking glass, we
realized that something bad -– real bad -- had happened up near Riley Park and we all threw caution
to the wind and raced towards the park.
As we approached the intersection of Pine and Church Street we saw it -– our worst fears
Lying there in the middle of the huge intersection and then spread out for hundreds of feet
towards Rowland Avenue to the west were the remains of a huge opened-bodied Coca Cola delivery
truck and thousands of broken Coca Cola and other brands of soft drink bottles.
It seems like a new delivery driver had come flying up Pine Street (from the market over on Main
Street) and not realizing there was a stop sign at Church Street, barreled into the intersection
and was immediately t-boned by another truck headed towards the ball park.
The impact slammed the Coca Cola truck around and then made it flip over on its side –- sending
thousands and thousands of glass drink bottles smashing into the street and sidewalks in all
directions. It was like the truck was a pinwheel and it just spun around slinging bottles by the
thousands into the street.
When we arrived on the scene, we thought our world had ended because to us, surely that must
have been all the Cokes left in the world -- now broken to pieces right there in front of us and
the rivers of Coke running in all directions on the street meant that there would never be any left
for us to drink again!
To this day, I have never seen as much broken glass as we were faced with on that fateful day.
What was amazing was that amidst the absolute carnage of broken wooden cases, glass bottles,
etc., were the number of survivors (non-broken bottles). By the way -– the drivers of both vehicles
in this crazy collision were also OK.
Not mentioning any names here but lets just say that more than one survivor bottle made its way
home with all of us who after recovering from the shock of the devastation before us, realized
that a gift had been presented to us enterprising and ever resourceful kids!
To say the least, it took a while for all this commotion to die down and peace was eventually
restored to Church Street and within days (took a long time to get all the broken glass up) we
were back to our old ways and enjoying the other benefits, like skating, that Church Street
In the mid to late 40s when I was around 4-7 years old, one of the things I did with my
grandmother was super special -- in my mind anyway. When summertime rolled around, I would sit
out on the front porch with her in the huge swing that was hanging on one end of the porch.
Baseball season was in full swing and we sat there on the porch and rocked back and forth and
watched cars zooming past our house and headed up the street towards Riley Park. We also
watched people laughing and talking excitedly as they too walked up the street and headed to
Getting to stay up late on game nights was a treat for me for it was like having front row seats to
something exciting and magical in a way, especially later when the game was over.
I still think to this very day that the reason why I thoroughly enjoy just propping up comfortably
somewhere and watching the world go by is totally related to all those nights I sat there on the
porch with my grandmother and watched the whole world go by our house it seemed.
While I am thinking about it -– jump ahead in time when I was in the Navy and stationed on
Treasure Island (middle of San Francisco Bay, halfway between San Francisco and Oakland)
attending a specialize special ops school. On some weekends, a couple of my fellow Navy buddies
and I would gather up our folding chairs and cooler and head for the East Bay Transit Terminal on
the San Francisco side of the Bay Bridge, prop our chairs up on a huge ledge that overlooked the
gigantic public lobby in the center of the transit facility and just sit back and watch the show.
The show was an unending collage, parade of people scurrying about trying to get from Point A to
Point B. It was mesmerizing as the hours passed by with scenes of comedy, tragedy, pain, laughter,
crying -- the works. All this plus scenes of people that were carrying things that in lots of cases,
defied all sanity or the laws of physics it seemed. All in all, it was an absolute blast of free
entertainment and it reminded me over and over again of all those wonderful afternoon and nights
that I sat with my grandmother on the front porch at “410” and watched the baseball fans parade
back and forth in front of us.
Anyway –- back to my story -- as the evening wore on, we could hear the roar of the crowd at times
up at Riley Park even though we were over two and a half block away from the stadium. Then it
happened –- the game was over and the light parade would start!
For what seemed like hours in my young mind, I sat there in the swing and was mesmerized by the
continuous stream of cars coming back down Church Street -- their lights on, people laughing in the
cars, and soon, here came all the folks who had walked to the park.
Car after car slowly drove down Church Street pass our house. Some cars were rumbling noisily
along while others quietly purred away. With their lights on, all the cars seemed to be lit up -- like
it was some sort of special light show parade.
It reminded me of the Trolley Car parades we had over in Memorial Park where we took shoe
boxes, cut holes in them, covered the holes with colored tissue paper, placed a lighted candle inside
and then pulled the decorated boxes along behind us by a string attached to the boxes.
Generally, they just slid along on the sidewalk. One year I made four wooden wheels and attached
them via two axles I made out of bamboo that I stuck through the sides of the bottom box I was
using. My trolley car that year was three boxes high and was hard to slide so I went for the gold
and added the wheels. The next year, it was amazing how many trolley cars had wheels on them!
I remember in the early 70s when I was a Cub Scoutmaster, I introduced the "Trolley Car
Parade" to the boys in my pack (had 35 members at the time). They went crazy over it, especially
when I told them that everything had to be done by hand by them -- find boxes, paper, cut the
windows, add on rooms, stories, anything else (wings, whatever) to the main box and use candles of
their choice, including multiple ones to light it all up.
The creativity was astounding. The parents were blown away that the kids did so much with so
little cheap parts and were also blown away with how much fun the kids had in making, designing
their own trolley cars, and decorating them.
This was in contrast (at the time) to the store bought Pinewood Derby car kits that were available
at the time and which they also did but it was something about that trolley car box with the candle
in it, colored paper windows glowing in the dark that got their attention. I had made a trolley car
and demonstrated it with the lights off at the end of a pack meeting to show the concept and they
were hooked -– they could not wait to start building their own.
Lord, it you tried to do it now you'd probably have to have safety permits, inspections, warning
labels, someone standing by with a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit at the ready, etc.
Anyway, sitting there in the swing on the porch at “410” and watching all those cars go by all lit up
was something so simple yet so magical to a 5 or 6 year old. I dreaded the end of the parade and
was always sad when the last car passed by the house and sped on towards Broad Street.
Grandmother knew I hated for the parade to end and she would wrap her arms around me and say,
“It’s OK boy, I’ll make them come back tomorrow night.”
With that promise, I was satisfied and knew that again the next night, my grandmother would make
the magical light parade on Church Street happen all over again!
From around 1948 until sometime around 1954, having a simple metal device in your pocket was the
key to having a great time of being a daredevil on wheels -- roller skates wheels -- that were kept
well oiled and spinning smoothly as we raced up and down Church Street.
This device -- the skate key -- was of course one of the most important, prized things a kid in those
days could possess. Without it, you were dead in the water – you could not loosen or tighten the
skate clamps to your shoes or remove the wheels for repair, etc.
Long before skating rinks came on the scene, the sidewalks and streets in Sumter were our rinks
and one of the absolute best was the block on Church Street between Crescent and Pear Streets.
I thought I was the luckiest kid in town to live in the middle of that wonderful block. For some
reason, that one block of Church Street was paved with the blackest and mirror smoothest tar I
have ever seen (anywhere in Sumter or since then). There were no cracks, bumps, gravel exposed
areas, whatever –- just 460 feet of pure skating paradise.
I wore out many skate wheels on Church Street. During the summer time, so many kids would come
and skate on our block that cars could hardly move safely up and down the street.
Finally, the Police Department decided they needed to do something so for many years, at least
once a week in the summer time, they would come and put barricades up at Crescent and Pear
Streets and for maybe 2 or 3 hours, dozens of us daredevils on wheels had total control of
Another great asset we had were the sidewalks that seemed to parallel every street in Sumter.
While nothing could compare to the jewel we had in the street in front of “410” we were lucky to
also have the sidewalks for we used them like our own highways to safely get around town on our
skates. Oh, you had to watch out for cracks and bumps where the expansion joint lines were but
hey -– that just added to the excitement as we honed our skills at weaving, dodging, and jumping
I count myself so lucky to think back on all the great adventures like street skating we all had
while growing up in Sumter.
After seeing all the water puddles in the streets all around our neighborhood these past few
rainy, soggy weeks, it made me remember the Church Street Swimming Pool we had in the late 40s
and early 50s.
There is a slight but gradual dip on Church Street between W. Charlotte Avenue and Crescent
Avenue. About halfway in between these two streets, the road drops about one and a half, maybe
two feet in elevation and there are two drain culverts located at this location.
Being the ever inventive and enterprising kids we were back in those days and always on the
lookout for something to do to have fun, we found out what four sandbags we had found could be
When a big summer rain storm came along, these bags would magically appear out of nowhere
(bushes alongside of the house of one of my friends who just happened to live near the drain
culverts) and when placed two on each side of the road to cover the culvert openings, a magical
swimming hole would slowly start to appear in a very short time.
Eventually, if we had enough rain, it would flood Church Street halfway back towards Charlotte
and Crescent and deep enough to almost swim in and for sure deep enough to float all the boats we
had. When we started noticing that cars were stopping and backing up to go around this water
obstacle, we knew it was time to play in our newly created pool.
For the next hour or so we had a ball playing in our pool. Sometimes there might only be three or
four of us out there and then on other days, it looked like the swimming pool crowd over at the Elk’s
Club on Broad Street just a couple blocks away. The weather generally determined our crowd size.
On long, drawn out cloudy, drizzly, rainy days and the air temp was low, our swimming crowd was
low. However, on those hot summer afternoons when almost out of nowhere, a full blown
frog-strangler rainstorm appeared and dumped 2 inches of rain in just an hour, it was busy, busy,
busy in the pool -– everyone wanted to get in on the action
While 9 out of 10 vehicles did back up and not venture into the deep water, every now and then
one would brave the high water -– usually a high clearance truck -– and would blow their horn and
barrel on through. This action created huge wave like ripples in our pool and made for some fun
times floating and banging around on our inner tubes.
I know the City knew what we were doing but no one ever bothered us about it. More than once we
would see a City Police car pull up near the water on the road, get out of their cars, look at us,
wave, get back in the car and leave.
They knew that when we were done playing that we would pull the sandbags up and all would be
back to normal in an hour or so.
I guess if kids did that sort of thing today they would get arrested or something.
I also guess that the parents (most) of today wouldn't’t allow their kids to do that -– too dangerous,
might drown, get run over by a car, catch a cold, get pneumonia, catch a virus, get an infection, get
bitten by a tree roach, get too tired, too dirty, and come home soaking wet and track mud through
their Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval showcase kitchens – the list would be endless.
In 1948, it was simple. All I remember was one instruction given to everyone I knew -– be home
for supper by 4:30 so you will have time to dry off at the back door and put on clean, dry clothes.
As I watched my own kids grow up and now with my grandchildren almost out of high school, I
noticed that hobbies (in general) seemed to have fallen out of favor with kids.
While I recognize that many kids today have all sorts of hobbies and that they pursue them with a
passion just as we (those of us born in the 30s, 40s, and 50s) did while growing up, there just
seems to be fewer instances of it or maybe it is because they just don’t broadcast/talk about it
like we did.
Everything now seems to be so electronic or video in nature. I’m not saying that’s good or bad but
I just hate to see so many good opportunities for them (playing outside, pursing some other type
hobby other than a video game, etc.) just slipping pass them and in the blink of an eye, they are
going to be twice as old as they are right now and in just a few more blinks, they are going to be
70+ years old like I am and wondering, “What happened – where did all the time in my life go
While I am sure TV dramatically changed the world we live in and grew up in, I hate the fact that
it did it so effectively.
Whereas my generation spent 95% of its free time outside the house or we were actively pursing a
hobby within the house, kids today seem content to just let a TV show or a video game challenge
their mental and/or physical abilities.
This is in contrast to doing something themselves that strains their abilities to the fullest and in
my opinion, gives the greater rewards in the end for knowing that, “YES -- you had done it, you
had solved it, you had built it, you had found it, etc.” -- the list is endless.
One of my earlier childhood hobbies was of all things, chemistry. I know some of you are laughing
at that concept with thoughts like, “Mike, you can’t even mix a glass of wine,” going through your
mind knowing full well all I have to do is pour it out of a bottle!
Anyway, I grew up enjoying the heck out of tinkering with the various chemicals that could be
found around the home, bought at the drug store, found in the trash, and even bought in the form
of chemistry sets.
Finding stuff is how my mad-scientist chemistry days all got started in the first place. In the late
40s and early 50s, we roamed all over Sumter looking for stuff. One fantastic place was the open
pit trash dump site out behind Morris College just past the Water Works and Riley Park at the
end of Church Street.
Goodness, you just could not dump things today like was so commonly done in years gone by.
Anyway, judging by all the good stuff we always found out behind Morris College, they must have
had one heck of a great chemistry lab.
We’d find –- unbroken -– test tubes, beakers, all sorts/sizes of flasks, distilling tubes (coiled
glass tube condensers), burner stands, jars and cans of all sorts of chemicals. It was like walking
into a chemistry warehouse and saying, “I’ll take three of those, six of them, a dozen of those jars,
and oh yeah, give me all those test tubes over there in those nice wooden racks!”
Yes, chemistry was a many-year hobby for me there on Church Street -- complete with the usual
making of stink bombs, smoke bombs, some serious explosives (we loved to blow crap up with our
homemade gunpowder), and a host of other neat things like invisible ink, acids to etch metals with,
fantastic foaming/gushing erupting volcanoes, etc.
With powerful firecrackers like Cherry Bombs and M-80s readily available to us in the 50s,
adding them in whole or in pieces to other mixtures we had concocted made for some pretty hefty
firepower. We could shoot softballs over 200 feet with our homemade cannon using a 6-foot long
piece of discarded 4-inch steel pipe, with end cap -- found via one of our street scavenging-for-
parts forays -- as the cannon we used to defend “Fort Sumter!”
We, just like so many other kids of the day, made Cherry Bomb guns out of 3 or 4-foot long pieces
of galvanized pipe with a threaded nipple on one end with a hole drilled through it for the fuse to
poke through. One Cherry Bomb inserted in the end of the pipe, end cap screwed on with fuse
poking out of end cap, packing rammed down the barrel to rest against Cherry Bomb, projectile like
a lead fishing weight loaded next with a final packing wad on top made for one heck of a gun.
This (use of Cherry Bombs) was a lot easier than using our own homemade gunpowder charges.
These things were literally like homemade shotguns and at close range, it is an absolute miracle
that all of us survived without ever once hurting ourselves.
Kids -– do not try this at home -- it is/was totally stupid!
And yes, with those fantastic distiller tubes we were lucky enough to stumble across, we even
experimented with making booze.
Thankfully, our blow-it-up days went safely and none of us ever got hurt (seriously) and the booze
never quite made it to the big time because it tasted like crap (most likely because we never got
the right mash mixture figured out). One of my nameless friends swore his uncle was a bootlegger
and that he knew exactly how to make the mash just like his uncle did. Yeah, right. The only thing
his uncle probably made that was any good and homemade was ice cream!
Anyway, the chemistry hobby that a lot of us shared was long lasting and very entertaining in that
it really did allow for us being creative in so many ways which in turn gave us many interesting
While playing with chemistry sets and related activities were fun and dangerous, we did pursue
other activities, hobbies if you will, that were dead calm in comparison. For example, a lot of us
kids collected shortwave radio listening QSL cards with a passion.
Listening to shortwave broadcasts from stations all over the world was a fascinating and time
consuming hobby – from building the actual radios themselves, building the antennas and putting
them up, plus the untold hours on end at nighttime sitting there and ever so slowly turning the radio
dial and anxiously awaiting a familiar voice or call letters of a known radio station like Radio
Moscow to blast out on the speakers.
If you wrote to the stations that you heard – they all gave an address to mail letters to -– and gave
them a report of the station heard with program content, time, and the frequency the station was
heard on, etc., they would mail back to you a QSL card representing their station that officially
acknowledged receipt of your report which basically said, “I confirm your transmission.”
One of my oldest friends (and partner in lots of wild adventures) was Sam Porter and he and I
built most of our own short-wave radios -– either from scratch or from parts we salvaged from
As I have stated many times, we (kids) were always on the hunt for stuff as we roamed around and
beyond our own neighborhoods. Even today, it is absolutely amazing what people just toss out onto
the trash pile in front of their house. As an aside, Deanna quit letting me haul stuff to the county
dump many, many years ago because she said I always came back home with more trash/junk than I
had when I went to the dump!
Anyway, Sam and I loved to go savaging for radio parts in the alley behind the SEACO Music store
up on Main Street. SEACO -- founded in 1946 and stands for “Sumter Electric Appliance Company”
-- had a huge open bin trash dumpster out back where they threw all the old radios I guess they
couldn't fix or ones brought in as a trade-in for new ones and they thought they were not worth the
effort to fix.
For whatever the reason was for dumping the radios, the trash bin was a continuous supply of good
radio parts (switches, tubes, resistors, induction coils, capacitors, tuning capacitors and dials,
knobs, etc.) and we made some killer shortwave radios from the scavenged parts. Sometimes, even
military type stuff (from Shaw Field I guess) showed up in the trash there and they were always
Over many years, a lot of us had multiple radios set up for listening and of course no good
shortwave listener would ever attempt to tune in far away stations without some great antennas.
We had lots of them strung up between poles and limbs in trees in our yards and some were
Using glass insulators, we actually constructed directional beam antennas made up of maybe seven
or eight individual strands of wire. Since shortwave stations transmitted on low frequencies (lower
than your basic AM radio stations), that meant that the actual wave length of the signal was very
large and hence, the very large size needed for an efficient directional beam antenna. I had two in
my backyard –- one aligned to the Northeast towards Europe and Radio Moscow beyond, and
another one aligned due South towards Cuba and South America beyond.
With our fine-tuned antennas, stations like Radio Moscow, Radio Japan, Radio Budapest (Hungary),
Radio Brazzaville (French Equatorial Africa), and Radio HCJB (Quito Ecuador) crackled over the
speakers or earphones we were wearing. We were up all night a lot of times because the best
listening for us in the eastern part of the U.S. was from around midnight to around 6 AM in
As the evening wore on and the U.S. radios stations signed off for the night, the distant radios
stations like those mentioned above became even stronger. The Cuban and South American stations
we listened to sounded stronger than the local radio stations (like WFIG there in Sumter) and I
think this is where/when I fell in love with Latin music -- the rhythm and exotic beat was
What I loved about this hobby was it opening up to me just how big the world around me really was.
By listening to all these stations and eagerly searching them out and then contacting them, reading
about the places, looking up facts about them at the library, etc., I and my fellow shortwave
listeners really understood that our world did not stop at the city limits that surrounded Sumter.
From the late 40s up until mid 50s, this hobby consumed a lot of my free time. While I stopped
listening probably around 1959, I kept all my QSL cards and other things (calendars, program
guides, etc.) mailed to me by the stations over the years that I did listen.
All this (collection), unfortunately, ended up in the trash after Mama had an encounter with the
FBI about me there at the house after I had left Carolina and went to work for NSA and the
Navy. This event is captured in another chapter called “The FBI Capers.”
What was really amazing about this hobby was how long the stations you contacted kept you on
their mailing list. As late as 1996 –- the year we closed “410” up after all of Grandmother’s
children had passed away and her will stated that the house had to be sold –- mail to me from
Radio Moscow still came like clockwork every year.
Another hobby, other than old comic books that a lot of us pursued in the 40s and 50s when I
grew up, was football and baseball card collecting.
I had my collection of favorite players just like everyone else but not like everyone else, I had a
mother who thought that once the son leaves home, all childish things belonging to him needs to be
I had (I know now … not then) some great comic books from the 30s and 40s -– first editions to a
lot of the very collectable books today. I don’t think the dust had settled in my dorm room at the
University of South Carolina before Mama made her first sweep through my room there at “410”
and all my comic book heroes ended up in the trash out behind the house.
It was 6 months later after going to USC before I found out that all my football and baseball
cards had also suffered the same indignity. When I confronted Mama about it, especially about
he signed baseball cards that Bobby Richardson had given to me via his friendship with Uncle
John (“Rabbit” to his friends like Bobby), she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Oh well.”
Long story short -- in just a matter of a few years after I graduated from high school, Mama had
trashed all my baseball, football, and QSL cards. I’m not sure of the total value but I suspect
that if I still had all those books and cards, some of them would be worth some good money by now.
Coin collecting was another great hobby that gave me and a lot of my friends many hours of
enjoyment and challenges.
With all the visitors that came to “410” it was natural to experience a lot of different things --
especially those visitors that came from foreign places like England, or Germany, or wherever.
They always had coins that they gave us kids and the first time a friend of Uncle Andrew gave me
some pennies from England, I was hooked on coin collecting big time.
The English pennies during this time period (and up until 1971) were huge –- 31 mm in size. For
comparison, the diameter of our U.S. half dollar is only 30.61 mm in size. As a child, having a large
number of these pennies (my uncle’s friend gave me a box filled with about 500 hundred of them),
I thought I was the richest kid in Sumter!
Collecting coins was so much fun back then. My Uncle Hugh who ran service stations at the corners
of Calhoun and Main Streets and Liberty and Sumter Streets for years, used to let me look though
the coins that filled his cash registers. If I found really good ones like a Barber (1892-1916) or
Standing Liberty (1916-1930) quarter and I didn’t have enough replacement money with me, he
would just say with that devilish grin of his, “This thing looks bent … here, you keep it.”
My Uncle John saved pennies and he would let me go through them every month or so to see if I
could find any dates I might need. I will talk more about his penny saving routines in a
Aunt Sarah’s husband Uncle Dick always brought me special coins (U.S. and foreign) when they
came to “410” to visit us from their home in Hamlet, NC. He loved the beauty of the coins and
taught me, showed me that aspect of coin collecting and I was always thankful to him for
introducing me to the art side of coin collecting.
Yes, coin collecting was fun in the 40s and 50s because you could still get in change, very old
coins with some dating back before 1900. Old pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, and
yes, even silver dollars could be found in lots of places.
Being able to collect coins from circulation as a childhood (or adult for that matter) hobby came
to a grinding halt (as far as I am concerned) in 1964 when the U.S. quit minting coins using silver.
All the silver coins in circulation at that time disappeared almost overnight as people started
hording them by the truck loads.
Even the lowly penny suffered hoarding when the Wheat Penny (obverse design since 1909 with
two shafts of wheat) went out of production in 1958 and was replaced with the Lincoln Memorial
design on the back. By the end of 1959, probably 80% of all Wheat Pennies in circulation had
disappeared from circulation as people started hording these as well.
Silver dollars had 40% silver in them for a few more years and you could buy special coin packs
from the U.S. Mint that had silver content. However, with the penny change in 1959 and the silver
change in the 60s, an era of bountiful excitement for the hunt for coins in circulation to fill that
missing slot in your coin book had come to an end.
Then there were us stamp collectors.
I loved collecting them as they were a tiny window to the world around me in that at the time,
stamps (to me anyway) were beautiful, colorful, and magical in that they teased the mind with some
great images/pictures and/or art work drawn on them of things long since gone like a multi-engine
seaplane on an airmail stamp.
You could collect stamps based on all sorts of interests like portraits of famous people, presidents,
etc., and other things like birds, flowers, bridges, planes, cars, trains, animals -– you name it, there
was a category for you!
As I have mentioned before, one of the things that all the people -- Grandmother, three uncles, one
aunt, mother, brother, sister, and others in and out at various times -- that I grew up with and lived
at “410” had in common was no one threw anything away.
Now that I think about this in these terms, I now realize that is why Deanna calls me a
pack rat -- because I never throw anything a way.
“Heck, I might need that some day!”
I am living proof that weird things like being a pack rat can be inherited!
Anyway, I honestly think that Grandmother and Aunt Ethel kept every postcard, every letter ever
mailed to them because when I came along in the 40s and fell into stamp collecting, I thought I was
in stamp collecting heaven as every closet, every storage trunk or shelf in the house was full of all
these letters, etc.
By the way, Uncles John and Andrew never threw any of their letters away and neither did Mama.
What made all this so great was that the letters, etc., covered the years from the late 1940s all
the way back into the late 1800s and the amount and variety of stamps available for me to pick
from was almost overwhelming.
There were letters and postcards from not only all over the United States, but from many
countries overseas –- England, France, Italy, Germany, China, Japan, Africa, South America --
you name it, I had stamps from there.
Each new find was like finding a silver dollar. With so many stamps to choose from, I had multiple
types of collections -– like one for nothing but trains, planes, & cars, then one by flowers, and one
of people. I also had the standard beginner’s stamp collecting book and filled it up with no problem.
By the way, just like scavenging around in trash bins in the alley ways around downtown Sumter
was good for finding old radios and other good stuff, they were also a stamp collectors dream in
that tons of business letters (the envelopes) were also tossed out by the hundreds and they
provided for another source of finding stamps.
These days, it would be rare if anyone wrote a letter to a business anymore or even paid a bill by
check via the mail as it is all just about totally electronic now via the Internet. So sad -- all those
beautiful stamps, especially the commemorative ones, are slowly disappearing.
I still have some of them (stamp collections) stored away as well as some of the coins I used to
collect. Maybe one day, I will give them to my grandkids -- if they ever put their video games down
long enough to try something else to have fun with.
Anyway, back to the old memories.
While I can’t speak of it personally, I know that the girls that grew up with us were heavy into
doll collecting as a hobby and they also had fantastic doll houses -- complete with furniture pieces
that you could buy, collect, or even have someone make them for you.
Some of these doll houses were huge -– like cut away house models of 2 and 3-story homes with
bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, dining rooms, living rooms, etc. Each room was filled with movable
pieces of furniture. Actually, they were quite cool to see and play with but goodness, ain't’t no way
in you know what would we –- the fearless boys of Church Street -- ever be caught with or seen
even looking at one of these, let alone play with it!
Several kids were also heavy into model trains as a hobby and one of the largest and finest model
train setups I have ever seen was across the street from me in Mike Gilchrist’s house. Both he and
his dad were into model railroading big time and their layout was the envy of every kid that had
the pleasure to lay eyes on it, let alone given permission to run the trains around the track.
In looking back on all this now, I realize that the biggest hobby that all of us had was just playing.
We role played -– we were cowboys and Indians, Army soldiers, cops and robbers, Captain Video,
Flash Gordon, sports players (baseball, foot ball) –- you name it, we did it (them).
Not only did all that role playing involve playing parts but we physically engaged in making our own
props -- forts, caves, ball fields, hospitals, horses, wagons, tanks, bows & arrows, spears, guns, ray-
guns, cars, trucks, trains -- whatever it took to make our play world as real as possible.
Our experiences became as real to us as the real things because we were hitting the ground hard,
sweating, getting banged up or soaking wet, falling down, getting cut up and bruised, covered in
blood, makeup, mud, whatever. All these things made our play time real and for a brief moment in
time, we were our heroes -- life was great!
I think all of our play times and hobbies helped shape us as young kids who learned that not only
does life have its good rewards but also we learned, sometimes the hard way, that life has
consequences that can harm us like when we were careless and fell off the fence (fort) while
playing Army or realizing that standing in front of the softball-shooting cannon while yelling, “Bet
you can’t hit me!” was not a good idea.
I am forever thankful for those people in my childhood who showed or taught me about things to
appreciate and collect and to then enjoy the rewards and values that can be gained from them.
Today when I see my grandkids and observe what they have with them or that is close by in case of
need, I am instantly reminded of the differences in time -– the times in which they are growing up in
and those times in the late 40s and early 50s I spent roaming all over Church Street in search of
something to do.
Whereas the most common tool I see in their hands is either an iPod type device or a smart phone
of some sort, I can see in my mind’s eye real tools –- hammers, saws, knives, screwdrivers, etc. -–
that were in my hands growing up.
All of us in my neighborhood had those common building tools in our possession. Why did we have
construction tools in our hands –- because we were constantly building things to either play with or
One of the things I loved about growing up at “410” was the old wooden barn/shed structure out
back that was built in the late 1800s. The main part was wide enough for at least two farm type
wagons -– hay or small weight load carrying types -– to sit side by side.
The main structure had a huge double wide barn type door on the front while the inside had an
open ceiling, that is, it was open all the way up to the peak of the two sided steep pitched roof.
Off to the right side of the main structure when facing the shed, were two side sheds with low
8-foot high roofs at the juncture with the main shed that slopped outwards for about 8 feet to
an outside wall height of about 7 feet.
These two sheds contained a huge coal bin in the front shed and two 55-gallon kerosene drums in
the rear shed. On the backside of the main shed structure was a long, narrow hen house that for
over 50 yrs, housed the egg-laying chickens that were part of the backyard amenities at “410.”
There was another hen house that stood all by itself about 20 feet away from the shed and I guess
it was for those chickens that didn’t lay eggs. Anyway, after the chickens disappeared for good
from the backyard at “410” in the early 50s, I used this old abandoned chicken house as my real
first standalone club house.
Year later -– some time in the early 80s –- I helped Uncle Andrew tear this old structure down.
When I ripped open on wall, I found a pack of Old Gold cigarettes that had remained hidden there
all those years. As I was still smoking at the time, I eagerly opened the pack and lit one up. Boom
-– I almost passed out it was so strong.
Back in the days when that cigarette pack was made, cigarettes like Old Gold probably contained
30-40 mg of nicotine whereas by the 80s with all the fuss about smoking being so prevalent on the
radio and TV, cigarettes had been weaned down to probably only contain 2-3 mg of nicotine -–
wimpy compared to the one that almost made me pass out!
Anyway, what made the main shed important to me was because it had been a working shed from
rural, farm use times until the present when I was there.
Working shed meant that it was filled with tools of every sort you could think of – from old
wooden bodied planes (block of crafted wood with a sharp steel wide blade locked in it that was
used to plane/shave wood down to size like shaving off the edge of a door so it would close
correctly) to modern day all steel planes, hammers etc.
Hammers, saws, manual brace and bit drills, and dozens of other cool tools filled the shelves or
hung on the walls of the main shed. Uncle John had many, many tools stored in the shed also and to
us kids, it was like we had hit the mother lode when it came time to find some cool tool to help us
Yes, build something -– not go to Walmart and buy something. We built boats of all sorts, race
cars, bicycle jumping ramps –- the list was endless.
In 1948, Uncle John started building a lake-front cabin down on his property at Santee. It seems
like I went with him every weekend all during the time he and a few friends built the cabin
themselves. I fell in love with hammers, saws, nails, and drills that summer.
The highlight of any of those trips was getting to actually nail a piece of wood that was part of
the house. I helped with the walls and floors and even got to saw pierces of lumber that were used
in the actual construction.
Uncle John believed in making all us kids work before we played and he made good use of all his
extra free help. However, out of that I got to learn how to use a ruler, measure lengths of wood,
etc., and how to properly cut wood, etc. By the time the cabin was finished, I felt like I was a
All that training, if you will, paid off in the years after that as I continued build things at “410.”
When I was 12 years old, I got tired of having my playhouse/clubhouse in one of the now
abandoned chicken coop buildings and decided to build my own clubhouse from the ground up.
After getting permission from Uncles John and Andrew to build it, Mama allowed me to go to a
local lumber yard and charge to her account, the actual building materials that I would need like
pressure treated posts for the foundation, framing lumber, siding, and tin for the roof plus lots
and lost of nails.
Four weeks after starting, my club house was finished –- complete with electric lights and running
water. The structure was not all that big –- just a 7-foot square wooden structure built up a foot
off the ground on top of the pressure treated posts I had buried 4 feet in the ground, with 8-foot
high walls and with a flat, slightly downward pitched tin roof with a 10-inch overhang all the way
around on all sides.
The “Bar Q Ranch” as it was later dubbed in tribute to a popular TV show out of Columbia at the
time featuring a character called “Cactus Quade,” became my haven to escape the goings on in “410.”
Out there in the backyard -– all the way to the rear –- I could play my music as loud as I wanted
too, sneak in a cigarette or two, and listen to my shortwave radio in peace. With a door that could
be securely locked from both the inside and outside, I felt like I had conquered the world – my
clubhouse looked beautiful.
I must have built it properly because so far, it has stood the test of time as it still stands (empty
and silent) 59 years later in the backyard of “410.” After I left home in 1960, Mama immediately
took over the Bar-Q and used it for storage. It was used in that capacity until we closed and sold
the house in 1996.
While the Bar Q Ranch was my crowing achievement in youthful construction while growing up at
“410,” there were other projects here and there that allowed all of us in the neighborhood to use
our tools collectively –- like in trying to build a boat.
What started out to be a sleek, all wooden runabout boat we could use down at Santee turned out
to be a wooden structure 5 feet wide, 12 feet long, and about 3 feet deep that seemed like it
weighed a ton -- couldn't’t be moved it was so heavy -- and ended up like a mini swimming pool.
With all the heavy waterproofing we had used (pitch tar), it held water easily and when filled up
with water, it held around 1,500 gallons of water.
You guessed it -– Uncle Andrew, who paid the water bill as his part of the “410” household
expenses, was not, let me repeat, not a happy camper when the bill came. Our problem was that
we filled up the boat let’s just say, more than once!
After graduating from boat building -- was told in no uncertain terms that no more boats could be
built in the backyard of “410” -- we moved on to building some of the best tree houses ever built
Tree houses were all built from found/discarded lumber we managed to find in many of our
scavenger hunts around Sumter. With lumber of various sizes and dimensions, our skills at
carpentry were severely tested.
However, we managed and all of us walked away from our youthful carpentry days with life-long
used skills we all learned while building things growing up in Sumter.
I should point out that back then, there was another sort of building material that we used and
just like in today’s world, its use saved the day so to speak on many occasions.
What was this miracle material, you might ask? Why it was none other that something called
friction tape or one other type of tape that was the most sought after –- one or two inch wide
white, hospital grade adhesive tape.
This tape, the tough white tape that Mama brought home from the hospital, was not like some of
the wimpy tapes that called themselves adhesive tape today.
Mama’s tape was the duck tape on steroids tape in her day. We spliced, held together more things
than you can shake a stick at with this virtually indestructible tape.
Skates were held together or on your foot with it when you lost your skate key, your raggedy
baseball was held together in almost perfect round shape with it, and many a cracked or broken
bat was put back together with this stuff, to name but just a few of its saving the day uses.
I have often wondered what all we could have done back then with the modern day fix it all
wonder, the one and only magical silver colored duct tape!
There is no telling what we could have achieved or done with it. But, in all fairness to the white
adhesive tape, we did pretty well with it. Maybe our inventiveness or demonstrated usefulness of
a good tape led to the development of our modern day miracle, duct tape. Who knew!
As the 50s began for me I became more aware of that new fangled thing everyone was talking
about all over town -– Television.
I’m not sure where I saw my first TV set but I think it was sometime around 1948 in the SEACO
Store there on Main Street. You could tell something was on the small screen that was constantly
flickering and snowy looking but overall, I was not impressed. I was told that reception –-
whatever that was -– was better at night.
At the time, my money was still on all the great movies showing at the Rex Theater down the street
in the next block.
Anyway, I did not know anyone who actually had a TV set in their home. That all changed in early
1951 when I got home from school one day and I saw all these people there at “410” working up on
the roof. My Uncle John was there and he had two guys with the biggest ladders I had ever seen in
my life working up on the top roof installing a TV antenna.
Wow -- we were getting a TV in our house!
At the time, the only TV signal you could get in Sumter was from WBTV, Channel 3 out of
Charlotte, NC -– a long 95 air miles away from Sumter.
Because Channel 3 was a low TV station channel number and hence, operated on a lower transmission
frequency, this meant that the physical size of the directional outdoor antenna elements needed
for good reception were very large (long) -- as compared to ones made for a higher frequency
station like Channel 10 out of Columbia a few years later.
Uncle John had the men install this huge antenna on top of a 25-foot tall metal pole and with the
height of “410” plus the antenna height, the antenna was taller than the three massive oak trees in
our front yard. This thing was huge –- like something out of a Sci-Fi movie -– I just couldn't get
over how big it was.
Anyway, I ran into the house and there it was -– a brand new 16-inch Capehart television set -– the
most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life sitting there in my living room!
Finally, the antenna was installed and the funny looking, flat down-lead wire was hooked up to the
TV and we all sat there staring at this bright, snowy white screen mounted in a beautiful wooden
case after Uncle John turned the TV on.
Nothing -– there was absolutely nothing visible to us except a noisy, scratchy sounding snow white
screen with black lines flickering on it all over the place. I was devastated! This is what I had
waited all this time for?
Then it happened! Uncle John started turning the tiny knob on the front of the TV next to the
channel selector knob and low and behold, we started hearing voices on the TV and then the picture
started appearing through the snow.
It was magical –- it was the most fascinating thing I had ever seen with my own eyes -– a real
picture of people moving and talking coming into focus out of all that snowy background clutter
that had filled the screen at first.
We all laughed and hollered with joy as the first TV show was finally beamed into the living room
there at “410.” I do not recall what the show was on at the time but that did not matter -– we had
TV in our house -– TV, you hear me, TV?
As time went on, I spent many, and I mean many hours sitting there in front of that TV set
delicately turning that tiny knob -– Fine Tuning -– as it required a lot of adjustments as the day
changed into nighttime. Atmospheric conditions played a big part of TV reception back then and as
a general rule, the best reception was at night time.
I fell in love with TV that first day and sitting here now 61 years later, I am still hooked on it!
Several events happened there at “410” in the next year or so concerning our TV that left lasting
impressions with me.
At first, I was amazed at how many people just started showing up at “410” to visit, especially on
Wednesday nights that just happened to have boxing on TV that night. People, friends that we had
not seen in years were now our best friends and showing up like clock work on certain nights like
when Milton Berle’s show was on.
Then on June 2, 1953, everyone in my 5th grade class from Central Elementary School came to my
house to watch the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on TV.
What we were seeing was almost mind-boggling -- televised film of an event that was ongoing for
hours in London, England -– 2400 miles away –- that very same day! Today, we take real time, live
satellite TV transmissions of worldwide events for granted.
In 1953, there was no such thing but the British Broadcasting Company, the BBC, did the next
As per the request of the Queen, the U.K. and parts of Western Europe were provided with live TV
coverage of her Coronation ceremony. To enable the British subjects in Canada to witness this
historical event, they did the best thing -- they filmed the entire Coronation in 3-hour segments.
The BBC then rushed that undeveloped 3-hour film clip to a nearby airstrip where high speed Royal
Air Force Canberra Bomber Jets flew the film -- while developing it in flight -- to Goose Bay,
There, the film was sent by a special feed hookup to Montreal, Canada who not only broadcast the
film out over the Canadian Television network, but by a special feed back down to New York City.
There the major TV networks at the time sent the signal out all over the United States on our
broadcast television networks and we, the United States, got to watch this fantastic ceremony on
our TVs as well.
To us there in my home at “410”, even though it was about a 7-hour delay in real time, we felt like
we were actually watching the event live as it was still the same day here as it was where the
Coronation was actually taking place. All in all, they flew over 4 segments and made it all seem to
us as if we watched the entire event non-stop live as we never saw any gaps between segments.
The next big TV event at “410” took place in the fall of that same year.
Again, I came home from school to see Uncle John and a few of his friends back on the roof of
“410” and installing another TV antenna. As soon as I saw the new one pointed to the West, I knew
that the new station we had heard about, WISTV in Columbia, SC, was getting ready to go on
Channel 10 went live on November 7 with its first TV show on the air of a re-broadcast film of
the Carolina-Clemson football game that had just been played on October, 22. Talk about coming
on the air with a bang!
Television was never the same after that in Sumter. Carolina won, by the way, 14-7 -–
With Columbia just 45 miles away, the TV reception for Channel 10 in Sumter was immediately
twice as good as that out of Charlotte. Most people (to this day) probably do not know what the
call letters WIS stands for. In case you don’t know, it stands for Wonderful Iodine State because
SC is blessed with an abundance of iodine in its soil.
Anyway, some people in town were also now picking up WCSCTV out of Charleston, SC (Channel 5),
which had also just gone on the air around June of 1953.
As you can imagine by now, adding another directional antenna to antenna poles throughout Sumter
was becoming quite a chore. As the 50s bore on, the rooftops in Sumter became a sea of metal rods
and poles as everyone tried to get the best TV reception that they could.
With three major outlets for television broadcasts –- Charlotte, Columbia and Charleston -–
beaming all of the broadcast networks towards us, Sumter came of TV age big time in 1953 and I
spent many, many hours thereafter turning that Fine Tuning knob on the front of that old TV.
As time went by, the old Capehart TV was of course replaced with newer, larger TVs and when
color TVs became affordable, I think we were all (as probably all of America) hooked on TV
As TVs sets got better and signals stronger –- like when WIS put up its new tower in 1959 (and
it became the tallest structure in the U.S. east of the Mississippi) over by Lugoff, SC near
Screaming Eagle Road going around Fort Jackson, the need to fiddle with the Fine Tuning knob on
TVs became obsolete.
As time went by, I was glad to see all the advancements in TVs, cable hookups, etc., but in many
ways, I missed those exciting moments when you sat there in front of your TV and twiddled with
the Fine Tuning knob and watched a TV show start to magically appear out of the snowy screen as
you turned the knob ever so slowly.
Buck Rogers and Captain Video would have been proud!
Due to the physical size of this document (length) and certain restrictions imposed on the tool
used to create this document, Church Street Memories will be divided into Parts 1, 2, and 3.
Part 1 will cover Chapters 1 through 12, Part 2 will cover Chapters 13 through 17, and
Part 3 will cover Chapters 18 through 24.
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