History Business & Community

One year after the War Between the States, Mr. Wm. Hamilton Kennedy opened a general merchandise business in Williston that was destined to become a leading store. It was situated where the former Benny’s Dime Store stood. For many years it bought the farmer’s produce and served the people’s needs. A new larger store was eventually built adjacent to the old one. This site is now First Citizens Bank. Williston became a destination ‘Mecca’ for ladies millinery. Ladies & gentlemen would board the train headed to Williston to shop at Kennedy and Sons and other stores. Some of the Hat making tools of Mr. Joe Kelly Sr. are on display at the Williston Museum.

In 1917 a second story was added to the J. Lewis Smith Drug store with a large auditorium (Kennedy Hall) where many social & civic activities were held and entertainment and  Motion Pictures were presented on the stage. There was space for offices on this second floor and they have been occupied by dentists, lawyers, and at one time a beauty shop. The public library was housed there for a number of years.

The railroad depot continued to be the center of activity. It was a place to chat, learn the latest news, transact business, and watch the train go by. The earliest depot and loading platform was located in the heart of downtown. The second depot was erected in 1912, but was destroyed by a fire that originated on the loading platform March 12, 1946. Not only was the depot destroyed but a large portion of the town was burned. It was due to the bravery of the local fire department and assistance from nearby towns that the whole town did not go down in flames.

The depot fire also destroyed Kennedy’s Stables which was one of Williston’s landmarks now the site of the U.S. Post Office.

Robert Willis’ son John Turner Willis was probably the town’s earliest station master & Postmaster. Mr. W. B. Beasley was another of Williston’s early postmasters. The first rural route included the area to the Edisto River and Mr. Tom Mathis was the first rural mail carrier out of Williston. Mr. R. L. Hair Sr. began carrying the mail on Route No. 2 in 1911 and it extended to Dunbarton. At first he drove a horse and buggy but shortly thereafter he bought a car. It was a one-cylinder Maxwell, and he was the first in Williston to own such an automobile. He attracted a great deal of attention along his route and many times had to have assistance to get through the sand beds.

Soon several Williston citizens followed Mr. Hair’s example and purchased automobiles.

Mr. A. N. Garber, who ran a store, decided to provide gasoline for them. He had a fifty gallon tank installed behind his store and serviced the cars by carrying a bucket of gasoline to the cars in front of his store.

Anderson and Son also had a store, and eventually had a gasoline pump installed in front.

The practice of embalming the dead was slow arriving in Williston. Mr. Louis S. Mellichamp was the first undertaker Mr. Mellichamp, a South Carolina Checker Champion, had a general merchandise store where the Dr. Bruce Carey office is now located. Mr. Mellichamp kept his wooden caskets in the back of the store.

In 1902 he ordered a fine new horse drawn funeral coach to be delivered by freight. As was usual, a group of people had gathered at the depot when the train arrived with the funeral coach. In the crowd was a little boy nine years old. His name was Ernest, the son of Mr. W. E. Prothro, who was the depot agent. As the doors of the freight car swung back and the little boy saw what, to him, must have been an awesome thing of black, with glass windows, draped in black, he exclaimed, “I know one thing; I won’t be the first to ride in it”. Very shortly thereafter, Ernest was out with his gun and accidentally shot himself in the leg. The wound was so great that he bled to death and, sadly enough, he was the first person to ride in the new funeral coach.

Mr. Gideon C.’Gid’ Matthews Jr. followed Mr. Mellichamp as undertaker and remained in the business until 1931.

In 1926 Cecil Folk opened the first funeral home in the County and it is in the same location today. The first funeral Mr. Cecil Folk conducted was for Mr. Whit Hankinson, a Confederate veteran.

In 1929 Folk’s Funeral Home added an ambulance to its list of services.

The Williston Cemetery dates back to the 1890’s when Dr. William Smith deeded land for that purpose. It was to be supervised and maintained by the Baptist and Methodist Churches. The money realized from the sale of lots was to be used for its upkeep. The first person to be buried in the Williston Cemetery was Rosa Smith Hair, wife of John Calhoun Hair. She was buried December 29, 1891, at thirty-five years of age. Many graves have been moved into the cemetery from old family plots and from abandoned churchyards. Mrs. Bessie Weathersbee who once resided at  The Sycamores, the present day Ashley/Willis house, was buried in the cemetery upon her death in 1960 at the age of 103.

In 1924 the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected a granite archway over the entrance to the cemetery in honor of all the men from Williston who served in the Confederate Army. Their names are listed on the gate posts and those killed in action are identified by a star. For many years Memorial Services were held annually at the cemetery. This granite arch was damaged and has never been replaced. Instead the stones were buried on either side of the entrance.

In recent years the families of Cecil Folk, Tate Willis and Q. A. Kennedy have donated land which has been incorporated into the area.

The Williston Public Library was created in 1933. Prior to that time there was not a library in Barnwell County. The American Legion Auxiliary decided to sponsor one and the people of the town were asked to donate books. A book club also gave its stock of books. Through a lending library in Massachusetts enough books were obtained to open. It was located over the old J.L Smith’s Drug Store and Mrs. Jennie Lou Purvis Givens was the first librarian.

Mrs. Ellen Harley Wise, Mrs. Alma Sanders and Mrs. Jennie Lou Robertson have also served as librarians. The library is presently located in the 1912 High School Annex. It is served by a regional library service composed of Aiken, Barnwell,Bamberg, & Edgefield Counties (ABBE).

Dates are forgotten and records are lost, but the first telephone exchange was owned by Mr. Walter Greene. It was located in the Greene home on the corner of Church and Greene (Rosemary) Streets. There were ten initial subscribers in 1905. The switchboard was located in the hall so that anyone passing by when a call was made could answer and make the connection. Mr. Greene bought a bicycle for his brother, Cecil, to use to contract those wanted on the phone who did not have one.

The exchange remained in the Greene home until a building to house it was constructed on the front lawn of the Walter Greene Property. This building was used for many years. It was later relocated at the corner of Greene’s Lane and 12th Street. Chief switchboard operator was Miss Jessie Hair (Mrs. Jessie Hallman) and her assistant was her sister Miss Leila Hair (Mrs. T. Raymond Pender). Their father was manager and maintenance man for the system.

The telephone company changed hands several times during the ensuing years. It was in 1935 that the first telephone directory was printed. It contained the phone numbers of its almost one hundred subscribers and also useful information such as: a compilation of business laws in daily use, quantity of seed required to plant an acre of numerous crops, weight per bushel of grain, etc. A quote from the directory  We want everybody to have a phone. If you need a phone and not able to pay for it we will give you one.”

The exchange grew to considerable size. In the early 1970’s 2,000 listings were published its directory, a new building was built on West Street, and the housed the most modern equipment of the day.

Wm. E. Bill Knotts Owned the Williston Telephone Company from the early 1950s until it’s acquisition by TDS in the 1990s. Mr. Knotts also brought Home Cable TV to Williston in the early 1970s.

The Williston Way was established in Williston in 1921 by B. P. Davies and J. Austin Latimer. A modern printing plant was installed in the W.H. Kennedy & Sons building which would later be occupied by David Rogels Dry Goods and Benny s Five & Dime Store. This newspaper Co. was quite successful and booklets, programs, etc. were also printed. After several changes in ownership it was later published in Barnwell by B. P. Davies, Jr. The Barnwell People Sentinel currently serves the Tri-County area.

In the 1890’s the need of a bank was felt in Williston, but the first financial organization ended in disaster. In 1905 the Bank of Williston was organized with Mr. Aurthur. M. Kennedy as its first president. Later a second bank was organized and chartered as the Farmers and Merchants Bank. Mr. W. D. Captain Black (Black’s Drive) was president. After a few years, the two banks merged as the Bank of Williston. It was the oldest bank in continuous service in Barnwell County and First Citizens Bank is now located on its original site.

In 1898 fighting structure fires in Williston was almost non existent. By 1912 a Bucket Brigade was used with water drawn from wells, hand pumps and a few wind powered water tanks. Shortly after World War I. Mr. George W. Whitaker was the first fire chief. In 1922, The Williston Fire Department consisted of 15 Volunteer men and one officer. With 1500 feet of 2 ½ inch hose on two hand cranked reels. Buildings within 100 feet of Main St, between Green (Rosemary) and Willis alley (Elko) Streets were mandated by ordinance to be built of brick, or iron clad. About this time the Fire Dept was located behind the J.L Smith Drug store and The Bank Of Williston. Years later, the first hand reeled fire truck was housed in a building adjacent to Folk’s Filling Station. In 1954, a new Town Hall was erected, and the multi truck and ladder Co. is kept in readiness there.

In 1917 the first water was piped to the homes in Williston from a well that was drilled on property adjacent to the Greene Lumber and Crate Company. As the demand increased, other wells were drilled. An abundance of water for homes and industry is available today.

Other conveniences were acquired as the town grew. Electricity was provided by the Edisto Public Service Company in 1919. Mr. Robert Easterling was founder and owner of the company. Electricity was available from 5 P. M. to 12 Midnight. Several homes were equipped with acetylene power generators.

In 1928 the old South Carolina Power Company bought the Edisto Public Service Company from its holding company, Common wealth Southern Company of Augusta, Georgia. and unlimited use of electricity was permitted.

The South Carolina Electric and Gas Company acquired the assets from the South Carolina Power Company in 1947 and in 1950 the properties were merged. The companies became known as the South Carolina Electric and Gas Company.

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