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May 1, 2008
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May 1, 2008

Boykin Redux
Historic Town's Legacy Felt Throughout State
Dan Robinson, Lake Murray Columbia

The folks in Boykin say that 15-year-old Burwell Boykin shot the last Union officer to die in the Civil War.  He did so in defense of his family's land.  Today, the Boykin family still lives on that land, but now they welcome everyone - even Yankees.

During the Battle of Boykin, fought on April 18, 1865, 1st Lt. E.L. Stevens of the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry became the last Union officer killed in the war.  The vastly outnumbered Confederates were defeated in what is considered the last Civil War battle fought in South Carolina.

In 1995, the Reactivated 54th Massachusetts Infantry approached Alice Boykin, owner of the surrounding property in Boykin, with an unusual request.

"They wanted to put a monument up to Lt. Stevens," Mrs. Boykin explained.  "There aren't too many monuments to Yankees in South Carolina.  So, I told them that if they put a monument to both (Lt. Stevens and Burwell Boykin), that's fine."

The regiment erected the monument at the 130th anniversary battle reenactment.

Located eight miles south of Camden off Highway 261, the village of Boykin today is a small cluster of buildings chock full of history.  Known also for its quirky Christmas parade, Boykin's impact on the state and its past is surprising, particularly for a community of 200 souls.

Traveling through time

As you drive on to Boykin Mill Road, the buildings look much like they might have when they were built in the 1700s and 1800s.  Mrs. Boykin, who owns the buildings, guides visitors through the community and regales them with tales of Boykin's past.  She is the widow of Lemuel W. Boykin II, a descendant of William Boykin II, who settled there in 1755.

William's son, Burwell Boykin, the namesake of the Civil War soldier, became a prominent landowner in the area.  In 1792, he built a grist mill by the 400-acre pond know as Boykin Mill Pond.  With Swift Creek as its tributary, the mill pond provided the power to turn the grinding stones that crush corn to make grits and meal.

While the pond has provided the mill's energy for more than two centuries, it also has been the scene of tragedy.

On May 5, 1860, a large party boarded a flat boat for a cruise around the pond.  The boat hit a snag, and in the ensuing efforts to free it, the boat began to take on water and capsized.  The passengers panicked, and as a result, 24 people drowned.

"The archives say that they just held on to each other and went down as a group," said Tom Webb, who operates the mill.

Today, several small flat boats lie beside the mill to commemorate the accident.  Inside the boats are the soles of shoes.

"About 10 years ago, Sumter had an art festival," Mrs. Boykin said.  "One woman found out about the drowning and wanted to create art about it.  So, she made these flat boats and put shoes in them to commemorate those who died."

Union troops burned the original mill in 1865.  The current mill, built in the late 1800s, operates today much as it did then.  It is still water-powered, with a turbine turning the metal and wooden gears connected to a shaft that rotates the grinding stones.

Webb demonstrates the operation of the mill by raising the metal gate that releases the pond's water into the turbine.  When he turns a valve, the turbine begins to spin, and the gears turn.

"It's capable of about 30 horsepower," Webb said.

As corn is fed into the grinding stones, which weigh a ton each, a mixture of coarse and fine residue is dropped into a bin.  A belt-driven elevator with small wooden paddles lifts the crushed corn into a sifter on the second floor of the mill.  The sifter separates the coarse and fine particles to produce yellow grits and cornmeal.

The grits are sold in the Boykin Company Store and the Broom Place, a shop where Susan Simpson makes handmade brooms.  Her machinery and techniques date from the 1800s.  The vise that holds the broom while Simpson sews it together was made by a company that operated from 1800 to 1880.  The broom winder, which wraps wire around the straw as it is added to the broom handle, is at least 140 years old, Simpson said.

Simpson started making brooms more than 37 years ago.  Her inventory includes house brooms as well as hearth, whisk, and warehouse brooms.  She takes orders in her shop and by phone, and she ships around the world.

"I know I have brooms in all 50 states and 29 countries," Simpson said.

Simpson proudly stands by her work.  "All of my work is guaranteed," she tells a customer.  "If you have any problems with the broom, just give me a call before you come back so that I can get out of town."  Of course, she delivers this sentiment with a smile, much to the delight of her customers.

Down-home good eats

The Boykin Company Grill operates in a wood frame building, constructed in the late 1800s.  With a steady clientele for lunch and dinner, the restaurant offers country cooking, sandwiches, and other favorites.  With a down-home atmosphere, patrons can have their picture taken with the giant wooden catfish that greets them at the door, or sit in rocking chairs on the front porch.

Adjoining the grill is the Boykin Company Store, which provides extra seating for diners and stocks the mill's products, including jellies, jams, gift items, and souvenirs.  Gary Shook, the restaurant's owner for nine years, points to a shelf of soft drinks from the past.  Lined up neatly are RC Colas, Orange Crush, Sun Drop, Cheerwine, and Grape Nehi sodas.

"People come out here because it's like going back in time," he said.  "They can come here and relax and have a good time."

Across the road from the grill is the Mill Pond Steak House.  From the outside, the buildings that once served as the community post office and general store hardly look like a place for fine dining.  Once inside though, you quickly see why it was named one of South Carolina's best restaurants by Fodor's Travel Guide.

Sitting on the water's edge, diners have a beautiful view of the pond through large picture windows.  With an a la carte menu that specializes in fine cuts of Black Angus beef, the restaurant has all of the elements of elegant dining with a spectacular backdrop in a most unlikely setting.

An extensive wine list and a full-service bar complement the Mill Pond Steak House's unique atmosphere.  A cozy fireplace provides romantic ambiance on winter nights.  The restaurant also offers a limousine service.

"We rent those out almost daily," said Dan Williams, the restaurant's manager.  "It allows people to come by and enjoy their wine and cocktails without having to worry about driving."

From bouquets to decoys

The Swift Creek Baptist Church was organized in 1782, and the current church building was built in 1827.  Although no longer functioning as a consecrated church, the building is still available for weddings, meetings, and other events.  Across the road from the church is Rosa Lee's Cottage, which was named for its last occupant and her family.  The cottage is available for wedding receptions and parties and serves as dressing quarters for brides.

The Boykin Christmas Parade was held for 13 years until a hiatus in 2007.  The parade gained a reputation for its eccentric entries, including various livestock, tractors, and wacky costumes.  Thousands of spectators also enjoyed bluegrass bands and the fare at the Road Kill Barbecue Cook-Off.  The festivities ended each year with a gospel concert at the Swift Creek Baptist Church.

Officials have not yet decided whether the parade will return in 2008.

Many in the state and around the nation know of the Boykin Spaniel and its prowess as a retriever.  They may not know, however, that L.W. "Whit" Boykin, the grandfather of Mrs. Boykin's husband, bred the dog from a stray sent to him by a hunting partner from Spartanburg.  The Boykin Spaniel is the official state dog of South Carolina.

While the people of Boykin are forever linked to the past, they know that their past is also their future, assuring that they will continue to thrive on the land once so gallantly defended by a 15-year-old boy some 143 years ago.


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Mill Address:
73 Boykin Mill Road
Rembert, South Carolina 29128

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PO Box 894
Camden, South Carolina 29021

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