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TOWN REFUSED TO DIE

NEW DAY IS DAWNING FOR ANCIENT GILLISONVILLE

Ridgeland, S.C. Jan. 31 -- Gillisonville, now in the limelight as it acquires a new community house, is Jasper county's "once-upon-a-time" village. Once it was a summer resort; once it was a bustling government seat; once it had thriving churches; once it was destroyed, almost utterly; once its central mound of ruins was softly shadowed by streamers of moss from pines and oaks; once it seemed doomed to age, neglect and oblivion. But Gillisonville is one old village that, against all odds, has simply refused to die. Today it's very much alive, and although its inhabitants are few in number, they love it with a single-hearted devotion. Named for Derry Gillison, Coosawhatchie shoe manufacturer of the early 1800s, the village enjoyed prominence as the government seat of old Beaufort district from 1840 to 1868 . Situated among pines, it was reputed to be as "healthy" as Coosawhatchie, the former government seat on the river was "sickly." Besides the Gillisons, the Cheneys, Davants, Fergusons, Tillinghasts, Moores, Hutsons and other wealthy plantation owners, chose the locality for summer residence. An impressive square was laid out in the center of the village, and thereon were erected the court house, the jail and the gallows On the South and east were the main residential streets. A few hundred yards from there junction at the square, an imposing Baptist Church, daughter of the Coosawhatchie Church, was built. There was also an academy; and a modest Episcopal Chapel just north of the village, called the Church of the Ascension, which was established in 1852.


East of the court house square was a large brick hotel, built and owned by Dedrich Peterman, who had come from Germany to this country as a youth. An interesting sidelight is the fact that two other German youths immigrated here with Mr. Peterman at that time. One A. Wichman settled in Walterboro, and the other, young Knorad Ehrhardt, in the town that bares his name today. All three accumulated estates of considerable size. A traveler of 1860 has left us a picture of life in Gillisonville during "court week," including the routine mustering out and drilling of the milita. Journeying to Coosawhatchie on the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, he mentions taking the stage to Gillisonville and "putting up at Peterman's." He writes further ," I was too late to see the muster which took place this morning, but enough (of them) were left drunk on the field ... Made fine connections, this being sales day and court. In the evening all the rowdies got tight, good deal of noise, a little fighting; one chap got his shirt torn off." The traveler writes of Sunday evening ; "We visited some churches nearby , pulpits unoccupied." Perhaps court week was a little too rugged for the preachers! But the cataclysm came, which swept all former things away. The fires of Sherman's army leveled the village square, including all surrounding residences except one, which was the home of Gen. James W. Moore of Hampton's Legion. Thereby hangs a tale, of course, and it goes thus:
Two federal officers, while camped in the village, entered the home one night. The grandmother, haughtily ignored the intruders' conversation with other members of the family, continued her rocking and knitting. It was a bitterly cold night. One of the officers touched a finished sock by the grandmother's chair, remarking that it was beautiful, and must be warm indeed. " Would you like a pair ? " the old lady asked, speaking for the first time . " Indeed I would." the man replied promptly. Next day a pair was ready for him. The home was not burned. The Baptist Church was spared because it was used as quarters for federal soldiers. Today, its glistening white columns can be seen a few hundred yards away through the trees, by travelers on Highway 36. Services are still held in the church from time to time. The walls of its old slave gallery in the back are defaced by thousands of scribbled names. Its silver communion service, still in use and cared for by a member in the village, bares an inscription scratched by a self termed "Yankee soldier" on one of the plates. In the church cemetery General Moore is buried, and also Richard James Davant, who was a member of the Secession Convention.

The cemetery stones also bear names of the families that made Gillisonville their home for many years after the War Between the States-- Ulmer, Langford, Horton, Manuel, Wall, Matthews, Frohberg, Roberts and Cleland. Many of the present residents remember General Moore's old home and law office, which finally succumbed to a woods fire that got out of control.

Many also remember the Davant law office, and the post office nearby, which was kept by Capt. John Moore. These buildings are no longer in existence either. Many describe vividly the drilling of the company of state troops by Capt. Moore, during the days after Reconstruction. And certainly they are not likely to forget Zach Morrison, the local Negro boot-maker, who was state senator during carpetbagger days. After the destruction of the court house, a few sessions were held in the local Baptist church described above, where the old judge's seat still serves for a pulpit. The Episcopal Church building was dismantled and sold to the Baptists at Robertville, and its pews were bequeathed to the local Baptist Church, where they are still in use. In 1869 , the county seat was moved to Beaufort. Gillisonville later became part of Hampton County, then of Jasper. A Methodist Church was built in the village in the 1880's and was used until 1827 , when it's members voted to unite with St. Paul's Church in Ridgeland. The building was then torn down. About 30 years ago, a modern, frame school house was built on the North side of the square, but with further school consolidation, it also fell to disuse. This is the building now being remodeled into a community house, with a place for entertaining, a modern kitchen and a dining hall. Plans are getting under way for beautification of the old square. Lately, it has been leveled, and the more ancient trees, which were dying, have been removed. One somehow feels a nostalgia for the shadowed ruins one knew so long, but it's understandable that ruins, although picturesque, are hardly desirable as a constant view from a citizen's front porch. The ruins of Peterman's hotel can still be seen, but many of the brick have been sold and carried away. A grandson of Dedrich Peterman, who owns the property now, says he plans to erect a place of business on the site, in the near future. Truly, anew day is dawning for Gillisonville, the ancient village which just wouldn't stop existing.