Chapter Twenty Two
Bamberg County Towns and Communities
A History of Ehrhardt 1976
by Lucretia Brabham Winburn
Over a century ago, on August 12, 1851, Conrad Ehrhardt, from Weiterade Kuhrhessen, and other Germans came to America by boat, arriving October 15 full of aspirations in the new country.
Over here he married Anna Doredea King, who also came from near the same village as he, in 1852, and they settled in South Carolina about seventy-five miles from the coast on the Little Salkehatchie River near the boundary line between old Barnwell and Colleton counties. For a number of years they and Wilhelmena King, who also came south with them, operated a farm and a saw mill on what is called Moccasin Branch. Soon other Germans joined the Ehrhardts. The original dam, which was made with the help of the women, is still standing.
After destruction of the mill by fire, he moved to the present site of the town of Ehrhardt, about five miles away, and here he decided to erect a steam plant to take the place of his water mill, purchasing a portion of the Martin Kinard tract of land for $7.50 per acre in gold. Here about 1860 were erected a saw and planing mill, grist and flour mill, and rice mill, with a general store. The red wooden store building still stands on Main Street today and is used as a warehouse by a merchant. It also served as the first post office and the depot for the B. E. and W. railroad.
A bill head from the general store C. Ehrhardt & Sons shows that in the 1890s a thriving business was enjoyed—“Lumber, Rice, and Flour Mills, Engine and Gin Repair Shops, Engineer Supplies, General Merchandise, Oils, Packing, Thomas End Feed, Gins, Eagle Gins, Feeders, Condensers.”
An example of the price of lumber in Ehrhardt on January 17, 1879, bought from the Ehrhardt store was a “two by eight by thirty” for forty cents. A receipt for a bale of cotton ginned by C. Ehrhardt & Sons in the same year was eighteen dollars for a four-hundred-pound bale.
The Ehrhardt family also owned the Ehrhardt Smoking Tobacco Company which was located between Ehrhardt and Ulmers. There fine-cut tobacco was manufactured varying in size from small to a half-pound package.
Mr. Ehrhardt was aided by his sons Jacob ( Jake), who managed the large store, Henry, who operated the tobacco company, and Charles, who operated the saw mill. Adam King served as the blacksmith, and Charles Hartz was the wheelwright. With mechanical minds, the men could make anything from steel and wood.
With activity thriving, other families came, and the settlement began to grow. It was many years later, however, before there was much development as a town. In 1898 the community was reached by a branch line of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, and Mr. Ehrhardt began selling off lots for homes and stores. The railroad from Green Pond to Ehrhardt was known as the Plant System. Wood-burning locomotives were used, and there were designated places along the track for fuel. The land owners furnished the wood at a price.
A post office was established in Ehrhardt about 1876, and the town was incorporated in 1889. The early site of the town was heavily timbered with original growth of pine and other trees, and abounded in deer, wild turkey, fox, quail, and all kinds of game usually found in the low country.
Most of the early history of Ehrhardt centers around its founder. The story is told that he enlisted and went to war early in the struggle between the States. Soon the women of the community got together and went to headquarters with a petition requesting that Mr. Ehrhardt be released and permitted to come back home in order that he could keep their spinning wheels and other farm and household machinery in good repair. It was also necessary to have the flour and grist mills running to supply food for the armies at the front. The request was granted.
When Sherman made his march through this section, the Northerners maliciously broke the main flywheel, but Mr. Ehrhardt substituted materials and soon had the wheels turning. Records show that Mr. Ehrhardt never took a special course of study at any scientific school but from boyhood was a studious reader of books and journals on engineering, mill construction, and mill management. He said, “Poverty had most of all to do with my advancement, for poverty caused me to study more intensely."
The first house in Ehrhardt was built by Mr. Ehrhardt “in the grove” of beautiful trees on Main Street. He lived in the big edifice put together with wooden screws and square nails until his death. The last family to occupy the founder’s house was the H. M. Brabham clan, and daughter Lucretia was born in the house which was razed in 1930 by the late solicitor, B. D. Carter, who used some of the handsome lumber in his Bamberg home and to erect a tenant house. Today a shopping center is located on the site of the original house.
Mr. Ehrhardt made a trip in 1876 to Philadelphia to the Centennial Exposition to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. A musician, he purchased the organ which was made and displayed for the music department in the arts at the first world’s fair. The exquisite instrument was shipped by train to Midway (half the distance between Charleston and Augusta), as was all the mail and goods coming to the town, and brought to his house where he played it for years before giving it to the Ehrhardt Memorial Lutheran Church. This church was built by Mr. Ehrhardt, as he promised while sailing that if he prospered he would erect a house of worship. The beautiful, ornamental piece is now in the home of Herbert Ehrhardt, Jr., great grandson of the founder, in Pinehurst, N.C., after buying it and taking it to the Vermont factory for renovation.
Mr. Ehrhardt died September 13, 1908, and was the first person buried in the Ehrhardt Cemetery, which he gave to the town. He was seventy-six years of age. He left his three sons, Charles, Henry, and Jacob and one daughter, Mrs. J. F. (Wilhelmena) Folk. Their children and grandchildren abound and several carry the Ehrhardt name in other sections as well as in Ehrhardt. Mr. Ehrhardt built a house for his daughter in Bamberg, and the house still stands.
Some of the thriving businesses in Ehrhardt years ago were the Ehrhardt Telephone Company, with an office upstairs in the building on the corner of Main and Franklin streets, Farmers and Merchants Bank, Ehrhardt Banking Company, and Hacker Manufacturing Company. A hotel housed many salesmen and travelers.
In the center of a fertile farming district, the town became a good market for farm produce and was for years a leader in the state in the shipment of watermelons.
Francis Folk, who instructed the high school, and his sister Docia, who taught the elementary students, were among the early teachers at the wooden frame house with a porch near the present school baseball diamond.
Because of a small number of students, the state closed the high school in 1960, and pupils in grades eight and nine are transported to the Middle School in Bamberg. Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School houses grades ten through twelve. Two elementary schools continue to educate pupils in Ehrhardt, and some students attend the private Andrew Jackson Academy, established in 1971, between Ehrhardt and Bamberg. Some travel to Blackville for private schooling.
Some of the mayors have been the late I. D. Copeland in 1911, the late J. C. Kinard from 1912 to 1914; the late J. H. Hucks, 1921; the late G. B. Kinard, 1927; the late C. R. McMillan, 1928; the late B. C. White; the late L. E. Morningstar, 1936; the late J. H. Walker, 1930-1935; the late Gilbert Smith; and Ray Rentz and G. D. Varn. P. F. Smoak is the present mayor. Mrs. Margaret Fletcher Fender is the town clerk.
In 1927 the population of Ehrhardt was more than a thousand. The late Gilbert G. Hiers was the postmaster and had the following services: mail arrived from Bamberg at 10:45 a.m. over the BE&W Railroad and at 11:20 a.m. over the ACL Railroad and was dispatched over the ACL at 6:10 a.m. and 12:02 p.m. and over the BE&W at 10:19 p.m. There were two rural free delivery routes. Route 1, carried by LeRoy Peters, was twenty-four miles in length, and Route 2, by the late E. D. Grant, was twenty-three miles. The late G. B. Kinard was mayor, with the late J. T. Herndon, the late C. R. McMillan, and the late John Hartz aldermen, and Milton Kinard clerk and treasurer. The late John Frank Chassereau was the popular chief of police and the entire police force.
In 1976 there was one incoming and one outgoing mail service. James Everett Hiers was the sole rural carrier and covered ninety-three miles daily. Mrs. Ellen Folk was assisted by Mrs. Carrie Kirkland Patrick in the running of the postal service.
The Masons were flourishing in the 1920s, and the Knights of Pythias were active. Over eleven hundred cars of watermelons were shipped in one season in 1927, and many trucks with the fruit were also sent out the same year.
In 1927 first-class players produced a winning season for Ehrhardt, which was in the Independent League. Line-up of the team in the positions they played most of the time included Clarence Morningstar, catcher; Huey Purcell, pitcher; Kirkland, right field; Chester Copeland, third base; Marshall Copeland, first base; Lyles Ehrhardt, short stop; Bratton Hiers, left field and pitcher. Purcell was manager of the team with Kirkland the captain. V. O. Welch was a member of the executive committee and Charles M. Chitty was treasurer. Dr. J. H. Hucks was president of the League, which was composed of teams from Ehrhardt, Fairfax, Hampton, Estill, Yemassee, and Olar. Hiers is the sole survivor.
Officers that year of the Ehrhardt Banking Company, which was organized in 1905, were J. L. Copeland, president; J. C. Kinard, vice president; J. B. Ehrhardt, cashier; and C. M. Chitty, assistant cashier. Directors were J. L. Copeland, J. H. A. Carter, J. Wm. Carter, J. C. Kinard, J. B. Ehrhardt, D. M. Smith, J. G. Rhode, A. B. Coggins, and F. H. Copeland. All are now deceased.
The community is largely dependent upon farming, its industries being limited to a feed mill, pulp wood yard, fertilizer distributors (one claiming to do more business than any in the state), and one cotton gin. The town has several insurance agencies, three beauty salons, two florists, a dress shop, furniture store, dry goods store, drug store, feed and seed store, department store, three grocery stores, two whiskey stores, a hardware store, and six service stations.
A livestock auction market, located on the edge of town, has gained the distinction of being the largest auction market in the Southeast and sells over millions of dollars worth of animals a year. One interested buyer dropped in by parachute from an airplane in 1968 to purchase meat. The late J. T. (Bus) Herndon family operates the business.
A handsome bank with drive-in window service, night depository, and safety deposit boxes is termed one of the most modern in the southern part of the state. The bank’s total assets are over 7.5 million dollars, according to William Varn, president of The Enterprise Bank. It located here years ago from Smoaks, where it was often robbed.
The saw mills, grist mills coughing early in the mornings, and the heading mill, once the hub of the town, no longer operate.
The town of Ehrhardt has four churches—Ehrhardt Memorial Lutheran, Ehrhardt Baptist, St. James United Methodist, and Ehrhardt Southern Methodist. It has excellent water and fire systems, two highways—64 and 601—running through the town, a farm and implement store, a much-used air-conditioned community center, well-lighted ball field, recreation area at the Ehrhardt Baptist Church, school auditorium, and gymnasium, modern doctor’s office just completed, pickup garbage service twice a week, mercury vapor street lights, barber shop, power driven town weed cutter, bus service going north and south, dial service between Ehrhardt and Bamberg telephones, a dining room, modern post office, restaurant, dime store, elaborate houses, some with back-yard swimming pools, and fifteen miles of paved sidewalks. Direct Distant dialing was begun June 1976. The water, which has no chemicals to give it a bad taste, is often transported home by tourists.
Merchants in the small town enjoy more business than those in large cities, and a wide variety of people trade in Ehrhardt. Regular shoppers come from a radius of twenty-five miles.
Northern sportsmen spend time in Ehrhardt hunting quail and deer and fishing. Local folks enjoy these sports also.
Ehrhardt has a Lions Club and in 1976 an auxiliary was formed, a Masonic Lodge and Eastern Star chapter, two garden clubs, a chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and a fun club.
Seven miles from town, at Clear Pond, a natural lake about a mile around, the idea for the construction of the first submarine torpedo was conceived. Six miles from Ehrhardt, in the opposite direction, was fought the Battle of Rivers Bridge during the War Between the States.
A few people who became known through the state or nation lived at Ehrhardt. One man, A. W. Brabham, won national fame for growing red, green, blue, and various other colors of cotton. The Rev. R. W. Hollis, who was killed accidentally while working at his home in 1967, was Ehrhardt’s Baptist preacher for more than three decades and was a builder of souls and edifices. The school auditorium, Baptist Church, Baptist parsonage, and many homes were built by this minister, who held many state offices and was honored by organizations all over the state. Robert Winburn was selected to represent the state at an international youth institute in 1969. E. Madison Bishop served as highway commissioner a term, and M. O. Welch was state top farmer a few years ago. The Sidney Laydens were declared state master farmer family within the last decade.
Ehrhardt was the first place to announce in writing the jury’s decision in the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. Lewis F. Brabham was mimeographing the Ehrhardt High School newspaper, The Yellow Jacket, when the announcement was made, from the jury, over the radio. He immediately ran off a front page and distributed copies within minutes with the headline “Bruno to Die in Chair."
Ehrhardt has produced seven preachers in the last four decades—Monroe Warren, now retired and residing in Summerville; Frank Carter, preaching in Hendersonville, N.C., Henri Bishop, missionary in Malaysia; and Robert Winburn, preaching in Clarkson, Ky., and also attending Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville; Olin W. Chassereau, pastor of the Lutheran Church in Orangeburg, S.C.; and Walter J. Moretz, Jr., whose father was a former pastor of the Ehrhardt Memorial and Mount Pleasant Lutheran Church. Also, Leonard Odell was a Baptist minister.
Lewis L. Butler, who died in 1976, was principal of the Lewis L. Butler Elementary School for forty-three years, and a group of his friends sang carols early Christmas morning on every street corner for years.
A Christmas parade was held for many years and was unique in that a religious service was held afterwards.
Over half the citizens in Ehrhardt earn a livelihood by working out of town.
Ehrhardt Methodist Charge is served by one pastor, and the preacher delivers four sermons Sunday mornings at Wesley Chapel, St. James, Pleasant Hill, and Zion.
One man, P. Eugene Brabham, graduated from Ehrhardt High School twice. After he finished the tenth grade, the eleventh grade was added and he returned to get the extra training before going to a higher school.
Ehrhardt residents often make their homes in far-away places. The Rev. Henri Bishop is a missionary in Malaysia, and the former Larraine Dannelly lives in Australia.
Robertsville, the section on the southern end of town, is named for the late Dr. James Roberts, who passed away in 1920. He gave the property for the St. James Methodist Church.
The big oak tree on the corner of the school property where the sliding board is located was planted in 1920 and called the BE&R tree—named for Gene Brabham, the late Lyles Ehrhardt, and Richard Roberts, who planted it.
The town hall is named for the late J. H. Walker, who served in nearly every civic capacity. Additions in 1976 house the police headquarters and jury room.
One Ehrhardt boy, George Hiers, accomplished the unusual feat of killing two deer and wounding a third with one shot the first day of the season in 1968.
Four Ehrhardt gentlemen of the past few decades are doctors—three of medicine —James Earl Fender of Waynesville, N.C., Frank Kinsey of Hartsville, Daniel Chassereau of Ehrhardt, and a Ph.D., Otis Copeland of Ogden, Utah.
Ehrhardt has many horse enthusiasts, and the Bamberg County Saddle Club is located near Ehrhardt.
Many follow the trade of their family predecessors. The late barber, B. W. Bishop, had three sons—B. Thurston, B. W. Jr., and G. Ottaway—who are tonsorial artists.
The first bathtub installed in the town was in the home of the late John Dannelly and Mrs. Dannelly. It was in use until 1969 when it was removed to a storage house by Dannelly’s son, Jess L., to make room for a clothes closet.
A few years back, Mrs. Aiken Rush, the former Merle Farrell, could stand on her front porch and talk to a dozen of her Copeland relatives. Now she is the only one of her clan in Ehrhardt.
The former mayor, G. D. Varn, was a champion basketball player at the Citadel and refused professional ball to supervise the business interests in Ehrhardt that he inherited from his father.
An Ehrhardt girl, Jackie Carter, is the wife of Mike Miller, who was a famous pilot of the Thunderbirds, precision pilots who were featured in air shows. Major and Mrs. Carter now reside in Turkey.
The UDC chapter here was organized February 13, 1922, and on its forty-seventh birthday the charter president, Mrs. H. M. Brabham, cut the anniversary cake and served the first slice to her daughter, Mrs. Lucretia Brabham Winburn, who was president then.
The town is unique, but no more than the name EHRHARDT, which , the post master, a woman, says is misspelled on four out of six out-of-town letters entering the post office.