Gid Haselden: Johnsonville Looked Good To a Boy From Possum Fork
The following oral history provided by Degideon Bryant "Gid" Haselden (1896-1986) was taken from the Florence Morning News, 1 March 1959:
JOHNSONVILLE - Half way between Florence and Georgetown - which is to say that particularly favored location location wherein the Low Country comes rushing up to greet the Pee Dee area - is a town called Johnsonville. Two things alone hold together the community - the Wellman Combing Co., with more than five-hundred employees, and an indomitable will on the part of its one-thousand citizens.
AS towns go, Johnsonville is not old; but it is old enough to have firmly established itself in the affections of those whom therein dwell. One such man is D.B. Haselden. Since the last-named merchant has been a resident without interruption of the town for the past 33 years: and since Haselden was born within 2 and one half miles of his present residence, the stor of D.B. Haselden is the story of Johnsonville. Here it is in Merchant Haselden's own words:
"When I came to live in Johnsonville there were no paved roads in or out. To a boy from Possum Fork, however, it looked real good. Anyway, I opened a small grocery business here on Oct. 5, 1926. My business kept up with the town - neither grew one iota. In 1927 a lumber outfit moved in unasked but very welcome. The Bennet-Walker Lumber Co., was composed of a planing mill and 5 or 6 sawmills, and remained in business here until the death of John Walker - about 1942. Walker's son still lives here. Much later the Combing Company moved in, and saved what was left of Johnsonville."
What was left?
"Yes. In Jan. 1931, in the dead of night a fire broke out. By dawn the Main street looked like Flanders Field after a heavy rain. Only two shops were left standing; a drug store and - you guessed it - the D.B. Haselden Grocery. The heck of it was that folks seemed to be in no hurry about rebuilding. I used to feel like a shopkeeper in the destroyed city of Pompei, I tell you. It looked like that fire was to prove a fatal blow to our town. Do you know, it was not until about 1944 that they started rebuilding from the ashes? Thirteen long years I kept shop on a street all but obliterate. Why it must have been all of twelve months after the fire before the charred smell left Broadway. That's the name of the main stem, you know..."
The long and lean Mr. Haselden suddenly leaned back and roared with laughter.
"Pardon me," he said finally. "I was remembering a song which was popular along about those same disheartening days. It went: 'Bright lights on Broadway, sunshine down in Dixie,' et cetera et cetera. We had the sunshine alright but not much illumination on our Broadway.
"I believe I mentioned Possum Fork a little earlier? Well that's where I was born. If Johnsonville was a bit on the isolated side brother, you should have know the Fork back when I was a boy. It was almost literally out of this world. I recall a school teacher who came to teach out there - they put him up in a deserted house back in a thicket. He wanted. The told him without cracked to know if the place was haunting a smile, that the 'houses were all too small, at Possum Fork, to hold a ghost.' I reckon though, that ma didn't believe them. He didn't stay long.
"The Fork is still there - only a little better than two miles from Johnsonville. Some folks will say I have no shame - disclosing conditions as they were back fifty years ago. But I am downright proud of being from Possum Fork. If this story reaches the paper, I'll bet there will be hundreds of people who will know that I am telling the truth.
"I didn't see a train until I was 12 years old. The nearest railroad was at Lake City. I never visited either Florence or Georgetown until I was a married man of 23." Haselden's eyes took on a far away look.
"I can recall going to Allison's Landing - that's on the Pee Dee - with my father, after we'd heard the boat whistling. Dad used to buy his staples at Georgetown - flour, rice, coffee and sugar, and have them brought up the river. It was about six miles to the Landing, we'd travel by mule and cart. When I was a boy, I thought of Georgetown as the beginning and the end of civilization. My father used to float logs and cross ties to Georgetown, you see. He'd be gone on those trips from five to ten days. Have to walk back, you know. Anyway, upon his return he would tell we children of the wonders of Georgetown; of its bulging shops, its find houses, etc.
"Sometime during the early 1920s, a momentous thing took place. By popular vote Johnsonville was separated from Williamsburg County, to become part of Florence County. I suspect that Florence - the county, that is - wasn't really overcome with joy by our addition; but the people had spoken. The town itself is not old. Originally the land upon which it was built was part and parcel of the S.B. Poston farm. I can recall when the main street was sold off in lots.
"I operate the smallest grocery store in Johnsonville, but it's been a living. With the help of my wife - I married Emily Powell of Possum Fork, Dec. 1917 - I've been able to raise and educate five children: there's V.C. - he's practicing law down in Georgetown - Hubert L., who has some 18 years of Navy service behind him, Wilma Ruth, who serves as secretary in the Charlotte office of the FBI, Ken, now rounding out ten years wi the U.S. Air Force, and Reid Nettles, teaching at Johnsonville High.
World War II, says the Johnsonville merchant, wade for very slight change in the town's leisured pace. "There were no bases or defense plants nearby," he says, "and about the only real difference was in the absence of young people - the boys off to war, their wives (if married), following them to camps and places and cities here, there and everywhere located..."
Haselden took a deep breath. "And now, I am going to stick my neck out, but good! I believe that Johnsonville is as big as ever it will get. That's my very own and personal conviction, of course. I hope it proves to be in error - but I trust I will be pardoned and forgiven by my neighbors when I say I shall not lose any sleep if the town doesn't swell too rapidly. I like it the way it is."
Mr. D.B. Haselden, now 62, can look back proudly and declare that he has spent his entire life within a couple of miles radius of Johnsonville.
"It is fellows like myself," he says, "who account for the existence of small places like this one. On this score, may I had, I make no apologies."