The People and Their Stories
As I progressed through this project, it became clear to me that there are two sides of this story that must be told. The previous sections of this exhibit have given a basic history of the events that unfolded that led to the construction of Hartwell Dam. In future segments, I will tell of the many benefits that the subsequent lake brought to the upstate of South Carolina and Georgia. But before I get there, I want to draw attention to three stories of the nearly two-thousand families that were displaced as a result of the Hartwell project. Before the water began backing up, the United States government had conducted extensive studies on the area that would be inundated as a result of the project. They reached out to those whose property would be flooded, offered them money for their estate and belongings, and then forced them to leave.
Under eminent domain law, the government is allowed to expropriate private property for public use as long as payment is rendered. Unlike Clemson College, small town cotton farmers did not have the resources to put up a fight with the Army Core of Engineers to protect their land. Some of these people had family ties with the land that extended back to the days of Colonel Elias Earle. In one story, a man named Rufus Suttles, Sr. had been presented with a check for $6,300 for his 33-acre plot of land near Dobbins Bridge Road in the Andersonville/Townville area. His family refused to leave and on the morning of December 31, 1959, U.S. Marshall M. Frank Reid and 12 Deputy Marshalls arrived to forcibly evict them. Mr. Suttles’ son, Robert Autry Suttles, promptly punched and kicked Chief Marshall Eugene Burns. He was thereby arrested for interfering with the duty of a federal officer.[i] Mr. Suttles was not alone in his fight. During the months of October & November of 2019 I sat down with the following people and allowed them to tell me their stories. I offer my upmost gratitude to them, as they were essential to the research in this project. I hope you find their narratives as meaningful as I did.
[i] Badders, Hurley, “2 Families Evicted in Reservoir Area,” Anderson Independent, January 1, 1960, Anderson County Library Local History and Genealogy Archives.
Click the image to the left of each discription to access the audio file and transcript:
Mr. Michael Snipes
Michael Snipes was about nine years old when Hartwell Dam and Lake was built. His father was a farmer that owned land that is now covered by the man-man wonder. Mr. Snipes recalled what life was like growing up in the Upstate of South Carolina in the late 50’s and what impact the lake had on his community. He also attended Clemson University about ten years after the lake reached full pond, so he was among one of the first generations of students to be able to utilize the lake as part of campus recreation. After seeing a post on Facebook, Michael reached out expressing that he would like to tell his story. Since he frequently returns to his Alma Mater to support Clemson football, we sat down at his tailgate one October in 2019 to record the following interview.
Mr. Ken Jordan
Ken Jordan is a Honea-Path, South Carolina native who remembers the stories about Lake Hartwell that his mother and grandparents told him. His grandparents owned approximately 120 acres of farmland near Andersonville, South Carolina- present day Townville, South Carolina. When Lake Hartwell began flooding, their family was left with just a few acres of lakefront property and the home was covered by water. Once Ken acquired the land, he inherited a lake house that overlooks the property his family grew cotton on, now covered by a lake. He also has a nice view of Andersonville Island. He and I got together in late October of 2019 at his lake home and he told me some of those stories.
(Included with this file is a picture of Ken's grandparent's home. The picture shows what thier family farm looked like before the lake came and flodded the entire area. I snapped a picture on my phone of what the property looks like today and included it below. The difference is astounding.)
Mrs. Lois Burdette
After I sat down with Ken, by happenstance I met his aunt Lois. She and her family moved to Andersonville when she was around eight years old. She remembers the Seneca and Tugaloo rivers well and told me what life was like being a child in that area in the 1950’s. She told me about how and where she went to school and what the farm people used the rivers for decades before there was an idea of a lake. We discussed what she remembers about the end of World War II and the process of moving off the land before it became Hartwell Lake. In this interview, she also discusses Shirley Grove and Andersonville Baptist churches that were active places of worship in the flood zone. Her family was left with nine acres of land out of an original one-hundred and twenty-one once the lake flooded that area.