Hartsville My Town by Carson Steen

Edited by

Betty Sue Wilkie


Hartsville My Town by Carson Steen. Carson W. Steen was lifetime lover of all things historical, and most particularly the events and everyday occurrences that shaped the history of his hometown, Hartsville.  For many years Steen quietly collected a variety of impressions and facts concerning the town.  Many topics were of  interest to Steen, the day-to-day routines of the citizens of Hartsville; the institutions of the town, its factories, stores, schools, churches, civic clubs, and city government; and stories from a bygone time.  A keen observer, Steen noted the events, both monumental and the trivial, which shaped the town’s character.  His observations and interviews were collected in a series of loose-leaf notebooks during his lifetime.  These notebooks were broadly organized into “chapters” with titles such as “My Town,” “Model T Ford,” “Country Folk,” and “Streets and Buildings.”  After Carson W. Steen’s death in 1987 the late Alfred Brown recognized the value of these notebooks and encouraged the Hartsville community to preserve them. At the urging of Brown this collection was placed with the Hartsville Museum with the view it should be published. Under the guidance of Brown (and others) portions of Steen's interviews with several of Hartsville's oldest citizens were published in 1991 in Milestones: Centennial Histories of Hartsville. Several years passed before the Old Darlington District Chapter of the SC Genealogical Society was asked to undertake the transcription and editing of the remainder of the Steen materials.  Betty Sue Watkins Wilkie agreed to take on this project.  Wilkie is best known to longtime Hartsville residents as one of the former hosts of the popular WHSC radio program, “Trading Post.”  The notebooks were transferred to the genealogical chapter and Wilkie began her work.  She soon found the Steen materials to be a treasure trove of Hartsville’s history with hundreds of details to be researched. We are indebted to Betty Sue Watkins Wilkie for her unselfish devotion to this project. It was surely a labor of love. Hartsville is a unique town, progressive in character, yet mindful of preserving its history.  Carson W. Steen also recognized these facts. His memories and impressions of Hartsville will ensure that we don’t lose sight of the significance of those things, great and small, that help define its character.  This is Carson W. Steen’s legacy to his hometown. On Sunday, February 6th, the Old Darlington District Chapter will present a program at 3:00 p.m. at the Hartsville Genealogical Research Library (old Hartsville Train Depot) entitled, "Selections from Hartsville My Town by Carson Steen." The public is invited to attend. Copies of the book will be available at that time. Price $35.00 if picked up at the Hartsville Genealogical Research Library, or $39.00 if mailed. 416 pages, © 2004, hard cover, full name index, Library of Congress Number 2004106096. Order from Old Darlington District Chapter, SCGS, P.O. Box 175, Hartsville, SC 29551-0175.

New book on Hartsville a delight for all readers

[Hartsville Messenger, Friday, February 4, 2005]

Ardie Arvidson writes today in the Lifestyles section about a new book titled Hartsville, My Town, by the late Carson Steen, compiled by Betty Sue Watkins Wilkie.

There will be a reading and discussion this Sunday, Feb. 6, at 3 p.m. at the Hartsville Genealogical Research Library, 114 S. Fourth St., Hartsville, (Train Depot), where the book will be for sale.

As the story explains, Mr. Steen was a prolific chronicler of Hartsville's people, places, events and things, and the book contains fascinating details and historical notes that give insight into the evolution of daily life here over the past 150 years. The most specific information spans Mr. Steen's lifetime, from his birth on Christmas Day 1907, to his death in 1987.

Hartsville genealogist, teacher and city councilman Johnny Andrews dropped off a copy to me last week, and I took it home to check it out. This turned into one of those experiences in which I started reading it, and suddenly more than an hour later I was still reading, mesmerized by the often raw, unflinching and intimate details of everything you can imagine, including the city's smells, sanitation procedures, diseases of the time, race relations, schools, food and water supplies, historical notes about world events pertinent to the various stories, social customs and often hilarious, grim and even brutal tales of everyday life.

There are lists of the city's phone numbers, mayors and city councilmen, sports teams and their records, short but highly detailed descriptions of local churches, businesses and the people who owned and ran them, what they sold, and what various jobs paid at various times.

There are lists of firemen, people who worked at Sonoco, and the names of those who fought and died in wars dating back to the Civil War.

Most important and interesting, however, are the people Mr. Steen and others describe. There are countless incredible characters, some telling tales themselves and others the subject of first–hand stories. It's an invaluable addition to the history of this town, and one that can be enjoyed by anyone from anywhere.

There are too many great specific examples to recount here, so I'll share just one of my favorites. Mr. Steen, in his typical style, writes about the Sam Fung Chinese Laundry.

Sam Fung, a Chinese, ran a laundry on Sixth Street, behind the present McCoy's Service Station (Tripp's Mini Mart today). I would take Father's shirts to him for laundering and he would give me a slip of paper with Chinese writing on it and wave his hand and talk in English and Chinese that I had better not lose it.

When I went back to get the shirts he would take the piece of paper and check the shelves behind the counter, that were filled with packages wrapped with paper. If he could not find my package immediately he would wave his hands and shout in Chinese until he found it.

He went to First Baptist Church and greeted people as they came on the church grounds and gave a little money every Sunday. He sounded rough but was a kind and gentle man.

I was told that he wanted to return to China, so some people in town donated the necessary money for him to go.

Mr. Fung was in Hartsville in the 1920s.

Congratulations to Betty Sue Watkins Wilkie and the many others (see the book's Acknowledgements) who made this work possible.


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