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Sacrifice required but worthwhile to live in small town

November 11, 2018

JAMESTOWN, S.C. (AP) — To many people, this tiny community in the northeastern part of Berkeley County is simply a place to slow down as they pass through on their way somewhere else.

Heading into town on densely wooded S.C. Highways 41 or 45, the speed limit drops from 55 mph to 40.

“If you don’t think you’ll get a ticket, just sail through here,” said Craig Bellamy, who lives in nearby Alvin but comes here to get his hair cut at Nancelle’s Hair Place. “The speed limit is 40, but that means 39½.”

If you blink, you could miss Jamestown, one of South Carolina’s 10 smallest municipalities by population. At a little less than 1 square mile, the town has no historic street lined with stores, offices, restaurants or theaters.

Its claim to fame is the annual Hell Hole Swamp Festival, held each May as a nod to the area’s history of hiding moonshiners. Among the festival’s activities is a children’s tobacco spitting contest.

The festival is held in the center of town, where Highways 41 and 45 cross under a blinking caution light and stop signs. U.S. Highway 17A comes into town on Highway 45 from the west and leaves on 41 going north, often carrying people heading to or from Myrtle Beach.

On one corner is a convenience store-gas station that has the only fast-food restaurant in town, Subway.

It’s a bustling place where locals and travelers often stop to fill their tanks, get a cold drink or a snack or use the restroom.

Most mornings, a handful of local men gather with their cups of coffee to chat and watch the traffic go by.

According to longtime Mayor Roy Pipkin, 8,000 cars and trucks a day — nearly 3 million a year — pass through Jamestown.

As far back as 1968, the town had a reputation as a speed trap, according to news accounts of the day. At the time, Mayor J.Y. Clark said the town’s only police officer was just enforcing the law.

So now, who could blame Police Chief John High if his officers — one full-time and two part-time, in addition to him — spend their days on the lookout for speeders? They’re breaking the law, and there’s not much else for the officers to do.

“We don’t have much crime,” said Pipkin, 69. “About 90 percent of the crime that’s committed in town, they solve.”

Most cases involve shoplifting at the convenience store or equipment theft from the Charleston Heart Pine Co., he said.

The biggest nuisance recently has been feral hogs tearing up farmland. About 170 have been killed in the past two years, Pipkin said.

“We’ve got them just about gone now, but they’re good for nothing,” he said. “You can eat them, I guess, but I don’t like them. They taste earthy to me.”

‘I’m not bored at all’

The bucolic community on the edge of the 258,000-acre Francis Marion National Forest, not far from the Santee River, offers a very different lifestyle from the other side of the county, where three mega-communities — Nexton, Cane Bay and Carnes Crossroads — are expected to house more than 75,000 residents in the coming years.

Jamestown had 72 residents in 2010. By last year, that increased to 80, according to Census Bureau estimates. Pipkin likes to round it off at an even 100 because people move in and out, he said. There are 46 registered voters.

The mayor guesses he knows most folks, but his wife, Chris, knows everybody, he said. She’s the town clerk, hired as a temporary fill-in 20 years ago to handle the day-to-day business, so she deals with the public regularly.

Officially, town hall hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The mayor checks in daily but doesn’t keep regular office hours. He spends most days tending his 150-acre tree farm or at his 75-acre tract by the Santee River.

It’s part of the laid-back life that is Jamestown.

“This is where I’ll be till I die,” said Clay Mau, who bought 28 acres here in 1991 while he was in the Army. After he retired in 1999, he and his wife first moved to a condo in Mount Pleasant.

“It was a nice place, but I just don’t like living in close quarters where you can hear people breathing next door,” he said. “I like the ability to go out and enjoy peace and quiet, listen to nature. I feel safer out in the country than I do in the city.”

Mau spent about 10 years piddling in his workshop, sometimes laying stone or tile for friends, he said. Then he took a job in the town’s water department as a jack-of-all-trades, doing everything from pump repair to collecting payments.

“I’m not bored out here at all,” he said. “You would think you would be bored, but I’m really not.”

‘Nobody came to the meetings’

Pipkin, who was then the mayor pro-tem, stepped into the town leadership role more than 20 years ago when his predecessor quit. The job carries a whopping $350 annual salary, $50 more than each of the four council members make.

“I’ve spent more money in gasoline going to different events than I make as mayor,” he said.

The town hasn’t had an election in years because there were only as many candidates running as there were open seats, so the elections were called off. (A new state law will change that next year).

Pipkin, who is retired from the National Guard, grew up in Jamestown and lived there all of his life except for about eight years.

“I got the mayor’s job by default, and I’ve been here ever since because I wanted to help the little town out. Charleston, Goose Creek and all those guys, they got grant writers and they apply for grants and all this stuff. Well, this is the grant writer here,” he said, pointing to himself. “I have to do it all. (Charleston Mayor John) Tecklenburg, he don’t have to write a grant. He just tells somebody, ‘I want it,’ and they do it for him.”

Pipkin has worked hard to keep the town independent.

During his tenure, Jamestown, which has an annual budget of $$284,000, has secured about $6 million to put in waterlines and recreational facilities.

The town has its own municipal court, where those speeding tickets are handled, along with cases of abandoned houses that Pipkin wants fixed or removed.

When Berkeley County closed the Jamestown branch library years ago, the town took over its operation, moving the books to a small room in a utility building next to town hall.

“We didn’t get much business,” Pipkin said. “We stayed open five or six years, but now it’s basically on demand. We’ve got computers in there and the kids around here who don’t have a computer, they know to come in here and get a key.”

Pipkin has tried unsuccessfully a couple of times to grow the town by annexation. One attempt lost by three votes — and the three people who wanted to be annexed didn’t vote, he said.

“I tell people, if you become a member of the town, you’ve got a whole lot bigger voice than in Berkeley County,” he said. “If you need something done, instead of going to County Council, which represents the whole county, you can come here, and file your complaint or your whatever and get things done.”

Since the volunteer fire department phased out, the town relies on the county for fire protection and EMS. Those stations are about a mile outside of town limits.

“We’ve still got our old truck and I tried to re-establish the fire department, but nobody came to the meetings,” the mayor said. It would probably be too costly to run a department anyway, he added.

Residents haul their garbage to one of two county convenience centers about 5 miles outside of town.

Students are bused 12 to 15 miles to Bonner Elementary, Macedonia Middle and Timberland High.

Inconviences? Yes, but...

Pipkin’s big news is that Jamestown is getting a Dollar General across from the gas station at the intersection.

“I’ve been trying to get one of those for seven years,” he said. “I guess they got tired of me talking to them every three months.

“It’ll be good for the community. A lot of the people around here, they don’t have cars. If we have Dollar General here, they can walk there and walk back.”

The dearth of businesses is something that has happened over time as people moved to bigger cities.

In the mid-1950s, Jamestown had a grocery store and a drug store, and its population hovered around 250, media reports remember.

Grocer A.B. Bishop led a charge to bring telephones to the town, with one of the first installed in his store in January 1955. It was part of an effort to attract a French wool scouring plant, now Chargeurs Wool USA, which is right outside of town limits and today employs 60 people.

Jessica Timmons rings up customers in her Jamestown restaurant, Aces, named after her nickname for her children Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. Timmons, an Army veteran, returned to her hometown of Jamestown to open the small town’s only restaurant. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

“When I was growing up, there was a lot of things here,” said Jessica Timmons, 36. “There was a restaurant, a meat market, a lot of businesses.”

She remembers walking to Pipkin’s Store with $1 in her pocket, and coming out with 100 pieces of candy.

In December 2016, Timmons, a single mother of three, opened Ace’s Social Club, the town’s only restaurant, in a vacant building near the railroad tracks.

“People had to drive so far to get something to eat,” she said. “I wanted to bring convenience to my hometown.”

She opens at 5:30 a.m. and serves bacon, eggs, grits and breakfast sandwiches to many truck drivers passing through town. She offers burgers, wings and fish for lunch and manager’s specials for dinner. On the weekends, she shows sports on the wall-mounted TV “so the people in the community can enjoy coming here and they don’t have to drive so far.”

Driving is part of life when you live so far out in the country.

Jamestown has few job opportunities. There’s the flooring company, the wool factory and the Martin Marietta Georgetown Quarry, just over 2 miles outside town. But most of Jamestown’s working class commute to Moncks Corner, Georgetown, Mount Pleasant or Charleston. Many log 100 miles roundtrip each day.

Grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments and fine dining all also require hours-long road trips.

“It takes planning,” Mau said. “You try to make as many stops as possible. If I need to go somewhere, I try to hold off until I need to go to a couple other places. I don’t really want to waste the gas or the time unless I have more than one thing to do.”

There are inconveniences, to be sure. But they’re worth it.

“I used to not like to live in Jamestown because there’s nothing to do,” Pipkin said. “But the older I get, the more I like it. You can go outside at night and actually see stars. When I lived in Columbia, you never saw a star.”

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Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com

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