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Article on Town of Lockhart, South Carolina

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Article on Town of Lockhart, South Carolina

Posted: 7 Aug 2002 6:26AM GMT
Classification: Query
Edited: 12 Jan 2005 9:00AM GMT
Surnames: Lockhart, Lockert, Love, Gaston
The below article appeared in The State Newspaper in Columbia SC on Monday. The town of Lockhart was named after the family of Aaron Lockert (Lockhart), whose children married into my Love family of Chester Co., SC. Lockhart SC is just over the Broad River bridge connecting Chester Co. and Union Co., SC.

Clarke Thompson



Posted on Mon, Aug. 05, 2002

Lockhart stages a comeback
By VALERIE BAUERLEIN
Staff Writer - The State Newspaper - Columbia, South Carolina

LOCKHART - The prayers of the ladies' circle at Lockhart First Baptist
Church have been answered.

At least some of them have.

The town is still a mill town without textiles, the industry that created it. The town's rusty pipes still break every day, leaking as much water underground as comes through spigots above. And yes, the town still has no major employers and few prospects.

But Lockhart feels lucky, Mayor Ailene Ashe says. Consider:

Lockhart, the state's smallest town, won a $500,000 grant this summer to rebuild some of its century-old water and sewer lines; A local husband-and-wife team have opened the town's only restaurant, serving hot dogs and hamburgers four days a week and selling candy to children, from jawbreakers to Cow Tails; and The Milliken Co., the textile giant that built the mill that built the town - then tore down the mill - is giving Lockhart about an acre of land, enough for the town's first park.

The grant, cafe and park are cause for celebration. So the town is holding a reception from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Town Hall.

More than 200 people are expected to attend, including state Sen. Harvey Peeler and state Rep. Ron Fleming, who represent Lockhart and Union County. Gov. Jim Hodges will not be there, but his name was on the letter awarding the S.C. Department of Commerce grant for the pipes. "He signed it himself, in blue ink," says Ashe, waving the letter.

Lockhart is technically the state's smallest town, with 39 residents, according to the 2000 Census. Since the Census, however, the town has annexed, bringing its population to about 400, and is lobbying the U.S. Census Bureau to do a recount. That way, Lockhart could qualify for more federal money, awarded to all towns on a per capita basis.

The town stands to gain $1,000 or so - barely enough to lay a little sidewalk, but every little bit helps, Ashe says.

A TOWN OUT OF TIME

Lockhart sits by the Broad River, on the side of a hill, between Chester and Union.

The town began when textile barons built a mill along the river's Lockhart Shoals in the early 1900s. Workers came from the Appalachian Mountains and South Carolina farms for the hope of regular shift work. They stayed for good-paying jobs and life in a mill village that feels like a family.

Even today, eight years after the mill closed, a native is still more likely than not to know the people passing on the street.

The air feels different in Lockhart, higher and cooler than much of the state. The town looks pink this time of year, thanks to the crape myrtle along the Broad River canal and the blooms falling on the sidewalk on Mill Hill.

Barry Canupp grew up in Lockhart. He still works for Milliken, only now he commutes to work four mornings a week.

He and his wife, Bernice, opened the Lockhart Cafe this spring - 15 weeks and counting - and work in the kitchen side by side. Barry makes the hamburger patties; he and Bernice take turns on the grill; and 16-year-old daughter, Jessica, waits tables.

Bernice Canupp, 36, had not worked since the mill closed. She loves the pace now. Already they've expanded, opening a second small dining room.

The cafe has had customers from York, as well as the town's down-the-road rival of Jonesville - even from Florida. Some of them are traveling through Lockhart on S.C. 9 or S.C. 49 and stop for lunch. Others make the trip specifically for the fat, juicy cheeseburgers.

"Every day, someone comes in here we don't know," Bernice Canupp says.

Barry Canupp, 37, says he had hoped to open a cafe - short-order stuff - for years. He and his wife bought equipment at auctions - a table here, a fan there - so they would not go into debt. They are leasing a cinder-block building the first year and hope to buy a building next year.

"People in Lockhart need it," Barry Canupp says. "They need a choice, and that, they did not have. I've been here all my life, and I plan to be here the rest of it, so I want to do what I can."

The Canupps will be preparing barbecue hash for the party this weekend. Townspeople are donating the food and desserts because the town itself has no steady income to speak of.

GETTING SOME HELP

For decades, Milliken paid the town's bills, as well as the power and water bills of the people who lived there. Lockhart has never levied a property tax, and town leaders say they won't start now because the majority of residents have low-to-moderate income, making less than $23,800 for a one-person household.

Town Council members have been talking about ways to raise money, to pay for repairing the water and sewer lines, to hire staff - maybe even to build a community center, now that they have the land that Milliken donated.

They are getting lots of input from townspeople, especially about the high cost of water and the breaks in water lines. Attendance is high at the council's monthly meetings. Voter turnout was more than 90 percent in last year's town elections.

The town's one full-time employee is getting help from Union County's court-ordered community service program. The latest worker owes the county more than 100 hours - "He's a lifer!" Ashe says - and works hard at helping
clean the storm drains.

The town has no administrator or engineer of its own, making deciphering and implementing 50-page state grant documents a daunting task.

Environmental engineer Val Green is advising the town - "looking over their shoulder," he calls it - on administering the state's $500,000 grant. He works with the federally funded Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, helping impoverished towns of less than 5,000 people.

The town also relies on the local council of governments, rural development agencies and the state for advice.

WATER IS THE KEY

For his part, Green is encouraging the town to re-open its water plant.

The plant once processed water for the mill, producing hundreds of thousands of gallons a day needed for rinsing and processing textiles.

After the mill closed, owner Roger Milliken offered to sell the water plant to the town for $1, but the former council turned him down - partly out of fear the town couldn't run the plant, partly out of resentment that Milliken was leaving.

An outside company operated the plant for a while, but ran into problems, especially because the plant was much bigger than it needed to be for just a small town and no mill.

Since the water plant closed five years ago, the town has been buying water from a local water district - more expensive than pumping and cleaning its own.

But the council is looking into the possibility of opening the plant again, having finally bought the plant this summer for $5.

Water is how towns make money, Green says. "That's an asset sitting up on that hill that they're not using."

Outside eyes look at the boarded-up water plant and see piles and piles of pigeon droppings and pussy willows growing six-feet tall in water storage tanks.

Town leaders see possibilities - the chance to pump and clean their own water, then sell it to their own residents, keeping the profits for town needs.

Opening the water plant sounds daunting but doable to Mayor Ashe, especially now that the town's on a roll.

Lockhart might not have the mill, or the prospect of a new industry. But the mayor and others want their town to thrive.

"Growing up in this town, I had the most wonderful life, to me, that I can ever imagine," Ashe says. "People say, 'It'll never be like it was.' But I say, 'Why can't it be better?' "

Reach Bauerlein at (803) 771-8485 or vbauerlein@thestate.com.

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