After more than 70 years, Edisto Memorial Garden’s Chinese waterwheel still stands, a silent sentinel watching as children play and sweethearts stroll along the dike that holds back the black river water.
The wheel has seen generations of local folks and visitors come and go as the seasons passed.
Each season surrounds the wheel with its own special beauty.
In the summer, overhanging mossy limbs create a quiet oasis that gives passersby a spot to sit and meditate as they watch the wheel’s slow, rhythmic turning and listen to the peaceful sound of the water pouring from its buckets.
The red, yellow and brown leaves of fall give way to the stark, bare beauty of winter, which surrenders to the green of spring.
Throughout the never-ending cycle, the wheel continues its rotation, a tribute to Andrew Dibble, the city’s first superintendent of parks and recreation.
In early 1941, Dibble was at home recovering from a case of the flu and pondering how he could supply water in an aesthetic way to the newly built pond in what is now the Rose Garden.
While reading the National Geographic magazine, he saw a photograph of a beautiful Chinese waterwheel and read the accompanying story about how the Chinese used waterwheels with bamboo buckets attached to irrigate their rice paddies.
Dibble decided that he could successfully adapt the wheel to provide an unending supply of fresh water for the pond and also create a beautiful and peaceful corner for visitors.
Dibble called on a local wheelwright, Durham Bozard, who quickly built the wheel. In September 1941, it was installed in its familiar spot in the river.
Over the years, the wheel has been a popular attraction, both to locals and tourists.
With routine maintenance, the Orangeburg monument withstood the elements well until June 2012, when a large tree fell on it, damaging its paddles and center steel shaft.
The city’s service department removed the waterwheel from the river, repaired it and put it back in place. The repairs cost about $500 and rental of the crane to move the 4,000-pound structure cost another $500. The wheel, which measures about 12 feet wide and 24 feet long, had to be taken out of the river and replaced in two sections.
By mid-September, the waterwheel had been repaired and once again stood in its rightful place in the Edisto River, resting on pontoons so that the entire structure rises and falls with the river.
Though water is now pumped into the gardens’ ponds from the river, a switching mechanism and pipes remain in place should the faithful waterwheel be needed again.
The S.C. Department of Transportation has developed a $22.7 million plan to replace the U.S. Highway 301 bridge over the North Edisto River and fix nearby traffic problems.
Officials presented the plans last week to a group that was largely receptive.
"It looks good," said Todd Johnson, co-owner of Johnson's Marine and Off-Road on Old Edisto Drive. The project will run adjacent to his property.
"We didn't know that the bridge was going to be closed, and now we know that it is not," Johnson said. "I think traffic getting in and out of the shop is our main concern."
Johnson was among several dozen individuals to attend Tuesday’s two-hour SCDOT public information meeting about the project at Mellichamp Elementary School.
SCDOT is proposing replacing both the bridge over the North Edisto River and the adjacent bridge over the overflow channel. Other traffic improvements are planned, including the addition of an acceleration lane from Russell Street onto U.S. 301.
SCDOT Program Manager Adam Humphries said the project will enhance the beauty of the river because the piers currently in the North Edisto will be removed as part of the project.
"We are spanning the channel," he said. "We feel it will enhance that (river protection)."
Humphries also said there will “minimal impact to the Memorial Gardens and to the ... City of Orangeburg utilities.”
Humphries said if nothing is done, the bridges will become so structurally deficient that they will have to be closed.
The U.S. 301 river bridge was built in 1922 and the overflow bridge was built in 1954.
Currently, the bridges have an annual daily traffic count of 26,000 vehicles and are expected to increase to more than 30,000 a day by 2040.
SCDOT estimates about 2.1 acres of wetlands could be impacted by the project. There will be about 35 linear feet of stream impacts.
"There is a jurisdictional ditch along the roadway," Humphries said. "It is already impacted there with rip rap, but there is a culvert extension there so it is deemed an impact. We believe it does not lose its function that it is currently serving."
Right-of-way acquisition for the project is anticipated to begin in the fourth quarter of 2019, with construction starting in the first quarter of 2021.
The project is expected to be done by the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023.
About $1 million of the project is for right-of-way acquisition.
The project will be funded with federal dollars.
Humphries said the DOT will need to acquire right-of-ways from about eight property owners along the stretch of the new bridges. There will no property relocations or displacements as a part of the project.
According to the SCDOT's proposed plans, the existing Confederate flag and monument display in front of the Edisto River Creamery at U.S. 301 and Russell Street will not be impacted by the project.
The monument and restaurant have been the center of controversy for quite some time.
"I am satisfied," Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 842 Keeper of the Flag Buzz Braxton said about the SCDOT proposal. "It is not making any disturbance there on our piece of property. That is all you can want."
Edisto River Creamery owner Tommy Daras has sought the removal of the Confederate flag display, which is located next to his property but owned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Daras has put the property up for sale.
Daras said he’s pleased with plans to add new aprons, curbs and gutters in front of the store.
“There are no complaints with me. I am glad to see the roads in Orangeburg will be a little safer for everybody,” he said.
The shift in the roadway is expected to have some minimal impact on the Andrew Dibble Street access to Edisto Memorial Gardens and the disc golf course.
"We are asking them if there is any tweaking they can do to allow us to access Andrew Dibble from the Russell Street side," Orangeburg City Administrator John Yow said.
Humphries said, "We are seeing what access can be maintained there.
"There is still maintained full access back on Glover Street. There are two entrances to it. The boat landing still is staying open."
Yow said the city is impressed with SCDOT’s progress.
"We, as the city, want the bridge to have an underpass that will connect both sides of the Gardens so persons can go from the board walk to the disc golf course, or the boat landing ... without having to cross U.S. 301," Yow said. "They are working with us to allow that."
Yow said the city would also like to ensure the project is aesthetically pleasing.
"We want the bridge to be designed in a manner that we can place some nice streetlights, so when you come in from the south entrance it will make a nice impression coming into the city," Yow said.
Matthew Lee, who works with Orangeburg's NAPA Auto Parts, says the project looks good to him.
"We run delivery services from NAPA Auto Parts and we run to all the shops out past U.S. 301," he said. "We wanted to make sure our delivery trucks were going to be able to get through and get to our customers in a decent time and not have to bypass for an hour."
Lee said he is very satisfied with the proposal.
"They are actually building a new bridge," he said. "The old bridge will be there for our convenience until the new bridge is built. It is not going to cause any trouble with us."
Johnson’s Marine co-owner Heath Johnson said, "We have a little issue with the center lane.
"We have to add an acceleration lane for people getting in and out of our business. If they can work with us on that, I don't see a problem with anything."
Public comment will be accepted on the project through Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019.
To view the project online, visit: www.scdot.org/projects/press-releases.aspx or arcg.is/1z8SKL0.
Additional information about the project can be obtained by contacting Humphries at 803-737-3081 or by email at HumphrieAS@scdot.org.
As South Carolina lawmakers consider changing the way education is funded, they’re looking for ways to cut administration costs and shift the savings back into classrooms.
That could mean changes in areas like Bamberg County.
“What we’ve got to do is change with the times and realize that in order to focus on the education of the children, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that we aren’t having growth in the numbers of school students in rural areas, while at the same time the number of students statewide is growing,” said Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.
“So we’re trying to take a holistic look at education in the state and make a real recognition of the fact that it’s different in rural South Carolina than it is in the urban areas of South Carolina,” he said.
S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas has introduced a statewide education reform bill. It includes a stipulation that districts with fewer than 1,000 students have to consolidate.
The bill follows an addition to last year’s state budget giving Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman the ability to require that small school districts consolidate administrative and professional services.
Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, said the state’s education funding formula really hasn’t worked for the smaller districts.
“Those areas are oftentimes struggling with population decreases, teacher shortages and other things,” he said. “I don't want to say impossible, but it makes it very difficult for you to exist on the same playing field as other school districts in this state that don't have those issues.”
He said there’s talk in Columbia about whether a final bill should require the consolidation of smaller districts.
“The fact of the matter is this: The smaller you are, the smarter you have to be. You have to be willing to look past and let go of petty historical differences, racial differences and oftentimes the legacy or heritage difference,” Bamberg said.
“At the end of the day, our educational system isn't about me. It isn't about who runs the district. It's about the children who have one chance to get the best education they can before they're prepared to go off into the real world,” Bamberg said.
The lawmaker said there is still time for Bamberg County to consolidate administrative services and remain in separate schools.
“We still have time to do that, but at some point in the near future, the state is going to make us do it. ... In essence, I think the choice that is presented is: Do you figure out a way to do it that works better for you, or do you wait to do it the state's way?" Bamberg said.
He doesn’t think education reform will one day lead to school closures, “unless we were to see a significant population change in terms of young people moving back.”
"That's one reason I filed that Rural Revitalization Act to try to entice young people to come back. Unless we're able to do that, I think eventually, whether it be 15, 20 or 10 years from now, Bamberg County and even Barnwell County may very well have a one-district, one-school type set up,” he said.
Bamberg thinks the most difficult part of consolidation is changing school districts’ power structures, including the designation of one superintendent and a new school board.
“And, of course, all of those things will be looked at and lines will be drawn in a way that ensures every area of the county has equal representation. But it’s always difficult when you’re dealing with politics and the politics of power. But we’ll get through all this ... In my discussions with people throughout Bamberg County, my consensus is that there are a lot of people who are for this idea of consolidating administratively,” but won’t speak out publicly about it, Bamberg said.
“They don’t want to rock the boat. Sometimes if your engine is burnt out and you want to make it to shore, you ain’t got no choice but to get to rocking,” he said.
Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said the House speaker’s effort is designed to get more money into the state’s classrooms, and less in administration, and facilitate construction.
Hutto said, “In many counties, they haven’t had a new school built in decades.
“It would be unrealistic to think that in a small county that we’re going to build three new schools with state money. Obviously the local districts could raise money. I say that, but then they really can’t because there’s just not enough tax base there to do it.
“So I think the state recognizes that we need new school facilities in many rural areas, and before the state’s going to invest that kind of money in it, they want to make sure that money is going to be spent so that the majority of it ends up in the classroom and not toward administration.”
He expects a final bill to provide incentives for consolidating administrative duties in areas like Bamberg County.
“They may say, ‘If you do this, you’ll be eligible for this many more dollars,’” Hutto said.
Hutto said teacher recruitment will also be improved under administrative consolidation to address a "real teacher shortage."
“If you just take our little area right here with Bamberg, Barnwell, Hampton and Allendale, we’ve got like maybe seven total school districts in four counties. You got four different sets of people going out trying to recruit when really we just need to recruit teachers to our region,” he said.
Hutto said the state budget already gives Spearman the authority to consolidate administrative and professional services among districts with fewer than 1,500 students.
“Human resources, IT, administration ... there’s so many things that can be consolidated without necessarily changing the structure of a school,” Hutto said.
Bamberg said he will also look into how administrative consolidation can help save taxpayers money, particularly since both school districts in Bamberg County have bond debt remaining from the construction of Richard Carroll Elementary School and what will be a new K-8 school attached to a renovated Denmark-Olar High School.
“I think that because the school funding formula aspect is going to be changing, we’re still looking at how that affects people’s taxes. If the school funding formula changes and a debt was incurred before the change was put in place, how does that affect things going forward?” he said.
Bamberg said he’d like to see the state provide financial incentives for consolidation, such as paying off some debt. That would in turn lower taxes.
“If there was one thing that would make me fight against the consolidation, it would be if the state doesn’t want to give any consideration to that because we live in an area where we don’t need to be raising taxes. We need to be lowering them, and that’s going to be a fight itself,” he said.
In the meantime, Bamberg said he is excited about the bipartisan push to reform the state’s public education system.
“It’s not every day that there’s a firm commitment from a large majority in the General Assembly to actually tackle a problem. And I do have to commend the speaker for putting in the time and effort needed to legitimately look at and analyze these things. It’s a lot of work. You’re talking about changing a system of education in this state which has been in place for half a century,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important for us to look at everything.”