WINNSBORO — How well do you know Winnsboro? Do you know of the Courageous Cowboy Legend? What about the name of one of the last living original midwives of Fairfield County? Have you got the scoop on BioJoe of Midlands Biodiesel? Thanks to author Virginia Schafer, people from history buffs to longtime residents, and people new to the area can brush up on legendary events and people in the life of the town. Schafer is on the board of the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop and is a former member of the Mississippi Writer’s Guild Board, which she was a member of for the past 20 years. As part of that role she received an email on day asking if she knew of any writer’s who would be interested in writing a history book. She looked at what she considered to be a neat project and immediately thought of former chiropractor patient of hers when she had a practice in the Columbia area, Carroll Pope who had shared so many stories with her about Fairfield County. A natural storyteller, according to Schafer, Pope regaled her with stories of farming, history and war. From 2000-2003, she heard those stories before she and her husband, who also is a doctor, moved west for a few years.
The Rest is History
By the time she learned of the picture history book project, she and her husband had moved to Blythewood from Mississippi, so she got directions to Winnsboro, met Pelham Lyles at the Fairfield County Museum and the rest is history. Schafer’s book Legendary Locals of Fairfield County (Arcadia Press) comes out April 15 but this is far from a dry history book. This book is a collection of photographs with short write-ups of influential locals in this area from the colonial times until last year. That’s quite an undertaking in a 125-page work, but Schafer with the help of Lyles and other locals proved up to the challenge.
As fate would have it, the museum had boxes of unidentified photographs. Schafer worked with the museum volunteers and Lyles and she turned to Facebook for help in figuring out who was pictured. She also used the “You Know You’re From Winnsboro When” website as a resource. In the first manuscript draft she included a lot of mill workers and folk of that sort to show the common working day people, but her publisher asked her to revise the book and instead focus on Winnsboro Legends. With renewed focus and energy, she outlined the project, beginning with the settlement of this area in the Old English District and then walking through the years of history, including representative photographs of politicians, educators, war heroes, entrepreneurs, and more.
She found rare historical pictures from the 1700s and 1800s and digitized many of them for use in her book. Then the editing process began, perhaps her greatest challenge creatively as she wrote. There were over 2000 digitized photos but only 150 made it into the book. Some of the cuts were hard to make but Schafer wanted to balance the type of content and not have too many war heroes versus teachers, for instance.
For the publisher, she had to use original, high resolution photographs. Schafer said lots of people brought in newspaper and magazine clippings which she found interesting but did not work for this specific publisher’s project. She also received some great photos late in the production process that she could not use by her deadline. Schafer had three months to complete the book all the while juggling her career as a medical terminology teacher at Midlands Technical College. She said the long hours were worth it because of the people she met while doing her research.
“I fell in love with Fairfield County. The people of the area make this county and are a testament to the greatness within these legends,” she said. Schafer loved the area so much that she and her husband purchased the old Brown house on Bratton Street.
There is a chapter of true legends of Fairfield County, stories that people may never be able to prove, but stories that give this area local flavor.
Passion for storytelling
Writing the book was a challenge and learning experience, she said. But, challenges are nothing new for Schafer and neither is learning things. She is an RN, doctor, and a chiropractor with an MBA. At times she has contributed health related columns for The Herald Independent. too. As part of her routine, Schafer writes three hours a day every day. She never planned to write a history book but feels this was God’s plan to combine her passion for writing with her passion for preserving history.
“If you don’t know who you are and where you are from, how in the world are you going to know where you are going?” she asked. “To know your history is to know yourself.”
As an outsider to the area but who had lived in South Carolina before, she is indebted to the locals who have befriended her. Pelham Lyles wrote the introduction to the book. Schafer said she encountered something unique to Winnsboro, that if you are nice to the people here and show a genuine interest in them, they will return the favor.
“People were very open with their stories. They were excited about family in Fairfield and passionate about sharing those stories,” she said.
She reached into her past as editor of high school yearbook and newspaper as well as her college’s newspaper and used those layout skills with this project. She said the book allowed her to pursue her first true love, writing, because she ultimately chose to make her career path the more lucrative medical profession. This project has changed her life.
“Emotionally it is so exciting to learn about genealogy and history,” she said “to see about people and the obstacles and struggles and barriers and how they survive.”
She was touched by people’s positive memories of the past in Winnsboro, even those who had memories of the segregation era and Schafer hopes this project will spur economic development similar to how a Juke Joint Festival did in Mississippi.
“Fairfield County has a rich history in the Revolutionary War and Civil War periods but also with its artists and musicians,” she said. She hopes to hold a memoir writing workshop and to form a writer’s group here to help promote the arts and has a vision of a big historical artistic event that would draw history buffs here to visit and learn from as far away as Europe and Canada like they did in the Deep South in Mississippi.
For more information about her book, go to www.legendarylocalsoffairfieldcounty.com.