In a town rich with history of a railroad, tobacco, timber, textiles and turpentine, locals are believing it’s on the verge of another rise in its 100-year history.
Hundreds gathered at the town park Saturday to mark the town’s centennial. Festivities kicked off with a horse and buggy parade along Sixth Avenue and Main Street. Cowboys for Christ horse riders waived to their neighbors, old and new, and there was no shortage of smiles.
Black and white pictures taken by photographer William Van Auken Greene in the 1930s hung in the pavilion and drew handfuls of the town’s 565 residents to point and reminisce. Older ladies huddled at picnic tables under the pavilion chatting up the latest town talk.
But some of the biggest attractions came at the demonstration booths around the park. A tee pee, a blacksmith and a quilter were just some of those showing how life was in the years before and surrounding Aynor’s incorporation.
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“These were necessities that they had to go through to survive and so often we forget all about that,” said Mayor Keb Johnson. “The town of Aynor probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the railroad coming through.”
Steve Robertson, published of the newly released “A Pictorial History of Aynor,” said the area’s history goes back to the Revolutionary War period. Gen. Francis Marion recruited heavily from communities such as Dog’s Bluff, Galivants Ferry and Cool Springs, Robertson said.
“The Burroughs Company in Conway decided in the early 1900s to run a railroad spur from Conway to Aynor to harvest its timber off the Little Pee Dee River. “When the Burroughs family ran their railroad to Aynor in 1905, that’s when the town started becoming developed. It grew very rapidly because of the timber and turpentine industry. In 1913, the town actually had enough citizens to incorporate.”
Robertson said the railroad really built the town in its starting years.
“It was a prosperous little town. It grew rapidly,” he said. “It was particularly prosperous in the 1920s and 30s when tobacco became pretty predominant in this area. At one time, Aynor had three major tobacco warehouses, three banks and many department stores.”
Robertson said the Great Depression “really struck the area hard” as all the tobacco warehouses closed and the last bank closed in 1930, leaving the area with no bank until 1960.
“The area started deteriorating,” he said.
Shortly before its comeback in the 1960s, the town built its first black school in town, Levister Elementary. Levister would stay up until earlier this year when the town decided to tear it down.
“We hated to tear it down because of its rich history, especially going through segregation,” Mayor Johnson said.
In 1960, Anderson Brothers opened a bank as Aynor had a modest recovery in the 1960s and 70s when the textile industry became a major employer, Robertson said. But unfortunately, that was short lived.
“Unfortunately, when the textile industry fell on hard times, this plant closed also,” he said.
Robertson said through the towns ups and downs, it has built a community of members who are resilient.
“The town has survived and I think the reason is it’s a very close-knit community,” Robertson said. “Great people, all with common interests such as farming, going to churches together and a lot are particularly proud of their school system.”
Mayor Johnson said the recent announcement of PTR Industries and Ithaca Gun Co. opening gun manufacturing plants in the nearby Cool Springs Business Park could be the next industry that boosts the area and add another notch to Aynor’s belt.
“What we consider to be Aynor is a wide scope of people,” Johnson said. “With the business park and the jobs coming in, what we hope that it’s going to do is it’s going to help have our students, whenever they come out of high school, go off to college, get a degree and they’ll have a pretty decent job waiting on them when they come back.
“What we had so much in the past 10, 15 years is our population here in town has gone down. What we want to do is we want to reverse that cycle. With the new jobs being right here about four miles away from town, I think that will help us accomplish that.”
“With the recent addition of two gun manufacturers locating in Cool Springs that the town is on the verge of a major comeback,” Robertson said.