Georgetown County honors nation's leaders

Two men who vacationed in Georgetown County during their U.S. presidencies made memories not only for themselves, but for their hosts, as well.

Stephen Grover Cleveland, whose two terms were interrupted by four years served by Benjamin Harrison, and our only president who was elected to four terms, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, are remembered fondly this Presidents Day weekend for their visits to the acreage that Hobcaw Barony covers, just north of Georgetown.

Cleveland's big steps

Jill Santopietro, director of the Georgetown County Museum in downtown Georgetown, said records show Cleveland, president from 1885 to '89 and 1893 to '97, visited the county for hunting and fishing in 1894 and '96 as a guest of the Annandale Gun Club, which had leased a portion of the property at Hobcaw Barony.

"He is credited for making the country aware of the great hunting and fishing our county had to offer," she said, "when he fell out of his boat and accounts of his rescue made the national newspapers."

Lee Brockington is the senior interpreter for Hobcaw Barony, home of the Belle W. Baruch Foundation, on whose acres Cleveland and Roosevelt frolicked decades ago.

She said Cleveland enjoyed duck hunting and experienced stepping into "pluff mud" there before Bernard M. Baruch began his 50-year ownership of the 17,500 acres spanning 11 former rice plantations in 1905. A Camden native and Wall Street financier, Baruch was an adviser to seven presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Brockington said Baruch, in his autobiography, "Baruch: My Own Story," published in 1957, included some accounts of Cleveland's time at Hobcaw.

Baruch quoted Fawney Caines, an expert duck hunter who was the guide for Cleveland and took him in a camouflaged boat into the marshes, where decoys and shooting stands were placed.

One such venture, though, had an unintended target, as Caines told Baruch. Caines escorted Cleveland to a stand, "over oozing mud" over a strip bordering the creek bank.

With Cleveland's weight exceeding 250 pounds, complications ensued. Brockington laughed reading Caines' words: "Walking in mud like this is quite an art. You must put your foot down, and lift and raise it so not to sink too deeply."

Brockington said Cleveland got out of the boat and sunk in the mud with each step.

"Caines grabbed him around his waist and pulled him out of his hip boots," she said.

"Caines went down waist deep in the mud, but he knew how to get himself out. He pulled the president back into the boat and secured the sitting president. When they got back to high ground, they changed back into warm clothes and got medicined up. That was getting a good swig of whiskey."

Brockington said accounts show Cleveland took humor in that experience.

"The incident certainly brought attention to Cleveland and the area, and especially to the abundance of ducks, within a very short period of time," she said.

Caines was one of five brothers who made a living harvesting wildlife and wholesaling it for sale in northern markets, and they served as guides to winter residents and hunt-club members a century ago.

The spot where Cleveland fell into the mud became known as the "President's Stand," one of the most desired hunting sites on the plantations that were rejoined with Hobcaw Barony when Baruch acquired the acreage after he had hunted in the area at the turn of the 20th century, Brockington said.

Rest for Roosevelt

Brockington said Roosevelt stayed with Baruch at Hobcaw for about a month starting on Easter in April 1944, a visit that she said proved pivotal not only for the president, but the nation.

"He was ordered out of Washington to recover from his bad health conditions," she said. "He had bronchitis, pneumonia, an enlarged heart and very high blood pressure."

Brockington said Roosevelt returned to the White House six weeks before the invasion of Normandy, France. Had Roosevelt failed from that point, Henry A. Wallace, the vice president at the time, who was viewed as a socialist - before Truman's tenure in 1945 - might have ascended to the helm.

"The whole outcome of the war might have been different had Roosevelt not recovered from his health. World history might have been altered, if Bernard Baruch had not offered Hobcaw as a health retreat for the president. I love to think about that."

Brockington said she has read of accounts by Roosevelt's family and doctors that the stay in Georgetown County rejuvenated him to remain president for one more year, a job he had begun in 1933.

The time spent at Hobcaw slowed the pace for Roosevelt. Brockington said doctors ordered him to sleep 10 to 12 hours a day and do no more than four hours of work daily. Boat rides were frequent, for fishing in Winyah Bay and motoring north to Pawleys Island and Murrells Inlet, "where he observed the Army Air Corps as they trained in B-25 bombers over Garden City Beach," she said. Those pilots were based at what became the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, after the Air Corps was branched off from the Army.

No photographs exist of Roosevelt's stay, "primarily because it was a secret visit," Brockington said.

Another aspect of the visit dealt with another, more personal matter for Roosevelt: arrangements to meet Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd, his mistress and onetime social secretary to wife Eleanor Roosevelt. Seating charts for Hobcaw show her place at the main table among other special guests.

Brockington described the fun part for her in learning details of this friendship. Rutherfurd was a widow who owned a winter home in Aiken.

"Baruch gave up his gas-ration coupons so she could make the auto trip to be here with the president," Brockington said.

A stop for presidents

The Georgetown County Museum's Santopietro brought up records of other presidents who made stops in the area: George Washington visited Clifton Plantation in 1791; James Monroe stopped in 1821 at Prospect Hill, now called Arcadia, with a red carpet unfurled from the Waccamaw River; and Martin Van Buren visited with his former secretary of war, Joel R. Poinsett, in the mid-1800s at his plantation home on the Black River.