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Blog Posts (10)

  • A life well lived

    Speedy Starnes was dedicated to Great Falls The first time I met Dr. H.C. “Speedy” Starnes was in 1992 when he was serving as the Interim Superintendent of Education for Chester County. I was a reporter and editor at the Chester News & Reporter and I covered Education and the Chester County School Board. I met him at the Career Center for some reason, I don’t remember why, and he sat down and we had a delightful conversation. I was more than nine years away from taking the job as the executive director of the Great Falls Home Town Association and little did I know just how well I would get to know Speedy. From that very first interview, my impression was a man of great humility but with a driven purpose. He cared greatly about his students in Great Falls and all the students and teachers across Chester County. It was evident as he talked about that interim job that he was taking on for a short time as the school district looked for another superintendent. Fast forward nine years later. I had moved from the newspaper to the Chester Downtown Development Association, written a book and worked briefly for Chester County. Speedy was one of the first people to greet me. By that time, he had been mayor of Great Falls for about three years and GFHTA had been focused on Nature Based Tourism for about a year. We had no idea how much time we would spend pushing the tourism initiative. Speedy spent so much of his life in dedication to the small textile town he adopted back in 1951 when he came here as a guidance counselor and ended up coaching football. He would regale stories of his early time here in Great Falls, living originally in one of the two mill executive houses on Dearborn Street (the one next to the current War Memorial Building.) He told me while living there, on the second floor, that he heard a noise in the basement. In that basement was a large safe which had an armored door and was always closed. That noise startled him, and he slowly descended the stairs and turned the corner where that safe was located. That heavy armored door was closed. It took him very little time to get back up the stairs. He found another place to live not long after that. In early 2003, he and I began a journey that would bring us closer to having the many areas of outdoor recreation that Great Falls is looking forward to today. Duke Energy began a stakeholder process that brought together people from across the Catawba/Wateree River basin to negotiate an agreement to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in connection with the license renewal. For three years, once a month or even more often, Speedy and I and a few others from Great Falls met with dozens of other stakeholders to hammer out the agreement. After that process, it still took nine years until the license was issued and another two years before things really got underway with the planning, design and finally the construction of the whitewater area, access areas and the trails. By that time Speedy was no longer mayor but he came by the office at least once a week to find out the status of things. As is the case with most of us, it gets harder to remember things as we get older. He didn’t always remember the details but he was extremely interested in what was going on. The pandemic hit and he had to stay in but at least once a week and usually twice he called for an update and to find out if there was anything he could do. In the past six or eight months the calls got fewer and his questions were usually the same ones he asked from the last time we talked. But he always ended our conversations with “I want to keep up with what’s going on. You call me if there is anything I can do.” I got word early Sunday morning that he had passed away peacefully. His beloved Jeanette was nearby and his family as well. Speedy Starnes dedicated his life to Great Falls. Much of what is happening to revitalize this lovely little former mill town is due to that dedication. He will be truly missed by all who loved him – including me.

  • Commerce in Great Falls 100 years ago

    Sydney J. Harris, the syndicated newspaper columnist from Chicago, used to write a periodic feature called “Things I Learned En Route to Looking Up Other Things.” So here is something I came across while looking up “other things” and I found it to be quite interesting. In a special section of The Chester News, dated Aug. 1, 1923, there was a headline about a spectacular event: Two Big Bargain Days in Great Falls August, 3rd-4th Merchants of Great Falls Cooperate for Greatest Bargain Event in the History of the Town. The special section was called The Great Falls Tribune and was a six-page full size addition to the regular Chester News. I’m not sure if this was done more than one year but it was a big event in 1923. The sub headline goes on to read: “Thousands of Bargains to be Offered to People of the Community – Big Advertisements in this Issue Tell of Wonderful Goods and Prices Offered.” In 1923, there were at least a dozen retail establishments in Great Falls, as well as other businesses and services. In addition to the advertisements there were some news stories, some tidbits about people in the community, a few obituaries and church news. The majority of the publication, however, was advertisements of what would be offered during “Dollar Days” in Great Falls. There was an ad for Republic Cotton Mills Department Store featuring such items as $1.50 Men’s Shirts, extra good madras, stripes for only $1.00- and .75-Men’s Blue Chambray work shirts, good values 2 for $1.00. For the ladies there were, .35 Dress Gingham, full 32 inches, extra fine combed gingham check, stripes and solid, 4 for $1.00. And $1.00 off all Ladies’ shoes from $4.00 and up. They also included Luzianne Coffee, canned North Carolina apples and Baker Coconut anywhere from 5 lbs. to 10 cans, all for $1.00. The advertisements other than Republic Mills Department Store included Republic Pharmacy which had a free giveaway of phonograph records and record albums with every $3 purchase. They were the headquarters for High Boy Ice Cream and Good Drinks! During “Dollar Days” the Republic Theatre, “The Home of Good Pictures” was running a special offer on Friday for any seat in the house, adults 15 cents and children 5 cents. The feature was “Queen of Sheba” – a ten reel Super Spectacular Production of Ancient Judea. “The Greatest Biblical Story Ever Picturized – at the cheapest admission ever offered in the state.” A little research on “Queen of Sheba” shows that it was actually a 9-reel silent drama, produced by Fox Studios, about King Solomon and Queen of Sheba’s ill-fated romance starring Betty Blythe as the Queen and Fritz Leiber, Sr. as King Solomon. The average silent reel was about 11 minutes, so this flick was a little more than an hour and a half long. The complete film probably no longer exists because of a 1937 fire at the Fox film vault in New Jersey but there is a 17-second fragment discovered in 2011. One of the notable things about this film was the risqué costumes, which is evidenced by the few stills that exist. This was before there was a great deal of strict censorship or the film code era which came about in around 1930. The ad said there were continuous performances at Republic Theatre from 2:30 until 11:00 p.m. Other ads include Clark-Plyler Furniture Co., H.J. Francis Department Store and Sam’s Place, Sam Kilgo, Proprietor; and Ehrlich’s 5 and 10c Store. There were several ads for the Dearborn Inn Hotel restaurant, one for Sanitary Café, Pete Bratsos, proprietor; and one for the Great Falls Candy Kitchen which featured a complete line of candies, a fine line of fruits , cigars, etc. These are just a few of the advertisements and bargains that were to be had at the Great Falls Spectacular. The newspaper encourage everyone in the surrounding area to head to the town on that Friday and Saturday. This newspaper was accessed through Louise Pettus Archives and Special Collections at Winthrop University’s Digital Commons. It is a glimpse of what Great Falls was like almost 100 years ago. I could not find any kind of story or follow up as to whether the “Dollar Days” was a success or not, but it seemed to be a well-planned, coordinated event designed to focus on the business of Great Falls in 1923. Just something I found “enroute to looking up other things.”

  • Great Falls in miniature – the art of Bill Steele

    I have always been fascinated with miniatures – whether it’s doll houses, a depot and train set or whole villages complete with moving cars and trains – I could look at them for hours. A good miniaturist pays attention to detail and brings to life a setting that might otherwise be lost. Earlier this year, I got a call from Bill Steele, a Great Falls native now living in Pineville, NC and was excited to find out that he had created portions of Great Falls in miniature. It took us a while to get together but finally last Saturday, I got to see some of the examples of what he has created. When I entered the Masonic Lodge where the annual Mill Hill reunion was taking place, I saw on one of the tables a series of tiny buildings all laid out side by side. I was awe struck. There was No. 2 Mill sitting beside a Shell service station and in front of the old depot. And then I met the man who created them. Steele, 81, was always interested in miniatures and models. He said as a child he made model cars and model airplanes and then in the 1980s he got interested in NASCAR and made some models of a few of those. He also over the years did some scenes and dioramas of the old television westerns including one from the series Bonanza. “About 7 or 8 years ago,” Steele said, “I decided I was going to write a little book, “My Life in Great Falls” and I started doing research on some things for accuracy. I found the old Great Falls Reporters were on microfilm at the Chester County Library and I would go down there one to two times a week looking for things about the history of Great Falls for my book.” While looking through the reels of microfilm and coming down to Great Falls every couple of months, Steele saw what the buildings looked like in the 1950s when he was growing up and the run-down look they had when he visited. He decided at that point that he really would like to capture that time period of his childhood in miniature. And so, the adventure began. The very first building he did was the old Belk building or Company Store that the Town is in the process of turning into the Visitor’s Center for all the outdoor recreation and nature-based tourism that is coming to Great Falls. This will be the site of a museum or exhibit space as well as the state park office, an area for visitors to gather and other uses yet to be determined. Next, he did the bank and drug store which is now Town Hall and his third project was the long strip of commercial buildings with the decorative ceramic frieze across the top. Steele’s choice to portray Great Falls in miniature with am emphasis on the 1950s was twofold. “The 1950s was when I grew up in Great Falls. I graduated from high school in 1959,” Steele said, "And I also felt that the 1950s into the 1960s was really the heyday of Great Falls.” Steele was very familiar with much of the architecture of the area. He was born in one of the 4-room mill houses on Canal Street and then he and his family moved to Circle Street. His father was the overseer of the No. 2 weave room and later when he went into management, they moved to a 7-room house on Pinecrest. Steele ‘s father died when he was just 13 years old. His mother didn’t want to stay in that larger house, so they moved again. After the first three or four models, Steele kept going and he has done nearly all of the downtown area from the old jail, “Smokey Lonesome” as some people called it, all the way up to No. 2 Mill. Some of the models are of buildings that no longer exist. He has done a few of the buildings in Flopeye, most of those are the ones that have been torn down. He says there are four buildings between downtown and Flopeye that he hasn’t done yet and he is thinking about getting those done soon. He has built most of the school buildings in Great Falls, three of those either burned or were torn down, and they were located between downtown and Flopeye. These buildings are all on the HO scale that is 1:87 scale (3.5 mm to 1 foot) which is a scale used in model train buildings. He has done a few models of the mill houses and some of the other buildings around No. 2 Mill. A few of the buildings he was able to complete the interiors with furniture, people and specific details. The roofs come off so you can peer down into this tiny world. The old high school building has the auditorium with the stage marked as a basketball court. Students played the game there before the gym was built. The old jail has the iron cots that would fold up against the wall complete with an unlucky prisoner laying on the cot. Steele has an eye for details. He was engineer for Duke Energy for 28 ½ years. Even though he has lived in North Carolina for about 42 years, he still thinks of Great Falls as his hometown. “Those were good times and hard times,” Steel said of growing up in Great Falls. “It was a really good place to grow up.” Steele and the Great Falls Home Town Association are talking about him donating the model village to be used in the exhibit area of the new Visitor’s Center. I think it will be the perfect way for people to see what Great Falls was like in it’s prime – something that we are trying to bring back for everyone to see right before their eyes.

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  • Economic Development | Great Falls Home Town Association

    S E A R C H EVENTS Subscribe to our site to stay up to date on events and happenings in Great Falls! Email Join Thanks for subscribing! STATE PARK a new state park on the islands in the Cedar Creek Reservoir (Stumpy Pond) was established in the Comprehensive Relicensing Agreement for the Catawba-Wateree system. license for Catawba-Wateree System issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Recreation Management Plan updated and SCPRT begins general Master Plan for State Park on Dearborn Island. General map of development on Dearborn Island released by SCPRT More Details 2006 2015 2017 2018 WHITEWATER 1. 2003 – GFHTA and Town of Great Falls chosen as Stakeholders in Duke Energy process for relicensing of the Catawba-Wateree Hydro System 2. 2003-2006 – met monthly with stakeholders from both Carolinas to develop a Comprehensive Relicensing Agreement (CRA). 3. 2006 – CRA was submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). 4. 2008 – existing license expired and was renewed annually until license was issued by FERC. More Details PARTNERSHIPS + + + +

  • Riversweep | Great Falls Home Town Association | Great Falls

    RIVERSWEEP That time of year is here again--time to clean up the Catawba!! On November 12 Great Falls Hometown Association will be sweeping the river in Great Falls, SC. The Great Falls Hometown Association is raffling off to a lucky volunteer a brand new Perception Tribe 11.5 Kayak, PFD and Paddle from Outdoor Supply in Hickory NC and several gift cards to be raffled off to a lucky volunteer! For more information call Mike Vaughn at 803-899-2206 ​ Please print, fill out and bring the waiver with you on November 12 RIVERSWEEP WAIVER

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