I have passed through Fountain Inn, South Carolina hundreds of times and each time as I entered the city limits the sign read ” Home of Peg Leg Bates and Robert Quillen”. I always wondered who they were and what was their claim to fame.
When I was asked to write an article from a historic view-point of the upstate my first thought was to call my friend Jack Marlar who had just retired as Director of the Fountain Inn Museum .
Jack came out of retirement and conducted a personal tour for me and I found the answer to my question and many more. When I got to the museum Jack introduced me to Randall Frye who came from the Laurens Museum to take over as Director. I also met Mrs Peggy White Nickson, a volunteer who has taken it upon herself to document the old buildings in the downtown area . You may recall she was Miss Laurens in 1967 and Miss South Carolina in 1968.
First, where did Fountain Inn get its name ? There was a source of water which gushed out like a fountain and was the site of the Inn which was an overnight stay for the stage-coach passengers. So a source of good water for travelers was the start. After the War Between The States , Fountain Inn
like most of the South was in a desperate situation and once again water was the source of its salvation bringing the rail road with its steam engines taking advantage of the fountain .
Peg Leg Bates (1907-1998) was a one-legged dancer who lost his leg at age 12. He danced for the King and Queen of England , appeared with Fred Astaire, and was in 4 movies with Shirley Temple. He also appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show more than any other entertainer. There is an exhibit with memorabilia for him on display.
Robert Quillen (1887-1948) was an American journalist and humorist whose column appeared daily in 400 newspapers and was read by 9 million people. Will Rogers was a close friend and visited him often in Fountain Inn .There is a display featuring him as well .
Since the South was largely dominated by textiles a number of exhibits are textile related. Old textile machines show the ingenuity of advances in weaving and spinning helping the south to once again prosper. An Old Steam engine sits just outside the entrance to the museum and inside countless exhibits to a past not forgotten through the efforts of the museum . The first telephone and the first traffic light in the town are two examples.
So please take the time to stop by and check it out. It will make you see where we came from and how far we have come !
102 Depot Street
Fountain Inn , South Carolina 29644
To read the entire first issue of Upstate Exposures Magazine, please click here.
Randy Simpson, Contributor
Randy is a graduate of Clemson University and veteran of the U.S. Airforce. He is a 10th generation South Carolinian and history buff. He also plays bass for Loaded Toad. Randy will be covering Upstate history for Upstate Exposures. You may contact him directly at AnOldReb@AOL.com