Items Seized by the Berkeley
County Sherriff's Department
Artifacts from the Berkeley County Jail
20th Century Medicine Exhibit
Berkeley County prospered until South Carolina’s secession sparked the Civil War and ended slavery for good. By the turn of the century the vast majority of those living here were impoverished. Despite the fact the county comprises over 12,000 square miles, it had just a few traveling doctors who used buggies, rode on horseback, or took boats to get around. According to an information sign in the museum’s 20th Century Medicine exhibit, “the mortality rate was high due to the ravages of malaria and communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, venereal disease, diphtheria, whooping cough, typhoid fever, smallpox, polio and more. In 1930, the county’s infant mortality rate was 13.3 percent. Many women died giving birth, deformities were common and birth control was unknown.”
In 1928 and 1929, the executive secretary Berkeley County’s Tuberculosis Association, Anne Sinkler Fishburne, started a fundraiser to create a sanatorium for sufferers of that disease. This mostly small donation effort raised $8,000. South Carolina’s General Assembly passed a bill giving the county permission to buy land for it, pay to construct a building upon it, then equip the sanatorium. It would be paid for in part by a $10,000 bond issue. Needing still more money, the Duke Endowment was asked if it would donate some funds. Maybe. It only gave to general care facilities and required a minimum of $35,000 be raised before it would handed out matching money.
To meet these requirements, the sanatorium would instead become a general medical hospital with a tuberculosis wing. New York businessman Hugh Robertson, who owned and ran Richland Planation in Berkeley County, gave $72,000 to the project, prompting the Duke Endowment to donate $55,000. Robertson wanted the hospital because the workers on his planation sorely needed it. The hospital officially opened on January 15, 1933. State-of-the-art when built, by the 1970s it become obsolete and in 1975 it closed.
Although the county suffered from poverty at the turn of the twentieth century, in 1900 a number of lumbering companies, including the Burton Lumber Company, began operations here. This was good in the short term but not so much for the long one. By the time of the stock market crash in 1929, which marked the beginning of the Great Depression, much of Berkeley County had been deforested, its streams, according to an information sign, “clogged with tree limbs and debris.”
Enter President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. One of the government programs to get Americans back to work was the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC). Its main job was to restore deforested lands. In 1936 FDR ordered the Forest Service to purchase the region’s unwanted land, which many land owners gladly sold to rid themselves of it. Others had lost their land because they couldn’t pay their property taxes. This new government land was designated the Francis Marion National Forest. The CCC planted new trees, restored soil, and put in roads. When Hurricane Hugo swept through the region in 1989, it felled all but the youngest trees, so what you see today mostly grew after that year.
Despite the ravaged state of Berkeley County’s forests and swamps, in the 1920s they provided the perfect place for corn-based illegal distilleries to operate. The county soon became known as South Carolina’s “Moonshine Capitol.” Bootleggers became infamous for creating hot rods that could outrun the police. The Berkeley County Sherriff’s Department spent much of its time and energy trying to deal with these bandits and to stop bootlegging in general. The sheriff’s department was also responsible for overseeing the Berkeley County Jail. Many interesting artifacts from it are on display, including a gun made out of soap, a book with its center removed so contraband could be smuggled in it, a ball and chain used for road gangs, and cards and dice prisoners used despite the fact gambling was forbidden.
Replica of the Berkeley County Sherriff's Office