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Wayne Skipper, director of the L.W. Paul Living History Farm, isn't afraid to get his hands (and boots) dirty on the job.
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Farm assistant Dennis Ward hauls bags of fertilizer to spread in fields the old-fashioned way. All operations on the 17-acre farm use the tools and techniques of the early 1900s.
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From the Visitor’s Center, styled after a country store, guests can tour replica community buildings, including a church (at right) and wood shop.
It’s hot, it’s humid and the donated 5-year-old plow mule is stubborn. Every time Wayne Skipper pulls back on the reins and yells, “Ha, back!”—commanding the animal to turn left and start again down a furrow—she takes too wide of an arc.
“A mule’s like a child,” Skipper says, resting for a moment and pulling a handkerchief from his overalls pocket to wipe his brow. “They’ll try to outsmart you, so they don’t have to work.”
“It ain’t no different than trying to get a young’un up for school in the morning,” agrees farm assistant Dennis Ward, as he cuts open a bag of fertilizer and empties it into a pail.
A tractor, of course, would make things a lot easier. A tractor would mean less sweat, less time needed to fertilize the field, no frustration at things like the chain coming off the wooden distributor or the mule’s leg getting caught under the reins.
But Skipper’s not about comfort and ease. Here at the L.W. Paul Living History Farm—a working replica of an Horry County family farm, circa 1930—he’s about authenticity and understanding the past.
As the farm’s director and chief living historian, he’s about staying true to the mission of the Horry County Museum and the vision of Larry W. Paul, a private citizen and businessman who grew up on such a farm. When the county agreed to pay for the land, Paul agreed to build a replica one-horse farm so that current and future generations wouldn’t forget their local agricultural heritage.
“At least three-fourths of this population back then would have lived on a farm like this right here,” Skipper says. “That’s why it’s so important to the history of Horry County. Unless things change and go backwards, this is the last era that the farmer and his family lived entirely off the farm.”
It’s not just for show. The 17-acre farm is fully functioning and operates using only the tools and techniques local farmers used between 1900 and 1950, Skipper says.
“We’re doing on a daily basis what’s necessary to operate the farm in that particular season,” Skipper says. “Whether it’s cultivating crops, whether it’s sawing wood, whether it’s harvesting vegetables for cooking, plowing in the field, playing music in the church.”
Today’s necessity is breaking in that mule so Skipper and Ward can fertilize a plot of recently planted tobacco.
“Back then, whole communities used to come over to see if someone could break the mule. There are stories about people getting dragged across an acre,” Skipper says. “But men got close to those animals. It’s a satisfying feeling, breaking in a horse.”
If it all seems quaint—a time before mechanization and electricity and indoor plumbing—think again. It was a time of hard, back-breaking, endless labor.
“These farmers were highly independent within their own community, and they were do-it-yourselfers,” Skipper says. “One reason is that they had very little cash to spend. The other reason was it was just the mentality in Horry County. As they would say, ‘Hoe your own row.’”
But even the purest individualist needed the community—a network of men, women and children working to sustain each other day by day, season by season.
That’s why the farm, in addition to having the basic features (farmhouse, outhouse, vegetable garden, livestock pens and a packhouse), also has the five essential community buildings—a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, a wood shop, a shack to make cane syrup and what Skipper calls the “last and true community building,” the church.
“It’s the only building we have that is an exact replica of a particular building,” he says of the chapel. “It’s a replica of the Pawley Swamp Primitive Baptist Church, where Mr. Paul grew up going to church. We even have the original pews.”
And then there is the climate-controlled Visitor’s Center, which has the feel of a general store—a place you can buy canned goods from the farm or use the modern restroom facilities.
But the rest, as they say, is history.
The L.W. Paul Living History Farm is located at 2279 Harris Short Cut Road in Conway.
HOURS: Tuesdays–Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed on government holidays.
ADMISSION: Free. Guided tours can be scheduled for 10 or more people, and if you want to see anything special—running the grist mill, making lye soap, etc.—it’s best to call ahead.
DETAILS: Call (843) 365-3596 or visit www.horrycountymuseum.org/farm.
VOLUNTEER: You can get involved on the farm as a volunteer with Friends of the Horry County Museum by going to the farm and filling out an application. Volunteers are trained in whatever they would like to do, such as demonstrate on special-event days or lead tours. For more information, call (843) 915-5320.
UPCOMING EVENTS: All events are free and held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Nov. 14: Syrup Day
- Dec. 5: Christmas at the Farm (Old Smokehouse Day)
- April 2016: Spring Planting Day