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Old Turner Homestead

by Louise Pettus

About the year 1930, a York County pre-Revolutionary War log house in the Bethel section was turned into a "Memorial Room" to display items and tools used by pioneer settlers of the area. People from all over North and South Carolina came to see the relics.  Among the items on display were a corn-sheller, spinning wheel and yarn reel and several guns, all homemade. The builder of the cabin back in 1776, Robert Turner, was a blacksmith who also made all of the hasps, nails and hinges for the house. Turner's "tooth-puller" was on display. Actually, the dental appliance was no more than a gimlet with a hook branching off to one side. After the hook was placed around the tooth, the handle was turned. This instrument was used locally until after the Civil War. 

There were spools beds, a trundle bed and a set of 150-year-old dishes. Candle molds, snuffers, a wheat sieve and long-handled waffle irons testified to a way of life that was long past. Other items put out for display were old letters, tax receipts, doctor bills, an 1800 blacksmith bill, and an 1842 account of three bales of cotton taken to Charleston where they were sold for 8 and 3/8 cents a pound. There was a "doctor book" used by several ladies of the household who prescribed not only for themselves but for the neighborhood.  The opium box of one of the ladies was a reminder of the days when opium poppies were grown locally.

The house itself was so interesting that James Stanhope Love, a newspaper columnist from Clover who was known as "Ben Hope," wrote a small 25 cent book to describe it. The log house was a story and a half with the second floor used only as one huge storage area. Originally there were three rooms downstairs but sometime before the Civil War the cabin was enlarged by the addition of two rooms in back and a piazza was built on the front. The square notched logs were chinked with a mortar made of water, lime and "finely sifted wheat straw." The original mortar was still intact. In 1932 the heart of pine floors and doors were still in excellent condition. The roof, always of hand split oaken shingles, had been replaced a number of times.

The huge rock fireplace was the major attraction. Love described the fireplace as so wide that two people could place their chairs on each side and lean back against the rock sides to enjoy the fire. A man could stand upright in the fireplace; only if very tall would he need to bend his head. There was a little recess in the rock wall that measured 8 by 10 inches which was intended to hold tobacco and pipes. An iron rod for iron kettles and pots crossed the chimney. Several iron hooks, stout enough to support a roasting deer, were anchored in the rock. The rock of the fireplace was supported by a mantel or "fireboard" that was cut 16 inches square from a huge oak. The chimney itself was so wide that people could sit below and see the stars. In fact, said Love, the seats beside the fire were good places to read and sew during the summer. More light came in the chimney than in the small hand-made panes of glass in the windows. Typical of pioneer days, there was not likely to be a living room or formal "sitting room."

The huge room of the Turner house that contained the fireplace was where most of the family activities took place. While food cooked in the kettles or baked on slabs of wood near the fire, the women might be weaving or quilting by the light from the fireplace. The Turner house also displayed a quilting frame and flax hackles. The hackles were boards studded with sharp spikes with which to break up the tough reeds that were the source of linen cloth. While potatoes roasted and corn cakes baked on wooden planks, the children played or recited their lessons. In the Turner case, a schoolmaster was boarded in the household.

The last people to live in the "Memorial Room" were J. G. A. Turner, his wife, son and nephew. When Turner build a more modern home for himself, he decided to share his family treasures with the world.

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