The legend states that West Allen Williams was travelling across his property and stopped to rest. When he awoke he found a spring, around which a town eventually grew.
Williamstons founding father will soon have a final resting place in the center of the town he is credited with founding.
With descendant relatives of Williams present, Town of Williamston employees began the process of disinterment of the founding father and three family members last week.
West Allen Williams remains will be reinterred, along with the remains of the three family members, in Williamstons Mineral Spring Park in an area near the Gist Rifle monument in November.
The original marble and rock mausoleums will be renovated and reassembled with the graves spaced as they were originally in the family grave plot on Holland Ford Road in South Greenville County, Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy said.
A reinterment ceremony and memorial service will take place on November 17 at 2 p.m.
Plans call for Williams to be brought by horse drawn caisson from Big Creek Baptist Church to the memorial gravesite in the park.
The public will be invited to participate by walking with the procession which will culminate with a graveside service performed by Dale Harper.
Cooper Funeral Home in Dillion, S. C. will donate their services to provide the caisson, Clardy said.
Nine generations of descendents, including a 101-year-old great grand daughter from Texas, plan to be at the ceremony, Clardy said.
Connie Barnwell, who is the great, great, great, great niece of West Allen Williams, has been instrumental in the effort and was present during the disinterment last week.
Also present was Betty Welch, a great, great, great granddaughter who resides in Texas.
Welch said in an email sent to the Town, I never expected to be able to stand at my great, great, grandfathers grave nor my great, great, great grandparents graves. It was a very moving experience and meant a great deal to me to be there at the time the graves were opened.
She said that when the original garden cemetery was set aside, she thought the Williams family envisioned the land passing from one generation to the next, always remaining in the family.
The reality is that it did not, and the graves were nearly lost to overgrowth and neglect, Welch said.
Clardy and local family descendents began looking at the possibility of relocating the graves approximately two years ago.
West Allen Williams died Oct. 7, 1857 at the age of 56. The family cemetery contained the graves of his mother, father and a brother.
Mary Williams, West Allens mother died Jan. 26, 1811 at age 41. His brother Samuel Williams, Jr., died in 1830 at the age of 27, as the result of drowning in the river near the home place. His father, Samuel Williams, Sr., died June 17, 1852.
Clardy said the project was researched through the South Carolina Archives and History Center and the State Historic Preservation Office. South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) approval was also necessary.
For the actual disinterment, a licensed funeral director was required to be present.
We didnt just start digging, Clardy said. We were in compliance with DHEC requirements for exhumation and had approval from the current landowner Dewey Lemon.
Funeral Director Larry Strom of Gray Mortuary helped with the day long disinterment.
It was the most exciting disinterment because we did find the intact remains of Mr. Williams, Strom said.
Strom said Williams grave was as close to a vault construction in the ground as he had seen. It protected his grave so well.
Williams skeletal remains were carefully placed in a wood coffin to await reinterment in November, Clardy said.
Strom said the younger Williams grave appeared to have had special attention to the brick work which was constructed to outline the actual coffin.
The old style coffins were wider at the shoulders and narrowed at the head and foot, according to Strom.
The mothers grave appeared to have been constructed primarily of river rock. All of the graves were covered with marble tops.
Strom said the emotions of the family members present were apparent during the process.
I was honored to be involved with it. Strom said. Joe Sullens and the other Town employees who helped were very professional.
There was very little remains left of the other family members, Strom said.
A tedious process of sifting through the dirt yielded only bone fragments, teeth and several coffin nails which were removed along with the dirt in the grave for reinterment.
The mayor and family agreed that moving the family gravesite would be a very tedious and possibly controversial decision.
It is not the intention of my office to disturb hallowed ground, but to acknowledge that hallowedness of any ground that holds, in resting, our beloved founder and family. Such a place of interment deserves reverence and memorial. Providing that care is my fullest intention, Clardy said during Council discussions held earlier on the project.
Williamston Town Council discussed the request at their September meeting.
Clardy said the timing of the announcement of the graves being relocated to Williamston is also exciting. It is a very fitting event for one hundred fifty years since our founding, he said. Paying tribute to our founding father during our Sesquicentennial Celebration is a very moving thought.
Clardy and family members had expressed concerns about the conditions of the family cemetery in which Williams was buried, which had remained a shambles for decades, hidden under brush and fallen tree limbs on a hilltop in Southern Greenville County.
Clardy said that the marble markers are still legible and will be restored and placed on the memorial graves.
The remains of the three family members will be placed in the memorial prior to the service for the founder, Clardy said.
There will also be additional acknowledgement and memorial of the Williams family and their contribution to the township placed at the gravesite.
With every measure of progress there is a measure of controversy, but to secure that progress you have to weigh out the measure of the greater good, Clardy said.
By respecting the families wishes, we are able to reacquaint our town with the legacy of its founder and make that vital history tangible to Williamstons people.
It will be something the town should be very proud of, Clardy said.
A100 years after West Allen Williams was buried at the family cemetery, an article written by publisher Betty Wills in January 10, 1957 issue of The Journal described the graves. A similar article was published in a January 2001 issue of The Journal.
The following is from the Jan. 2001 article:
Shortly after taking office in January 2001, Mayor Phillip Clardy expressed wishes to designate the family cemetery a historical site. His interest in the project began after a teenage member of his church congregation, Michael Henderson, who resides in the area, came across the family cemetery in Southern Greenville County.
Real estate developer Charles Knight, who also has historical family ties in the area, told Clardy that the property surrounding the family burial plot had recently been sold.
Clardy said he obtained permission from relatives of West Allen Williams and contacted Dewey Lemons, the new property owner, who indicated he knew of the cemetery, but did not know of the historical background surrounding it.
With permission of the new owner, Clardy, along with The Journal, visited the site in January 2001.
At the family cemetery, Williams grave covering, with clearly legible inscription of his name, lies broken into three large slabs.
Also buried at the site are Williams parents, Samuel and Mary Williams, and a brother, Samuel Williams, Jr.
Grave markers confirm the identiy of those interred in the family plot.
The raised gravesite of Williams' mother, Mary Williams 1770-1841, is there.
Another marker reads: Sacred to the memory of Samuel Williams Senior Born Sept. 12 1801 Died Oct. 7 1857.
Another: Here lies the body of Samuel Williams, Jr., who was born the 11th of November 1802 and departed this life the 13th of April 1830.
The 1957 Journal article described the scene:
Last week, chance visitors to the site discovered two of the tombs shattered, the remains apparently gone from one, another with marble side walls broken in fragments and the brick work caved in, in a terrifying mass. The granite slab over the grave of West Allen Williams, himself, has been broken in three pieces. Only the grave of Williams mother, Mary, in the center of the group of four, remains undistrubed.
The tomb of Samuel Williams Jr., is left completely open to a depth of several feet. the outline marked with careful brickwork.
West Allen Williams. The name is recognized throughout the area as the founder of the town first known as Mineral Springs and later renamed Williamston.
According to an article published in the Williamston Centennial souvenir program in 1952, Williams father, Samuel Williams, came from the upper part of Union County around 1790, and married his cousin, Mary Williams.
The article states that Samuel Williams, 1770-1852 and Mary Williams 1770-1841, are buried in the garden at the site of the home they built in southern Greenville County, near the present location of the Lee Steam Station of the Duke Power Company.
Also buried alongside their parents are Samuel Jr. and West Allen Williams.
The Centennial article states - Soon after the War Between the States the U. S. Garrison on being told by some of the former slaves that gold was in the graves tore into the handsome box like tombs and left it a shambles.
Samuel Williams, Jr. drowned in the Saluda River according to the centennial article.
West Allen Williams wife is buried in Big Creek Cemetery as is Richard, the oldest brother of West Allen Williams, according to the Williamston Centennial article.
The article was written by Elizabeth Webb of Williamston, a great, great granddaughter of Richard Williams, brother of West Allen Williams.
The Williamston Sesquicentennial Committee plans to offer re-prints of the Centennial program and a new program recognizing the 150th celebration of the founding of the Town later this year.