JOHNSONVILLE – The city of Johnsonville celebrated its 100th Anniversary Saturday during the annual Heritage Festival by the River, but the spotlight event was the official dedication of the city’s 2,000-pound bronze statue of Revolutionary War hero Brig. Gen. Francis Marion.
The dedication was about three-years in the making as many Johnsonville officials and residents pushed resiliently to have the statue, sculpted by Florence artist Alex Palkovich, purchased solely through external funding and erected in the city.
A crowd of a couple hundred gathered around the nearly 20-foot-tall monument to hear from Florence historian Ben Zeigler, Johnsonville Mayor Steve Dukes, representatives from the Daughters of the American Revolution and Sons of the American Revolution, S.C. Rep. Lester Branham, as well as a spokesman from the office of U.S. Rep. Tom Rice.
The mayor deemed the location of the statue, Venters’ Landing off Highway 41/51, as the Johnsonville Veterans Memorial Park before the statue was unveiled. The landing, formerly known as Witherspoon’s Ferry, is the approximate location where Marion received his commission.
“I just want to say my extreme thanks to all our veterans,” he said. “This is your park. This is for your honor. Again, we thank you and salute you.”
Dukes, who spearheaded the campaign to obtain the statue and memorialize the landing, said it was essential to remember the actions of Marion and his militiamen who famously used guerilla warfare in weakening British forces in and around the Johnsonville area.
“I don’t know if we’d be standing here, certainly not in the form that we are now, if it wasn’t for these patriots and people who sacrificed and made this country for what it was,” he said.
The enveloped crowd applauded as a massive tarp was pulled from the statue by Zeigler, Palkovich and project engineer Mike Hanna.
While the dedication ceremony was the main event, it certainly was not the only attraction at the festival which began Friday night.
The Mason Dixon Band played a multiple-hour set Friday afternoon to a crowd of several dozen. Ever present Friday and Saturday was the humming and buzzing of a helicopter over the landing which was available for tours of the area to all who dared.
Arts, crafts and merchandise vendors lined the entrance and parking lot at the landing, while a cake and barbecue chicken cook-off was held Saturday.
About a hundred yards from the statue, children and adults alike paddled around in kayaks or took pontoon boat rides in Lynches River.
Revolutionary War militiamen reenactors set up an encampment complete with era-authentic tools, weapons, tents, and clothing. Festival goers could look on as the volunteers demonstrated soap making, blacksmithing and candle making as well.