JOHNSONVILLE – Rain clouds hovered over Venter’s Landing Friday evening, but few patriotic spirits were dampened as community members gathered for the unveiling of the 2,000 (or so)-pound statue of Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion and the observance of Florence County’s first ever County Heritage Day.
The Florence County Council passed an ordinance creating the special new day – every Aug. 17th – just one day before. The first celebration attracted a crowd of about 60 community members and leaders. The date marks the anniversary of Marion arriving at Venter’s Landing, then known as Witherspoon’s Ferry, and his taking command of the Williamsburg Militia, which was just about the only organized opposition to the British in South Carolina on that day back in 1780.
Friday’s event focused on the actions of Marion and the significance of preserving the lasting culture and legacy of the area.
The statue, carved by Florence sculptor Alex Palkovich, is part of a community historical preservation project, led by the city of Johnsonville, that is three years in the making. Friday night, the massive piece was perched alongside Kingsburg Highway for viewing just several yards from the entrance to the landing just off Highway 41/51. Johnsonville Mayor Steve Dukes said that initial planning is underway to raise the ground around the landing to be level with the highway where the six-foot tall, 11-foot long bronze statue will surely catch the eyes of passing motorists. He said the statue will eventually tower on a 10- to 12 feet-tall pedestal and be lit at night.
Dukes said that perhaps a bronze plaque with a story about the general will be a future enhancement.
Lt. Darrin Yarborough and Deputy Ben Price of the Florence County Sheriff’s Office presented the colors of the American and South Carolina state flags while World War II and Vietnam War veteran Ret. Navy Quartermaster 1st Class Bob Raynor played the Star Spangled Banner on a bugle.
Raynor, a Long Island, N.Y. native living in Hemingway said he moved to the area because of its rich military history. He was impressed with the unveiling.
“That’s some statue,” he said. “I think it’s spectacular.”
Florence County Councilman Roger Poston, who’s District 2 includes the Johnsonville area, addressed the crowd and commended the town of Johnsonville and its citizens on the work it took to make the project a reality.
“I think its time to put the General Francis Marion back on his horse, back to this landing, right here, this time to stay,” he said.
Marshall Yarborough, the chair of the Florence County Historical Commission, read the elaborate versed describing the ordinance passed by the county council to the crowd. The words of the ordinance were described as “almost poetic” by Dukes.
As the sun lowered, the calls of the cicadas echoed through the surrounding swamp and historian Ben Zeigler’s retrospective account of the story of Marion and his Williamsburg Militia captivated the event’s attendees. Francis Marion University professor of history Dr. Louis Venters took the podium and said Johnsonville and surrounding areas were “on the cutting edge of community development”. He said historical preservation, like that of placing the statue at the landing, was an “act of faith in humanity and in the future.”
Dukes ended the event by adding that the project was not fully funded yet but the city was at a point to begin construction on the pedestal and have engineers start taking soil samples for the raising of the land.