Man gives back to community by donating artifacts

By Mike Cherney
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (AP) 3-08

Larry Paul was 4 when he spotted something in the recently plowed soil on his parents’ farm in the Pawleys Swamp section of Horry County.

It was a tomahawk-shaped hatchet, and it was old. Paul attached a new handle to the hatchet and used it for his chores.

While that hatchet is long gone, 60 years later, Paul is giving other artifacts he’s collected – including arrowheads, old farm wagons, hand-powered washing machines and century-old stoves – to the Horry County Museum, which will display some of the items on a historical farm the museum is building off U.S. 701, about 5 miles north of Conway.

He’s also donating $400,000 to fund the historical farm project, which could open by late 2009, said Walter Hill, the Horry County Museum’s acting director.

Hill said Paul’s American Indian and agricultural collection is the largest donation of artifacts the museum has ever received. The collection, which has thousand of items, is unique because it contains artifacts that were used on a daily basis by ordinary people, Hill said.

“When things like that quit being used, they went to a scrap heap,” Hill said. “It’s the normal artifacts that are the rarest. It’s the things that people used up, wore out and threw away.”

For decades, Paul built houses as he ran L.W. Paul Construction Co. More recently, he’s made money investing in land and selling it to developers. He also runs a storage business, he said.

Paul’s first foray into business was as a teenager, when he borrowed $33 from his father to buy 100 day-old chickens, Paul said. Months later, most were laying eggs, and Paul brought the eggs to Conway to sell for 50 cents a dozen.

Billy Joe Calhoun, 76, who ran a grocery store in Conway, bought the eggs Paul couldn’t sell at a discounted price.

“That’s the way he’s made it ... being friendly,” Calhoun said. “It’s just his nature to be that way.”

Along the way, Paul collected artifacts from the region. Some he bought, such as an old dugout that hangs from the ceiling in his garage. He said he’s not sure whether the boat was made by American Indians or early European settlers.

Other relics, especially old farming equipment, Paul used when he was growing up. Much of the old equipment is stored on his property in a dusty corner of a large shed, near where a pack of guinea fowl and a turtle meandered on a recent morning.

Paul, dressed in a suit and tie, grabbed an old washboard off a ledge in the shed. He bent down to demonstrate how people rubbed clothes on lye soap that was placed on the top of the washboard. He didn’t seem to mind that a spot on his jacket got covered in dirt.

Paul’s artifact collection was appraised at $186,000, he said. Horry County Council agreed to let the museum use the county-owned land at U.S. 701 and Harris Short Cut Lane for the historical farm, Hill said. Paul didn’t want the county to have to use taxpayer dollars to build the farm, and so he made his donation, he said.

The farm will include a visitor’s center, an old farm house, field crops, livestock, and grits and sugar cane mills. Visitors will be able to partake in farm activities. Wood from the trees chopped down to clear the field will be used to build the farm structures.

The farm will depict rural life from about 1900 to 1955, Hill said. Freewoods Farm, a historical farm not operated by the museum, is off state Highway 707 and depicts black farm life from 1865 to 1900.

The existing museum is scheduled to move in fall 2009 to the Burroughs School, which is much larger than its current building in Conway, after renovations on the school are finished.

“People will be able to go into the museum in the Burroughs School and see the entire story, and then go to the farm and live it,” said Hill, adding that some of Paul’s collection will be displayed in the new museum building.

On a bookshelf in Paul’s living room is a black-and-white photograph of his parents and siblings on the family’s farm when he was a child. Paul said he hopes his donation to the historical farm will ensure that people will see what that life was like long after he is gone.

“The backbone of this nation is the small, rural farmer, and it’s one of the most important parts of our history,” Paul said. “It is our intention to preserve that way of life.”