Inventory of archived items at Tompkins Library exhibits
heft of Genealogical Society and Civic League accomplishments,
the rift, the rivalry — and what’s been lost.
A Continuing Special to the Advertiser By Katharine Walton
Approaching the anniversary of the stunning pottery robbery — the well-executed heist of historic ceramics that sat high on the shelves of Tompkins Library — the 39 pieces of authentic Old Edgefield Pottery, not thought to be replicas, are still missing.
Eyes are now focused on assigning ownership to all that’s been carried inside the elegant, light-filled study spaces, basement, and vault at 103-104 Court House Square. Foremost in contention are the family lineage books and surname files, which are still being counted.
By end of day Friday, May 26, the Tompkins Library’s 38-year collection of books, papers, and relics should have been sorted and recorded.
Within 20 business days was the deadline direction of Circuit Court Judge Donald B. Hocker, in from Laurens, who in a special term of court took over for a recused local judge and guided a backroom mediation intended to expedite settlement between the two nonprofits making claim.
The Edgefield Civic League and Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society (OEDGS) said they aim to meet the deadline, with a possible allowance for Memorial Day weekend.
Volunteer workers have showed up nearly every day to assist with the massive undertaking and help keep pace. The next step is the June 26th date given for the uneasy decision of which items will stay at Tompkins Library (with the Civic League as stewards) and what can go to Johnston (with the departing OEDGS).
“We’d like to hire someone to work with the archive and keep things accessible,” said Beth Thornton, president of the Civic League. “I think things should be digitized so there’s a back up.”
“That’s the most ludicrous things you could do,” said Tonya Browder Guy, president of the OEDGS. “You can’t just take someone’s work and digitize it. And that would lend us to vulnerabilities we are not comfortable with. We want to move to Johnston and continue to offer research services.”
At the judge’s request, a Special Limited Referee, basically a mediating attorney, was selected by both parties and is to be equally paid by both.
The mediator chosen is Attorney Warren R. Herndon, Jr., of Lexington. He will assign ownership to each item, after hearing background. (What sort of background is admissible in a mediation, that would not be admissible in court, is a question mark.)
If both parties agree, then the decision — delivered privately in an office, not in the county courthouse — will be effective immediately, unless one appeals.
If either party appeals, the Tompkins Library property claims could go before the Court of Appeals.
An appeal could be heard this summer or at latest during Edgefield’s first session back, the week of September 5. “But we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves,” cautioned Clerk of Court Charles L. Reel. “Let’s wait and see what the referee decides and records.”
An extensive pre-inventory list of Tompkins Library contents can be found on the public index.
(Follow this route to arrive at the document onpublicindex.sccourts.org: Click on Edgefield County on the SC map / click “Accept” / type in Case # 2023CP1900058 (that’s the only info necessary to move forward / click “Search” / click on any of the blue case numbers / click the “Actions” tab / find “Amended / Other / Affidavit of Plaintiff for Claim and Delivery” and then click on the second document icon posted to the far right dated 03/28/2023.)
It seems so much is being contested except office supplies and books published by the OEDGS, according to the Civic League’s response (titled Answer / Answer dated 4/05/2023), also found on the public index.
“Surname books” (bound books on family lineage) and all “surname files” (loose files organized by last names) top the heap of what’s wanted. “These are the most important for the Tompkins Library, even if they’ve been stamped in red ink by the OEDGS,” said Beth Thornton, speaking for the Civic League.
Also of interest is what’s missing form the building.
Recently confirmed is that after the pottery robbery (including, it’s said, at least one unsigned vessel made by the famous potter and poet David Drake) groups began showing up to retrieve papers and relics stored in the building’s old bank vault.
Some timeline background: A police report on the stolen pottery was filed June 6, 2022 — the Monday after the Saturday the Genealogy Society members report they were barred and locked out during nonbusiness hours by the landlord, the Civic League.
Who showed up to retrieve their belongings after the locks were changed and the pottery went missing?
Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and Battle of Aiken representatives came to claim their belongings after the robbery, confirmed Beth Thornton.
Also, The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and Order of the Confederate Rose (OCR), now have their contributions, said Tonya Guy.
Tonya Guy is president of the OEDGS, plaintiff in the property dispute, longtime director at the Tompkins Library. Tonya and her husband Justin participate in the annual Battle of Aiken, an exceptional reenactment, living history project.
The OEDGS is adamant about moving the property it feels is theirs to take from Tompkins Library on Court House Square to a new home in Johnston. Also bound for Johnston, according to its website and Facebook page, is master potter Justin Guy’s studio, Phoenix Factory. Tonya Guy explained, “It’s going to be right there, near where the new library is going to be.”
Working in a hive-like way
“From afar, and now that I’m close by, I’ve thought of the people at the Tompkins Library working together in a sort of hive-like way, said Lydia Derrick Wherry, whose extended family (Mims, Landrums, Woodsen, among them) has placed things in the archives from the beginning. “It seems like taking parts of it away is like harvesting organs from a living being.”
Some history here: Nancy Jane Crockett Mims tucked into the idea for a library in 1985, and moved into this now beautiful building donated to the cause in 1987. The Tompkins Library was her life’s work.
Important things have happened at this address. Mostly the important is just everyday life — people living out their years in a historic town.
The front door opens at 10 a.m. and volunteers start arriving to welcome tourists and researchers alike, digging back into fate and place, and marveling at attic-clearing collectibles that express Edgefield’s busy-town history, encircling the time that roads and square were first drawn and family trees planted.
Visitors might find here not just the hand-written diary and names of their dead, but ceramic jugs and pickle jars fired in the 100-foot Pottersville kiln, a shoe-makers kit, and a uniform worn by a minister who went to the Citadel, known as the Reverend John Lake, who treated lepers near the South China Sea.
Before and after the historic heist — and the deepening rift and rivalry — volunteers with the Civic League and Genealogical Society have been showing up here year after year, to make sure past meets present on Court House Square.
“Having genealogical fun,” is how Carol Hardy Bryan, a former editor of the OEDGS publication called TheQuill, described the work.
Can all that’s been collected just stay?