There is much to be found in small places.
One such place that I’ve always held close to my heart is a little town nestled up against South Carolina-Georgia line. A lakeside hamlet dotted with weathered mill homes and little ranch-style houses and the requisite church steeples poking up here and there among towering oaks that seem like they’ve been there since the dawn of creation.
The name of the town is Calhoun Falls. It’s a tiny spot on a great big map. But it is a place considered dear by many in Abbeville County, and beyond.
I’ve never shied away from the fact that my life is inestimably greater because of Calhoun Falls. That’s because my wife, Christina, was born and raised there. She is the best thing that has ever happened, or likely will ever happen, to me. She’s a steadfast companion, a best friend, a tack-sharp businesswoman (she’s in Instanbul, Turkey as I type this, closing a deal or doing some damned thing beyond the grasp of a meager newspaper reporter) and an incredible mother.
She is all of those things, and more, in part because of Calhoun Falls. Like so many little towns, Calhoun Falls has raised and sent forth people into the world to do great things. Schoolteachers and military members and politicians and railroad workers and business people of all stripes. It is a fact that is often forgotten when a town is facing hardships.
And, to be sure, Calhoun Falls has faced its share of hardships in recent years. Many of them have been chronicled in this very newspaper. One of the town’s most consistently lingering issues -- staffing at the police department -- was the subject of a piece last week from the Index’s Conor Hughes.
For those who haven’t kept up with that saga, I’ll give you the short version: The town fired its police chief in November and, as of this writing, has not hired a replacement. Following the chief’s dismissal and the resignation of another office, the town was left with only one police officer. As you might imagine, it’s difficult for a single man to police an entire town, no matter how small. Calhoun Falls had a contract with the county sheriff’s office to help police the town when its lone officer was off-duty, but that contract ran out Jan. 1. The sheriff’s office continues to help out when it can.
According to Hughes’ report, town leaders want to hire a new chief, but money is an issue. A troubled water and sewer system continues to weigh heavily on the town’s budget. In fact, an audit showed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the wastewater system is ultimately “not sustainable.”
These are incredibly difficult problems for Calhoun Falls. Like so many small towns across the South, it was once bolstered by textile mills. Those mills are now long gone, but the town has survived, for quite some time, actually, on a combination of pride, guts, thrift and sheer willpower.
But, at some point, willpower cedes to unavoidable economics. The town’s population has dwindled, from about 2,300 in the 2000 census to roughly 2,000 in the 2010 census. It almost assuredly has continued to dip in the years since. A shrinking populace means a shrinking tax base.
That said, I think law enforcement is a core function of municipal government, and I am ever hopeful that the town (and perhaps the county) can come to a lasting arrangement that can provide an appropriate level of public safety for Calhoun Falls. For the folks in Bucknelly and on Pecan Street and Barnwell Street and all the other little pockets of town.
I want nothing more than to see a rebound -- or simply some stabilization -- for Calhoun Falls. I want it for anyone who has ever plucked a fish out of Lake Russell on a Saturday morning. For those who still go to Fulmer Stadium on Friday night to watch the Blue Flashes play. (The 2004 team was the best in school history. Come at me.) For those who go Northside or Glovers. And for all those little boys and girls who my wife’s aunt teaches at John C. Calhoun Elementary.
I still want to believe in small places.
Chris Trainor is a contributing columnist for the Index-Journal. Contact him at ChrisTrainorSC@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter@ChrisTrainorSC. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.