Fountain Inn, the only town known by that name in the United States, was born in the welcoming shadow of an old stagecoach stop, an inn that welcomed weary travelers to a night's rest. Situated on the old stagecoach route between Greenville and Columbia, the inn was little more than a large house, but, in its day, it had become a welcome and famous stopping point. Its popularity was due largely to the ever-flowing spring that gushed up, they say, in a fountain 2-feet high within a few feet of the inn. Tradition has it that even the horses would prick up their ears and break into a trot as they approached the inn with the fountain and the resting point it promised.
The old inn, complete with the stagecoach and weary travelers, has been beautifully captured on canvas by the late Art Frahm. It was painted in 1977, 10 years after Frahm moved from Chicago to Fountain Inn. Frahm, who died in 1981, was an artist for Coca-Cola, Coppertone and Quaker Oats.
The site of the old stagecoach inn can still be seen exactly one mile from City Hall on the right-hand side going North toward Greenville. Until recently there stood, towering majestically in the wooded area, the chimney of the old house. Now all that remains is a historical marker telling the story of the site, and a trickle of water on the opposite side of the road that was probably once the driveway to the famous inn.
100 years ago
The "recorded" birth of the town took place on Christmas eve 1886 when it was officially chartered, but it had grown up for years around this spot. Prior to the mid-1700s Cherokee Indians were the principal inhabitants of the area. But in 1755 a treaty was signed between Governor Glenn of the Province of South Carolina and Old Hop Head, the chief of the Cherokees. "For as long as the sun shall shine and the waters run in the rivers," the territory that is now Greenville, Anderson and other counties, was set aside as a Cherokee domain, while other territories including Richland, Laurens and Spartanburg became the territory of the white man.
During the time of the Revolution, the Cherokees became so troublesome, ravaging and plundering the area, that they were driven out and back across the mountains. The lands were then made available to settlers who were, in many cases, veterans of the Revolution. Others joined them from other areas and soon the old Indian trails became established stagecoach routes although the roads were then crude and rough. Fountain Inn lies on the map, directly on the old stagecoach routes connecting Charleston, Columbia, Greenville and Asheville.
A growing town
A post office was established in the growing town in 1832, but the existing site of the present post office came much later. Its present location on McCarter Road is its eighth location.
As the need arose, a school was established in the area in 1886. Then a simple two-room school house, the erection of this first school building was by Mr. Jim Farrow, assisted by Mr. J.S. Nelson. Mr. Blalock, with his wife assisting him, formed the educational team of that day.
It wasn't until 1957 that Hillcrest High School, a consolidated school consisting of students from Mauldin, Simpsonville and Fountain Inn, was built. Later this was changed to students from Simpsonville and Fountain Inn only.
In 1886, when the town was officially born, there were only three stores. The names of the families that owned and operated them are still known today: the Holland family, Cannon family and Kellett family. In fact, when the little town was chartered, there was talk of naming it "Cannonville" for the Cannon family who had built so much of the town.
Today the name Cannon also plays a prominent part in the everyday life of the town. Cannon Funeral Home is the oldest business, older than the town itself, in fact.
Internationally known humorist and syndicated writer Robert Quillen chose Fountain Inn as his home town. He wrote a daily editorial that appeared in 400 newspapers and "Letter to Louise" weekly. The comic characters Aunt Het and Willie Willis were also his creations.
His home, where City Hall now stands on Main Street, was a brick bungalow that stood, half hidden by drooping boughs of water oaks and evergreen hedges. In its garden stood a Greek temple, complete with white pillars, and we were told that Quillen built it to be an office where he could do his writing. In actual fact, he never used it for writing. He claimed that all his writing was done from his living room, resting his paper on the arm of his easy chair.
Across from the Greek temple stands a marble obelisk, partly shaded by an apple tree which can still be seen today. Quillen erected it in memory of Mother Eve. When asked why he did this, he replied, "She was a relative of mine - on my mother's side!"
Such was the quiet humor of this nationally known man.
Who was Aunt Het? "There is no original Aunt Het," declared Quillen, creator of the cartoon character. "She is a woman of my imagination, though perhaps every community has its Aunt Het - the woman who observes and reflects on what is going on about her."
Appearing in newspaper cartoons as a little, homey old lady, complete with swept-back white hair and apron around her waist, Aunt Het was known for her down-to-earth sayings that rang a bell in the hearts of home-loving people everywhere. Remarks over the garden fence such as, "Being poor might explain the way she dresses, but there ain't nothin' but mice and laziness that make a kitchen smell that funky," cannot fail to remind the reader of someone they know.
In fact, that's probably exactly what Quillen intended. Aunt Het, although a fictitious character, is also well-known to everyone.
Tradition in Fountain Inn has it that Aunt Het was modeled after the late Lillian Carson Nelson, who was fondly known to fellow residents as "Aunt Lil". She was Fountain Inn's first librarian and was always ready with a word of quiet for young and old alike. Many lives at that time seem to have been touched because of Aunt Lil's advice.
Aunt Lil also ran a boarding house across from the Quillen home, and it is believed that many of the ideas for the Aunt Het cartoons came from that household.
Peg Leg Bates
The odds were stacked against Clayton Bates from the day he was born in a cabin in old Fountain Inn. Soon after his birth, his mother, Emma, was deserted by her husband. Taking little Clayton with her, she went to work cooking and washing for housewives in town to support herself and her little son. One day, now a growing boy, Clayton was playing in the vicinity of the town's oil mill when one of his legs got entangled in the machinery. The leg was so badly mangled that it couldn't be saved. In those days, hospital care as not available. Dr. Dupree, assisted by Dr. Thomason and Dr. Holcombe, amputated the leg using a kitchen table as the operating table.
"The poor little fellow will never dance again," they said of the maimed little boy. His uncle made him a peg leg such as the soldiers used, but Clayton was not one to let even the most extreme circumstances keep him down.
Turning his disadvantage to and advantage, he began to capitalize on his one leg. From early childhood he had always liked to dance and to entertain those who would watch him, but now he created an act around his peg leg that would outdo any tap dancer of the world. In fact, he became famous for it.
Using the name "Peg Leg Bates," Clayton rose to fame, appearing on the Ed Sullivan show no less than 26 times, and traveling overseas to such places as London, where he played before standing-room-only audiences and danced before the queen. Peg Leg returned to Fountain Inn and received South Carolina's highest award, "The Order of the Palmetto" the day before he died. He noted that the honors paid to him by his hometown meant more to him than all the other awards put together.
With all of Fountain Inn's rich history, it's easy to see why Fountain Inn is known as, "The place where the past and present coexist in harmony."