Sat Jan 16, 2021

Dateline-Columbus: ‘Not as busy as we used to be,’ but Pireway’s got enough

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A few of the “regulars” in discussion at Roscoe’s Store at Pireway.
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Seven Creeks Highway and Swamp Fox Highway are also N.C. 905 and N.C. 904 respectively. When they come together in the southeastern corner of Columbus county, the intersection could be called “Downtown Pireway.” Calling it that is not really as outrageous as it sounds.  

There was a time when Pireway was a thriving farming and logging center with a jailhouse, a store and a turpentine distillery. Folks floated large rafts of timber down the Waccamaw River from Pireway to Georgetown, S.C. Over the years there has been a post office designated as Pyraway and one 19th-century map named it Tar Landing or Pierewan’s Ferry. Like every swamp in the area, historians claim that Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox himself, took refuge from the Tories here during the Revolutionary War.

But this morning there is no evidence of river commerce. Just a little way past the intersection of the two highways where 905 heads north, the Waccamaw River runs quietly under the road. There’s a boat landing there and several trucks with boat trailers are parked in the parking lot. The boatmen have slipped under the branches of the cypress trees in search of fish or just some peace and quiet.

This is the southernmost part of the Waccamaw River in Columbus County. The river will continue its winding way from its origin at Lake Waccamaw to Georgetown, where, according to some expansive pronouncements, it creates the Atlantic Ocean.

Boat trailers parked at Waccamaw River Landing on N.C. 904. Photos by Bill Thompson

Although the river still plays a major role in the life of Pireway, it is primarily farming country. Travelers on the two major highways can see some of the farmers beginning the fall harvest even as the late summer sun pounds its heat on the fields. Combines stir up dust and corn husks as they maneuver down the long rows of the fields that have been soaked by rain and blown and twisted by the wind. This will not be the best year for corn and soybeans, but these folks have persevered through difficult times before and prevailed in the struggle. They’ll do it again.

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A few miles east of the 904-905 intersection is Fowler’s Grocery Store. Pete Duncan owned it before Lawrence Fowler bought it in 1993.  It used to sell some of everything. It still sells a lot of groceries and some clothes. But the primary drawing card now is a custom meat market frequented not only by the local folks but by the many beachgoers who stop by on a regular basis. It has become almost a tradition, a part of the trip, to stop by Fowler’s and get steaks and pork chops to eat with all the seafood to be consumed while at the beach.

And there is still a tradition of local folks who come by every morning to get a snack and visit with their neighbors. James Benton comes in looking for company but there aren’t any cronies to chat with this morning. “I’d be just about lost without this store,” he said. “Look forward to coming in every morning.”

Other folks come in and, in a few minutes, there is a line at the cash register. It’s going to be a good day.

A youngster poses with a prize winning melon from the N.C. Watermelon Festival in Fair Bluff that was shown off at Roscoe’s Store in Pireway.

Benton leaves Fowler’s and heads eastward toward the intersection. He turns north on N.C. 905 and in a few miles, just before he gets to another swamp crossing, he stops at Roscoe’s Country Store. There are a couple of cars parked there away from the gas pumps. That means they are probably going to be there for a while.

The store is a simple cinder block construction with a modest sign over the door with the name on it. Inside Sheila Singletary sits behind a small counter at a cash register and Gary Faulk and his brother Kelvin are seated under a window and in front of the counter. Gary and Kelvin are regulars. James buys a soft drink and joins in the conversation, regaining a ritual he missed this morning at Fowler’s. Shortly, Harold and Lacy Gore join them.  

Their conversation is wide ranging: “When the Lord made the Garden of Eden, he patterned it after this part of the earth.”

“People in Fair Bluff bring their champion watermelons over here for us.”

“Used to be a railroad ran across the river.”

“Had a constable one time, full-time right down here.”  

“Jackson Brothers Lumber company logged all down in here.”  

“We are in Nakina but a lot of folks think Nakina is just up to the school, but that ain’t all of it.”  

“There ain’t been a ferry at Reeves Ferry to my knowledge.”

“It was a ferry back before Civil War.”

Sheila said, “Been here off and on since April 1, 1956. Not as busy as we used to be. Seems like everybody nowadays goes to town every day. We don’t carry as much here now as we used to, either. The wholesalers don’t think we sell enough to keep us on their delivery route.”

But for folks like Gary and Kelvin and Harold and Lacy and James and the other “regulars,” there is enough: enough soft drinks, enough snacks, enough watermelon on a hot day, enough boiled peanuts to fill you up and enough friendship to last a lifetime. That is the kind of thing that ties communities like Pireway and Nakina and even the undefined Dulah and Olyphic together — that and the history and the river.

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