2014-08-22 / Travel

Bagnal’s Bottom

Part 1: Abney Park
By Warner M. Montgomery, Ph.D.

Benjamin Abney built this home on Westminister Drive in 1903. Benjamin Abney built this home on Westminister Drive in 1903. This is a trip into a history of my childhood neighborhood, a section of Columbia fondly known as Bagnal ’s Bottom. This sandhill subdivision has a rich history dating back to Wade Hampton III and including many interesting people.

My story of “Bagnal’s Bottom” begins in 1865 when Gen. Wade Hampton III returned from the Civil War a hero only to find his 1859 mansion east of Columbia, “Diamond Hill,” had been torched by Sherman, and he had lost this property to the bankruptcy court.

At the auction Diamond Hill was returned to Hampton for $ 100. He used the remaining bricks and stones to build a cottage he named “Southern Cross,” which became his official mansion when he was elected governor of South Carolina in 1877. This property had never been farmed and remained forested.

In 1899, the Southern Cross cottage burned, and Hampton moved to a house on Senate Street given to him by the grateful people of South Carolina. He died in 1902, and the 108-acre property was left to his daughter Daisy who sold 90 acres to Benjamin Abney for $15,000.

Abney’s grave marker, the largest in Elmwood Cemetery, reads: Abney’s grave marker, the largest in Elmwood Cemetery, reads: Benjamin L. Abney was an influential attorney with powerful friends and enemies, a strange yet interesting bachelor, and an almost forgotten Columbia figure who left two monuments in Columbia: the residential subdivision Forest Hills and the largest tombstone in Elmwood Cemetery.

He built a house across from the site of Diamond Hill where he would eventually store his library of 10,000 volumes which is now housed in USC’s law school and the South Caroliniana Library.

Abney had been born in Edgefield, attended Newberry College, graduated from the University of Virginia, was admitted to the S.C. Bar, and joined his brother in Columbia in 1882 dealing with insurance claims, bankruptcy and divorce proceedings, estate settlement, and property law.

Benjamin Abney purchased Wade Hampton III’s property, “Diamond Hill,” and renamed it “Abney Park.” It is now known as “Forest Hills.” Benjamin Abney purchased Wade Hampton III’s property, “Diamond Hill,” and renamed it “Abney Park.” It is now known as “Forest Hills.” His client list soon included Columbia Water Power Company, the Columbia Canal, South Carolina Electric and Gas, the State Dispensary, Southern Railway Company, and many textile mills throughout South Carolina. He wined and dined with Columbia’s most powerful businessmen including textile magnates W.B.S. Whaley and Charles K. Oliver, banker Edwin R. Robertson, Governor Cole Blease, and S.C. Attorney General J. Fraser Lyon.

Abney was elected and served three terms in the S.C. House of Representatives, 1886-1891, but never sought another political office. This was probably because of his unpopular opposition to monopolies, liquor sales, insurance fraud, child labor, and the growing power of utility companies.

Once out of office, however, Abney changed allegiances and took up the cause ( and liberal fees) involved in the merger of utilities that eventually became SCE&G. And, he represented the textile mills in the cases being brought by antichild labor and union forces.

Benjamin Lindsey Abney Born in Edgefield District, February 25, 1858. Died at Columbia, November 11, 1921. Descended from George and Ellene Wolseley Abney of Willesley Hall, Derbyshire, England, died 1578, Edmond and Catherine Ludlam Abney of St. Mary’s Parish, Leicester, England. Edmond being third son of George, 1604, Paul and Mary Brooksby Abney of the same parish, 1635, George and Bathshua Abney of the same parish, 1661, Lieut. Paul and Mary Lee Abney of the same parish, who came in 1688 to Nansemond County, Virginia, ca. 1700, George and Unity Abney of Henrico Parish and Antrim Parish, Virginia, 1765, Capt. William and Mary Clark Abney of Halifax County, Virginia, who came in 1772 to Ninety- Six District, South Carolina, 1832, Walter and Susan Brooks Abney of Edgefield District, 1827, John Rutledge and Alesy Lindsey Abney of the same district, 1827, James Madison and Martha Livingston Abney of the same district, 1889, Benjamin Lindsey Abney the third son and the last of his branch of the name in South Carolina. He was a graduate of the University of Virginia. With great intellectual capacity and a taste for literature, he became a ripe scholar. With an honest mind and love of justice, to which were joined the gift of a penetrating logic and the power of eloquence, he became a profound and eminent lawyer, who adorned his profession. He was a loving son, a devoted brother, an affectionate uncle, a citizen of high tone, a supporter of his church and yet a respecter of the religion of others. As a friend he was loyal and helpful, and he did not forget the weak and lowly.

Next week: Mills, Trains, and Booze

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