Cayce’s rich history and amazing people and places are itching to be uncovered, the city’s museum director says. So Leo Redmond and his assistant, Rachel Steen, friends for 50 years, are writing a book about some of the things they say have been overlooked. Residents might discover how little they know about Cayce’s past.
By Taylor Halle
March 23, 2016
Talk to the director of Cayce’s historical museum, and it quickly becomes clear Leo Redmond is passionate about making sure the history of this city that proudly boasts of roots to at least the 16th century not only doesn’t get lost but becomes widely known.
“A lot of people don’t realize the importance of this side of the river’s history,” Redmond says. “I want people to realize the importance of this Midland history here.”
Redmond, 75, grew up in this city of almost 13,000 people across the Congaree River from Columbia. He’s been Cayce Historical Museum director since 1994 and knows the city better than the back of his hand.
And now Redmond is taking his encyclopedic knowledge beyond the museum to a book he’s writing not only about Cayce’s rich historical background, but also about the stories surrounding some of its people and places. Otherwise, he said, it’s easy for Columbia to dominate the area’s history.
“It’s easy for the big brother, the big town, to dictate the histories,” he says. “But, when you go back to the old history, we were the ones that started it.”
This will not just be another plain history book, Redmond says, promising that his stories, as well as those of other people he has met in the community, will fill much of the text. He’s careful not to give too much away but says the anecdotes will include local heroes and celebrities that have quietly made an impact on Cayce’s past.
The city’s website proudly calls it the “Cradle of the Midlands,” noting that in 1540 Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto traveled up the river to an extensive Native American village of the Congaree at what is now Cayce. The first English fort was built in 1718.
Redmond says much of his motivation to make sure Cayce’s history is told comes from living here his whole life and watching the city’s evolution. For instance, he recalls when buying a house in the area cost only a few thousand dollars.
Many tales historically important to a community risk getting lost as they are passed down from generation to generation, said J.R. Fennell, the director of Lexington County’s museum.
“These books really put that stuff in print, you know, these kind of local stories, these legends, anecdotes, that sort of thing, and really maybe help preserve them for future generations,” said Fennell, who also is treasurer of the South Carolina Federation of Museums.
“It’s one thing to learn about what was going on in let’s say, Washington or New York in history class, but it’s another thing to learn what was going on in your own backyard,” he said. “So it kind of provides a different interpretation of what’s going on and also provides context.”
Among Cayce’s untold stories Redmond does say he plans to tell is that of President George Washington’s 1791 visit to what was then the town of Granby. According to Redmond, Washington was so impressed during his stay in the developing town that he predicted it would quickly evolve into a successful and prosperous city.
Granby, which was along the Congaree River just south of the current Martin Marietta quarry, often flooded, however, and fell on hard times when the county seat was moved to Lexington. But the surrounding area grew in the 1800s with the railroads, and Cayce was incorporated in 1914.
Redmond’s assistant, Rachel Steen, who has been at the museum a year longer than he has, is helping to write the book.
“This museum is dear to my heart, and it is especially to Leo’s,” Steen said, and she hopes the book also helps educate whoever eventually replaces them.
They plan to complete the book by the end of this year.