Southern spirit alive and well, and open to the public
Some Southerners don't claim or even want to think about their early 19th or 20th century past. But some take it by the reins and ride straight ahead.
John Osteen is a man who sparks with the blaze of a true Southerner. And for more than 30 years, around Thanksgiving, people have been able come out to his Couchton backyard of Southern past and see that spirit flicker through.
The log cabin, smoke house, school house and Confederate museum are some of the places that will be on display Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
It's been open since 1976 – the nation's bicentennial year, Osteen likes to note. The log cabin was the first site placed.
“The first stone I ever laid was over there,” he said, pointing to the stone fire place. The cabin has a tin roof, replaced after the building's 4,440-wood-shingle roof went bad years ago.
In the cabin, a kitchen and sleeping loft are tucked up above. An early 20th century calendar hangs on the wall, complete with a missing picture – courtesy of a hungry goat. Plates and cups are scattered around among the other kitchen items.
The cast-iron pans hanging from the wall are the only items from his home in Pinewood, where he was before he moved to Aiken in 1958.
Although all the buildings took Osteen's sweat and labor, the smokehouse was the only building not built from scratch. More than 130 years old, he bought it from a man in Clarendon County and reconstructed it. In it this weekend, meat will hang over a fire using tools now hanging on the walls.
The school house might not remind today's children of their own schools, but it does hold special spot on the yard. It's a hat-tip to his mother: The school house is a replica of where she attended school – Reid Schoolhouse in Sumter County.
To hold true to the illusion, he captured what she might have seen, from the items on teacher's desk, the written-up chalk board with the teacher's name on it, the long benches and the old books along the back wall shelves.
“She liked it,” he said with a long breath, remembering when his mother saw the house before she died.
His Confederate museum, once an old dog kennel, contains personal and collected memorabilia. From his awards and old family portraits, to the weapons and pieces of exploded metal. The museum reveals glimpses into wars such World Wars I and II and, of course, gives more insight into Southern history.
“I'm the only man who knows where Camp Butler truly was,” he said.
Camp Butler, located about two miles from Osteen's Wagener Road home, was a gathering spot for several different regiments about to go off to North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. A historical marker was placed there last weekend, Osteen said.
Osteen's property also includes a chicken coop and an outdoor privy.
“I miss my animals more than anything else,” Osteen said, shortly after looking through the scrapbook he's kept up of pictures and newspaper clippings.
He once had horses, guineas, geese, beagles and mules traipsing around. That's one thing the kids really loved, Osteen said.
Keeping up the Southern atmosphere, he will have cotton out by the “stillard” – or steelyard, as Northerners put it. He also has a sugar cane mill – because that's how real syrup is made, he said, smiling and laughing.
While the walking museum holds so many personal touches, Osteen loves opening it up to the public.
“I get so much pleasure out of it. It's my holiday gift to the people,” he said.
Osteen's wife Essie, who passed away in September 2009, used to help out with the tour, providing her own special treats to visitors. Now Osteen's girlfriend of more than a year assists him and will be there with some of his family members this weekend.
Osteen has four sons: John, David, Ronald and Richard.
“We hadn't had a girl in the Osteen bloodline in (more than 50) years, and now I have four granddaughters,” he said.
He also has a step-granddaughter.
Osteen had memory problems when he was younger but now can recall facts and recite poems as if he just read them. While he has an ailment that necessitates he use a power chair, he can still walk around the yard when necessary.
I still get around, he said. “No man has ever worked harder, but I've enjoyed every minute of it.”
A few days before he turned 85, Osteen received the Compatriot of the Month award at The Battle of Aiken, an event he has attended since its start.
The property is at 3184 Wagener Road., across from Couchton Baptist Church; call Osteen at 507-2268 for more information.
Stephanie Turner is a graduate of Valdosta State University.
Want to Go?
Who: John Osteen
What: Open House to see his log cabin, smokehouse, chicken coop, outdoor privy, schoolhouse, Confederate museum
When: Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: 3184 Wagener Road across from Couchton Baptist Church
For more information: Call Osteen at 507-2268