Every holiday season since 1994, Sumter Volunteers has presented to the community an annual keepsake ornament depicting a beloved symbol or landmark of Sumter. These beautifully crafted pieces have included scenes of the Sumter County Courthouse, Memorial Park, and the Williams-Brice House, along with tributes to our military citizens, Sumter’s centennial, and others. Many have been based upon the works of such talented artists as Ray Davenport, Grainger McKoy, and the late Carl Bell. And over the years there have been, of course, several scenes from Swan Lake Iris Gardens.
The 2013 ornament represents a symbol of our past and our future—“The Seagrave” at Swan Lake Iris Gardens. I can almost hear even long-time Sumter residents scratching their heads over that one and wondering, “What on earth is ‘The Seagrave’?” And I must admit that until this week, I certainly never knew it had a name!
In 1929, the City of Sumter purchased a state-of-the-art fire engine. Built in 1924, it was the first in town to feature an internal combustion engine (previous ones had been horse-driven), with foam-filled tires and a 1,000-gallon capacity. The Seagrave was the Fire Department’s favorite truck until it was retired from active use in 1950.
Twenty years later, the City installed it (with the engine removed) at the Swan Lake Iris Gardens playground, where for almost 40 years it was climbed on, “driven,” and photographed by uncountable thousands of kids (myself included) and parents. But by 2009, its condition had deteriorated to the point that it had to be removed for safety reasons—a sad day for many of us who grew up here, and the cause of a lot of curious telephone calls to the Visitors Center.
Happily, the Seagrave has been returned to its rightful place in the park, completely refurbished through the efforts of the Friends of Swan Lake. G&G Metal Fabrication, Aycock-Richardson Monuments, Bailey Automotive, and Carolina Truck & Trailer contributed to the project, with the result being an unveiling just in time for the 2013 Sumter Iris Festival. A tangible reminder of Sumter’s past, it is once more being used and loved by Sumter’s future—our children.
To give you some idea of what this antique means to the citizens of our community: we received our shipment of ornaments this week, and sold 20% of them on the first day they were available to the public. Our stock is limited, so if you’re interested, please don’t wait. And if you’re interested in expanding your Sumter collection, we also have ornaments from about ten of the last 20 years. They are popular and reasonably priced, and as with most collectibles, when they are gone—well, they’re gone, so don’t miss out! For more info, please call the Swan Lake Visitors Center at (803) 436-2640. The Visitors Center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Swan Lake Iris Gardens is located at 822 West Liberty Street, and open daily from 7:30 a.m. until dusk (about 5:30 p.m. at this time of year). The playground is at the end of the Horseshoe (parking lot) in the Heath Gardens on the south side of the park. If it’s been a while since you climbed onto the Seagrave, or you have children or grandchildren who have yet to experience the wonder of the past made real, why not come out and take a look? As for me, just as soon as I can be completely sure that no one is watching, I plan to climb into it (although carefully, mindful of my now middle-aged joints) and give it an imaginary whirl—just for auld lang syne.
I’ll bet you’ll want to, too.
By Colette Daniels