by Bob Ciminel
November 03, 2004
The Corps of Engineers gave the state of South Carolina first dibs on naming the lake, but christened the dam "Clark's Hill Dam". South Carolina seemed content to call the lake "Clark's Hill" too. That was the status quo ante bellum when we lived in Augusta in the early Eighties. The phrase "status quo ante bellum" can be loosely translated as "the state [of things] existing before the war," but I'm not 100 percent certain because I've forgotten most of the Latin I learned in high school.
Sometime around 1987, the citizens of South Carolina decided to bestow some honors on its senior congressional representative, the late Senator Strom Thurmond. Senator Thurmond had been around for a long time. Some say he became a politician on the eighth day of the Creation, and from all indications planned on being around for the Last Judgment. Unfortunately, he didn't make it to Judgment Day, but he enjoyed a good life.
Throughout his career, Strom Thurmond provided a lot of pork for South Carolina, and his loyal constituents wanted to do something for him before he went to that big pigsty in the sky. As luck would have it, some fool suggested renaming Clark's Hill Reservoir in honor of Strom Thurmond.
Well, when the citizens of eastern Georgia heard that, they went ballistic! On went the bumper stickers; up went the posters; and out came the rhetoric!
Charges and countercharges were rampant.
On the Georgia side, we heard: "By golly, that lake is ours! Mr. Clark Hill was a Georgian! Besides, the best part of that lake is in Georgia! Who does Strong Thermos think he is anyway? Come down here from Yankee Land and start acting like a damn carpetbagger!"
And of the South Carolina side, we hear: "Gol-durn it, Strom was a Senator when God created water! That lake should be named after him. Those "Crackers" over by Georgia can't fish worth a damn anyway! Besides, the Gumint said we could name the lake; it jest took us a while getting' round to it."
The war of words raged across the Savannah River for almost two years. There were lawsuits and counter suits, appeals, pleas, and every other form of legal recourse you can name. It was neighbor against neighbor, pickup truck against pickup truck, bass boat against bass boat. The battle lines were drawn and the stage was set for another Civil War, only this one would pit Southerner against Southerner.
In the end, no one fired a shot. The law was clear; the citizens of South Carolina had the right to name the lake. If they wanted to call it Lake Thurmond, so be it. Unlike our country's previous dispute, we reached a compromise that satisfied both Georgia and South Carolina. The dam retained the name "Clark's Hill Dam," and Georgians were content with the knowledge that without Clark's Hill Dam, there would be no Lake Thurmond. The roadside signs on the South Carolina side say "Welcome to Lake Thurmond;" on the Georgia side of the line they still say "Clark's Hill Reservoir."
It's a shame the country couldn't use collaboration and compromise to prevent the Civil War. Each side in that four-year dispute claimed to be the injured party, but the war was much less complicated than originally thought. Long after it was over, two Civil War veterans at a 4th of July celebration were reminiscing about the War and the friends they lost.
Old Confederate Soldier: "It's a shame we fought each other so hard and lost so many men during that war.
Old Union Soldier: "Yes, but in the end slavery was eliminated, so it was worth it."
Old Confederate Soldier: "Slavery eliminated?"
Old Union Soldier: "Yes, that's what we were fighting over."
Old Confederate Soldier: "You mean all you Yankees wanted was to free the slaves?"
Old Union Soldier: "Why, yes. What did you think we were fighting for?"
Old Confederate Soldier: "We thought you wanted our women!"