The Way We Were

by Franklin G. Burroughs

On June 6, 1932, J. O. Norton, as master of Horry County, conveyed 322 acres of land to First Carolina Joint Stock Land Bank as a result of a foreclosure sale for the consideration of $4,000.00. During the same period of time easements were being filed in favor of the United States of America for the construction of the intracoastal waterway. On June 7, 1932, I was admitted to the South Carolina Bar.

At the time I graduated form law school there was no state bar examination and one was admitted into the South Carolina Bar upon graduation. I began practicing law in Conway, associated with Marion A. Wright. Our offices were located on the southeast corner of Fourth and Main, now a vacant lot. I did not have an automobile and walked to work and to the courthouse. My starting salary was $65 per month or $780 per year.

The 1933 Martindale Hubbell carried the names of 15 practicing lawyers in Conway (population 3,011)., namely: E. S.C. Baker; Franklin G. Burroughs; J. K. Dorman; S. C. Dusenbury; G. Lloyd Ford; W. O. Godwin; T. B. Lewis; J. M. Long; J. Reuben Long; J. O. Norton; Edwin J. Sherwood; Kenneth W. Suggs; C. B. Thomas; H. H. Woodward; and Marion A. Wright. Although the book did not have Loris entered at all, there were two other practicing lawyers there, L. B. Dawes and John Sikes. At that time Myrtle Beach was not an incorporated municipality.

The Horry County Bar Association, as such, had no formal organization. The oldest member, H. H. Woodward, was President and the youngest, Secretary. I succeeded J. Reuben Long as Secretary until a younger lawyer came along. There were no dues or social activities. Meetings were called by the President, usually about two weeks before the next term of the Court of Common Pleas. The Court calendar was presented and a trial roster was prepared frown it. Mr. Woodward, who ran Conway Publishing Company, got up a printed trial roster for each term, copies being sent to the various lawyers and of course, published in his newspaper, the Horry Herald.

There were four terms of Civil Court; two weeks in September, one week in December, two weeks in February, and two weeks in June. One rotating Circuit Judge held the September and December terms and another Circuit Judge the February term. The Resident Judge held the June term.

The December term was rarely held because of the proximity to Christmas; the June term was generally limited to non-jury matters since at that time all jurors were white, male, between ages of 21 and 65, and farmers who would have been unhappy to be called to jury duty during the summer months. A separate panel of jurors served each week. Horry County was in the 12th Judicial Circuit which embraced Florence, Georgetown, Horry, and Marion Counties. S.W.G. Shipp, of Florence, was the Resident Judge. At the time there was no County Court. Magistrates, although appointed by the governor, were for all practical purposes chosen by popular vote in their respective townships. They had criminal jurisdiction with the maximum penal limits of 30 days or $100 and civil jurisdiction in matters up to $100.

The make-up of the criminal calendar was the province of the Circuit Solicitor and trials were a source of entertainment to many citizens of the county.

There was a Master-in-Equity, which office in Horry County had been recently created by the legislature. J. O. Norton was the first to hold this office. Prior to that time in uncontested equity matters, such as default foreclosures, the Clerk of Court was appointed Special Referee in an Order of Reference. The Master's commission was $3 for reference and $3 for report. He conducted public judicial sales and received a commission of 1% on the first $500 and % above that figure. He was also paid $3 for signing a master's deed resulting from the judicial proceeding. Filing a lis pendens would cost $1.00 and entry of Judgement would cost $3.15.

Normally, if a land line case finally came off the calendar and was placed on the trial roster, no other cases were scheduled that week. If the case were settled when called, or did not take the full week, everybody went home until the next session. There was no Court officer to monitor the calendar and most judges were content to go home if Court broke down early--or not come at all if the term was called off. It might be of interest to know that divorce was prohibited by the South Carolina Constitution until about the year 1936.

Lawyers fees were usually dictated by the circumstances and the client. Typically, preparation of a simple deed on a printed form rarely exceeded $3; a relatively simple will brought in $5; and in those depression days, although notes and mortgages usually provided for an attorney fee of 10% or more in the event that the security was placed in the hands of a lawyer for collection, no practical lender, such as a bank, would think of paying any such exorbitant fee. The understanding with the lawyer handling the collection was that if the mortgagee had to buy in the property (which was usually the case) the lawyer would be paid a fee of approximately $50, depending upon the complexity of the proceedings and the number of junior lienees involved.

Court verdicts were a far cry from those awarded today. In the late 1930s in the case of Melinda Collins, Administratrix v. Atlantic Coastline Railroad Company, the jury awarded a verdict of $28,000 in a railroad crossing death case. At that time I believe it was the largest verdict ever rendered in the County. That case arose out of the death of a Mrs. Anderson. Horrified at the verdict the coastline lawyers sought to have the husband's case, scheduled for the next week, postponed beyond the term. The trial judge denied the motion so the husband's case came on to trial with virtually the same witnesses and testimony, but resulted in a verdict for the defendant. One member of the jury afterwards made the statement that the jurors had heard about the verdict in the first case and thought that it was plenty of money for both of them. Unhappily for the heirs at law involved, the Andersons had no children, hence had separate sets of heirs.

The Horry County Courthouse in 1932 was a box-like building, facing as it does today on Third Avenue, but extending out only the width of two windows on each side of the center of the building. Entering from the front steps, on the left, was the Sheriff's office. Crossing the center of the hallway, on the left was the Office of Clerk of Court and on the right the office of County Treasurer. The upstairs central courtroom was much as it is today, the petit jury room being to the right of the bench and the grand jury room to the left of the bench. The judges' chambers were to the rear on the right, or east, side and usually a magistrate occupied an office on the left rear. All matters relating to land titles were kept in the Clerk of Court's office in one large fireproof room which is still in existence today. At that time all deed books were on the right as one entered the record vault from the Clerk's office proper, all mortgage books were on the left, and above the shelves for books were mental drawers for judgments, lis pendens, etc.

All lawyers did their own title work. There was a strict tradition, or gentlemen's agreement, of complete silence in the record room. If a client came to see his lawyer who happened to be examining a title at the time, both were expected to go outside to do their talking. Of course, keeping two or more lawyers completely quiet was an impossible standard to meet, but by and large the record room was a quiet place in which to work.

[Reprinted from Bar Review, Newsletter for Horry County Bar Association, v. 1, issue 1, n.d. Franklin G. Burroughs retired from the practice of law in 1973 and is actively involved in his hobbies of golf, hunting, and fishing. He resides with his wife, Geraldine, in Conway.]

The Independent Republic Quarterly
Vol.26 Fall 1992 No.1; pp 6-8

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Last Updated Friday, March 26, 1999