This article was first published about 3 years ago. I’m republishing it now in memory of Don Roper, our Saluda Sam. Don passed away on April 11th after an extended illness. His smile and care for everyone he came in contact with made him loved, admired, and treasured in Piedmont throughout his whole life time. Don began collecting Piedmont memorabilia and stories in the 1940s and continued to do so until the very last. His museum in the Piedmont Community Building was his pride and joy. For the past year, Don worked with the Piedmont Historical Preservation Society to provide future oversight of the collection. We are honored to attempt to carry on his work. He is survived by his wife, Evelyn, and daughter, Donna Kay.
Since I’ve been asked to write a column about the Moonville and Piedmont areas of southern Greenville county and being a student of the history of these areas, I decided I needed a moniker. Moonville Mae combines the two towns for me. My mother-in-law, Mae, lived in Piedmont most of her life, raising my favorite guy there. Then, Moonville is close to my home and the home of many ancestors since about 1800. Now, the reason I needed a pseudonym is the real story. Piedmont has had two famous historians who sport a writing name, Saluda Sam and Old Coin. Both of them were special students of local history and both wrote about the Piedmont area.
Old Coin started this tradition. A. S. Rowell came to Piedmont from New Hampshire in the 1880s to oversee in the cotton mill, and he had one of those type A personalities. He must have been interested in all of the sciences and the study of Native American and local history among a long list of other topics. Albert Smith Rowell started many social groups for the mill including a group similar to the Boy Scouts before there were Boy Scouts. He taught these young men about geology, archeology, astronomy, debate, camping, and on and on. His book, The Silver Bullet, written in 1897 describes this group he called the Piedmont Historical Circle or Exploring Circle. In the early 1900s, Mr. Rowell also edited a newspaper, The Bridge, and established a museum in the old YMCA with over 40,000 artifacts.
Saluda Sam has followed in Mr. Rowell’s footsteps by becoming a student of Piedmont history from his tenth year. His collection is now housed in the Piedmont Community Building and is quite a diverse and extensive one. Don Roper, our Saluda Sam, has been the humble but knowledgeable go to person for so many folks searching for answers about local history. Don compiled a historical timeline of Piedmont, wrote a biography of A. S. Rowell (A Southern Yankee), and has written numerous articles for several newspapers. He played for the Piedmont Manufacturing Company basketball team and has been active with groups carrying on mill town history.
Don Roper, like A. S. Rowell, is a local treasure. His knowledge was immense, and his work to preserve history is beyond commendable. Don took the torch from Old Coin, researched, wrote, collected, loved, cared for, and shared everything Piedmont for eighty years. He had the biggest smile and the most open heart. And he loved a story. How could anyone have done more? I am so grateful to have known him and worked with him and studied his writings and his stories. There will never be another who loved the people of a mill town like Don Roper. Thanks to Don we know our story. Thanks to Don we still have his collection of artifacts in the Piedmont Community Building at 3 Main Street. The museum is open on Monday afternoons from 2 – 4. Don would love for you to visit and share a story.
Don’s Student – Moonville Mae. ♦