Jan. 9, 1910, was a banner day in Pickens. For it was on that day that Anne Pickens arrived. She set records in her early days, crying a little, snuggling with her mother, Iola Pickens, and staring at pencils. It has been reported that by the age of 2, she began to carry a pad of rumpled-up paper everywhere she went -- not dolls or stuffed toys but paper, and then, by the time she was 3, a pencil was added. It did not have to be sharpened at that age, but in another year, she had begun to scribble. It was then the whole family knew they had a writer on their hands.
She attended the Hopewell School, a one-room building, along with her sister and two brothers. She attended high school in Seneca and moved on to Greenville Women's College, later to become Furman, then to the South Carolina School of Journalism.
She wrote for The State newspaper in Columbia and other periodicals across the land. It was no doubt, through divine providence, that she and her husband, Joe Wyman Collins, whom she had met while she was still in school, along with their six children, decided to settle in Chester in 1944. He was a high school football coach, and she was a seamstress in the local mill.
Soon, that paper-and-pen fixation began to take hold again. The needle and pins were put away, and she did the thing she knew best. She began to write and turned her house into a partnership with local ladies and a few men, compiling the history of Chester families and their stories. Gerald Wyatt acted as the treasurer. Margaret Murphy, Caroline Dawson, Nancy Anderson, Deloris Goggins, Barbara A. Westbrook and Ed West formed the editorial committee. It became clear to see, as the work progressed, that Anne was not only a writer of accomplishment but also an organizer and a mover of people.
It was clear that Anne was multitalented. She wrote for the local paper and penned a column that has been standard reading for this writer. It was called "Ambling with Anne" and, believe me, she ambled. She wrote pages of little known facts. She gave me a copy of her book, which is now tattered and sits beside my computer.
In her book "Chester County Heritage History II," she told of early settlers, names that are still around today. Within the years of 1772 and 1773, names that we know or have heard of arrived on the Lord Dunluce, the Hopewell, and the Brigantine, all from North Ireland ports, the first three of five ships to bring people to settle on creeks and pastures that have become a part of our living. We cross over and drive through places that were the first homes to many names that are a part of the county's family sagas. All because that little girl, who so treasured her pad and pencil, who toddled toward her journalistic life, became a writer and a valuable citizen in her community.
In 1986, Anne published her compilations and thoughts in "A Goodly Heritage." For you who do not own the book, the dedication is touching and worthy of repeating. She wrote, "I dedicate this book to my mother, Iola Wilkinson Pickens, who set my sails so that the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a mighty heritage" (Psalms 16-6) and to my husband, Joel Wyman Collins, who provided the pleasant places."
"A Goodly Heritage" is out of print, and we searched Abe Books and Amazon along with all the people who are listed as out-of-print dealers. We found one copy for $350 but were forced to skip that purchase. Then, in the months that followed, we managed, through daily searches, to buy two of the books, one fairly reasonably and the other a "mite costly." It would be impossible to write a column on this county's history without this book, all garnered from information presented in an interesting manner.
I know every historical marker that was in place in the year this book was published. I have read about the Indians, the Catawba potters, their customs and their king. I know why the people came here and how they ran their backcountry courts. I have become acquainted with the heroes and heroines, and the bravery and fierce determination of the women make their chapter ring with pride. Isabella Ferguson, is a woman all of us would have enjoyed knowing. Her natural spunk was amazing and her courage unfaltering when she said to her husband, as he was making ready to join the Loyalists, "If you go with them, stay with them; I will no longer be your wife." All that uttered without the aid of a divorce attorney.
Anne tells of these wonderful happenings in exciting words and delicate phrasing.
She has made the characters real. You come to know the personalities of the women who helped to make this great war successful. You will meet and enjoy reading about Mary McClure, Nancy Green, Esther Gaston Walker, Katherine Steele, Sarah McCalla, Isabella Wylie, Mary Adair, Mary Gill, Jane Brown Gaston, Jane Simpson Boyd, Jane Brown White and the ladies who became the Women Reapers, which saved the crops of the men who were off fighting the Brits. The story of this county and its people are all there, line after line fill our heads with stories and legends abut the folks who made this place bloom.
Anne has given us a rare gift, and the knowledge that fills her sweet countenance is lovely to see. I sat with her on the Saturday before Christmas, and we talked about Chester County and her family. She signed one of the books bought from the rare book dealer and was amazed that her book rests among them. The book is nothing compared to the life she has led and the people from other faraway places she has met. They have perused her writings and generously acknowledged that the history of this remarkable place was compiled and gloried by Mrs. Collins.
Her talent and her contributions have been widely noticed. She has been awarded the Outstanding Library Trustee of South Carolina, a number of Service Awards to Mankind and the Family of the Year designation. In 2006, she received the Order of the Silver Crescent, the state's highest honor given for an individual's volunteer and community service. Anne is a staunch supporter of education and the arts, and her life has been dedicated to making things better for the folks of this county. While all of the grand honors tell you something about the woman, you only have to know her to understand just what makes her so special.
On Wednesday, Anne Pickens Collins will celebrate her 98th birthday. Nothing big this year, just a sweet family gathering, but around this place will come wishes and messages honoring this woman who has given a sense of worth and, through her writings, made us appreciate the marvelous history that has filled this county with pride.
So to you, our dear friend, we wish you the best and offer to you our thanks for teaching us about this place where we live. You did it in gentle and elegant prose and all of us are richer for everything you have ever written. Thank you and best wishes for your 98th birthday. You have worn the years in splendor.