Shedding Light on the Dark Corner

“This has become the iconic photo of Dark Corner moonshiners,” notes Dean Campbell, whose paternal grandfather, shown holding the jug, was killed seven years before he was born. “Moonshine was extremely important to the Dark Corner for three major reasons: medicinal, cultural and, most importantly, economic,” says Campbell.

Dean Campbell is the world’s leading authority on the history of a region that, for more than 175 years, no visitor was actually able to find. “Whenever you asked, people would always tell you that the Dark Corner was a just little further up the road,” he says with a laugh.

But Campbell is proud to call this mountainous northeastern part of Greenville County in South Carolina his home. Since 1948, when he earned his Boy Scout history merit badge, he’s been chronicling the stories and legends of the Dark Corner, which borders Spartanburg County and North Carolina’s Polk County. Beginning April 9, he’ll share his collected knowledge through “The Dark Corner: An Elusive to Exclusive Odyssey,” a four-session course offered through Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock.

Campbell explains that the Dark Corner got its name in 1832 through an act of resistance during the Nullification Crisis, a tussle over trade tariffs between South Carolina and the U.S. government. In an effort to boost the state’s plantation economy, 82% of its residents voted to nix what they saw as unfair federal law.

Yet in the precinct then known as Mason’s Box, populated largely by Revolutionary War soldiers with strong loyalty to the union, the vote was 169 to 1 against nullification. “Since they had put their lives on the line to get this nation together, they didn’t want to see things start tearing themselves apart,” Campbell says. “The rest of the state said, ‘The light of nullification will never shine in that corner of Greenville County,’ and that’s how we got our name.”

That independent streak resurfaced through subsequent years as many Dark Corner residents refused to fight for the Confederacy during the Civil War and turned to moonshining in the war’s aftermath. Campbell prizes the weathered photographs of several relatives, such as his paternal grandfather George Washington Campbell and great-uncle James Alexander “Big Alex” Campbell, that show them with jugs of illicit whiskey or souped-up cars to outrun federal revenue agents.

Things have changed in modern times — tourists to Greenville County can now sample legal liquor from Dark Corner Moonshine or play 18 holes on the state’s only mountaintop golf course. Still, Campbell declares, the region’s most important distinction remains intact.

“We are very definitely mountain people, and we believe that we are one with the land,” Campbell says. “It’s deeper here than any other place I’ve ever been in the world.”

Dark Corner: An Elusive to Exclusive Odyssey runs Mondays and Wednesdays, 10am-noon, on April 9, 11, 16 and 18, hosted by the Blue Ridge Center for Lifelong Learning at Blue Ridge Community College (Room 150 in the Patton Building). $50/BRCLL members, $60/general. To register and for more information, call 828-694-1740 or see brcll.com.

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