We drove to Barnwell to check out the Barnwell Sundial and arrived as the first wind bands of Hurricane Florence reached the area. Regardless of the wind, the morning was perfect, and Barnwell’s downtown was beautiful. We marveled over the fact that the sundial was, indeed, showing us the correct time, within a few minutes, and it correctly showed that it was the 14th day of the month. The town of Barnwell SC created a picturesque courtyard to highlight the sundial, and it makes a gorgeous place to take a break and enjoy a wonderful day in small town America. We hope you enjoy this episode of Stories, Secrets and Sagas!
Interesting Facts About The Barnwell Sundial
1The Barnwell Sundial is the only freestanding, vertical sundial in the United States.
2Global Standard Time was established in 1884 – 26 years after the sundial was erected. This makes the Barnwell Sundial ahead of its time!
3A cannonball that was used in the American Civil War sits at the top of the sundial.
4The benefactor of the sundial, Joseph Duncan Allen, was a Captain in the Confederate Army and served in the South Carolina House of Representatives and the South Carolina Senate.
5The Barnwell Sundial survived a fire in 1865, even though the courthouse adjacent to it was destroyed.
I’m here in downtown Barnwell, South Carolina. It’s one of those small southern towns where locals still meet downtown to catch up on stories and to shop. An old man can be seen sitting in a chair on a front porch. He stares off into the distance as his chair creaks back and forth. A child rides her bike down the sidewalk, hair blowing in the wind. There are moments when you’d swear time stands still here, but it really doesn’t. And the residents of Barnwell have proof of that in something unique to the country--all it takes is a little of your time.
Ever hear of the word Gnomon? Bet you haven’t. It’s the part of a sundial, which casts a shadow. And did you know that there is a sundial in Barnwell that is unique to the country? Why? Because it is vertical!
Installed in front of the Barnwell Courthouse in 1858, the Barnwell Sundial was donated by Captain Joseph D. Allen.
So, who was Captain Allen, and why create a sundial monument?
Joseph Duncan Allen was born in Barnwell County in 1812. He fought in the Mexican and Indian Wars, hence his title as a captain, and eventually became a wealthy planter and attorney. He is listed as a “man of means” for the time and probably wanted to give something back to his hometown.
Keeping time during the 1800s would have been very difficult. There were no smartphones or watches, so a sundial in the center of town was a generous and very useful gift. But, what is unique about this one is the fact that it is vertical and keeps not only hourly time, but also charts the days of each month, too. Amazingly, Captain Allen’s sundial has correctly kept time, within two minutes of standard time, for over 150 years.
It turns out that Allen loved monuments. Taken from a book called: Meet your Grandfather, a Sketch-book of the Hagood-Tobin family, a Mrs. Martin writes: “The Captain had a hobby for monuments. They included one to his mother and father, one to his colored nurse, one to his dog, and a number of others to members of his family, and to friends. Upon one of these, he had a hand carved with a prophetic finger pointing to the words: "Alas!!! Who shall erect a monument to me?"
Sadly, Captain Allen left wonderful markers for many people, but the only thing standing for him today is a simple government marker showing his service in the military and an iron cross placed by the Daughters of the Confederacy. We’ll see you next time on Stories, Secrets and Sagas!
It wasn’t until the onset of the 20th Century before an understanding of the source and prevention of this disease would be discovered.
I’ll see you next time on Stories, Secrets & Sagas!
Visit the Barnwell Sundial | Barnwell SC
Barnwell Sundial 141 Main Street, Barnwell SC 29812