History of the Bowie Farm
(As told by Marie T. Bowie to Gary Jordan in 2008 – 2010)
In the late 1800’s and at the turn of the century in 1900, the 1100-acre Bowie Farm was one of the most thriving cotton and cattle farms in Anderson County. Luther E. Bowie and his wife, Lucia Parker Bowie, operated the farm. They employed 21 field hands and provided tenant houses for their families, who were descendants of slave families from the mid-1800’s. Mr. Bowie was ingenious and added his own electric power plant by building a large water wheel on Indian Creek on the southwest side of the property and stringing electric lines to the home site. That water wheel still stands today and turns freely. Mrs. Lucia operated a small store just inside the driveway on the right. They were prosperous for that time and Mrs. Bowie loaned money to her brother in Greenville to expand his Dixie Food Store into several stores, which later became Dixie Home Stores and finally merged into Winn-Dixie, a national food chain. Mrs. Bowie had received original stock in Dixie and then Winn-Dixie, which had greatly increased her original investment.
William Parker Bowie, an only son, was born to Luther and Lucia in 1912. The farm continued to do well and the Bowie’s were very proud of their new home, which was built in 1923. Due to their hard work and good investment in Dixie Food Stores, they weathered the late 1920’s depression well. Then, Luther met his untimely death at age 57 in 1930. Lucia continued to operate the farm with her 18-yr. old son, Parker, and the experienced farm hands. Parker later invested in some local Anderson businesses like auto repair and a Packard auto dealership. He was mostly a gentleman farmer and later became a big benefactor to the local community. Lucia bought a second home in St. Petersburg and spent the winters there.
In 1934, Parker met and married a young farm girl from Honea Path, Marie Thomason. She had grown up on a struggling farm with her brother and their parents. She said when her dad had enough income at the end of the annual harvest to buy crop insurance for the coming year, he never needed it and when he didn’t have the insurance money, he always needed it. She graduated after 4 years at Winthrop College with a teaching degree. She said she didn’t particularly like her stay at Winthrop but loved her education in Home Economics. After they married, Parker wanted Marie to be a stay-at-home wife and encouraged the local school board not to hire her. But Marie had other plans and took a teaching position at Lowndesville High School in Abbeville county. Parker later relented and she took a job at Crescent High School as a beloved Home Economics teacher for the remainder of her career. Her former students have great stories about learning from Mrs. Bowie. She didn’t care for sports because she said they got all the school money and her home econ activities were shorted. I asked her when she retired from teaching and she quickly said, “The day after my mother-in-law died in 1972”.
In the late 1940’s, Parker began to downsize by selling off 300 acres on the outside boundaries of the farm. Farming was reduced to only cattle and the help was reduced to one tenant family. Parker considered selling out and moving to a nice home on North Main St. in Anderson, but Marie insisted they remain on the farm in Iva.
Parker became a leader in Shriners International and his local chapter attended the annual conventions all around the world. He collected over 5,000 35-mm. slides around the world and at home over 25 years into the early 80’s. We have transformed those photos into slideshow DVD’s. These photos show that Mr. and Mrs. Bowie were prolific flower gardeners with large plots of unique flowers and plants around the property. Several colorful peacocks adorned the yard. Marie became a big entertainer and loved to have groups and parties in the home. She had elaborate dinnerware and decorative pieces throughout the house.
Parker was very active in local civic organizations. In 1965, the Bowie’s donated a building for the Iva Fire Department in memory of Parker’s parents. About this time, Parker became dedicated to his hobby of woodworking. From his well-equipped shop, he made most of their bedroom furniture, which is still here. He specialized in making clocks with special chimes to give to the blind through the Lions Club. From their international travels, Mr. and Mrs. Bowie collected many fine pieces of furniture and clocks. Over 70 collected and homemade clocks are throughout the house. Some of their finer furniture was donated to Erskine College for the Bowie Art Center. Parker took pride in making miniature-sewing kits, which he gave to local women’s groups.
By the mid-1980’s and into their 70’s, Parker and Marie had led blessed and rich lives and wanted to share their wealth with others. They both were dedicated Christians and committed to the local ARP church. You can hear the Bowie chimes often from the church. Parker wanted to do more and decided to donate money to Erskine College for a new Theological Seminary, which was completed in 1984. That facility has allowed Erskine to increase their Seminary graduates 100-fold from four per year to over 400 per year. After Parker’s death in 1986, Mrs. Bowie continued their benevolent gifts by donating large blocks of stock to both Erskine and Southern Wesleyan in Central.
In 1992 to 1994, Marie donated money to Erskine for a second building, The Bowie Art Center. She gave many of her valuable possessions for display there along with antique collections from Mrs. Louise Bell in Seneca, and other families from Abbeville and Greenville. The Bowie’s most valuable acquisition on display at Erskine is an oak dining room suite from Holland. The massive sideboard has carved figures of the Twelve Disciples in different poses with intricate detail on the doors. A visit there is a real treat.
In the mid-1990’s and now in her 80’s, Mrs. Bowie was not sure about the future of her inherited property, whether to leave it to her family or colleges or leave it intact. She told me she was led by a dream, one a nightmare and the other a pleasant dream. The nightmare involved leaving the property to others and seeing it sold to developers who sold off the timber and divided the property into 2-acre lots with trailers. She had seen this practice do too much damage in Anderson County. The other pleasant dream involved leaving the property intact and preserving her precious hardwood forest and seeing the property used for the betterment of the community. Of course, she chose the latter dream.
Mrs. Bowie’s Winn-Dixie stock went bankrupt in 1994 and she lost most of her wealth. She said Parker had asked her just before he died to always keep the stock because it had been so good to them and she obliged.
Mrs. Bowie made the decision in 1996 to form the Thomason Bowie Foundation, a 501c3 private foundation. She had decided to leave the 800-acre farm intact and dedicate it for public use, outdoor education, conservation and recreational purposes. The Foundation became her beneficiary and would administer the property after her death. In 2004, she placed the farm in a land trust with Upper Savannah Land Trust so the farm would always remain a large tract. She constructed 2 picnic pavilions, walking and horseback riding trails, a lighted rodeo arena, a fellowship barn, and an old farm museum to support her plan. In 2005 she donated 34 acres on Parker Bowie Rd. to the Iva Recreation Association for the Parker Bowie Athletic Complex. The Iva Rec. group and Anderson County have completed phase 1 of this complex with 4 ball fields and parking facilities.
In early 2007, a small group of local retired farmers gathered to discuss working with Mrs. Bowie and the Thomason Bowie Foundation to utilize her property to help preserve the history, farming methods, and family life of our ancestors. A 501c3 non-profit corporation called the Bowie Old Farm Reunion, Inc. was formed for this mission. Monthly meetings are held and we conduct a Bowie Old Farm Show the fourth Saturday in September each year. Our group has had about 50 members since 2007. We have partnered with the high school FFA and the Young Farmers Assoc. to help grow our activities.
Although discouraged in the first few years after her 1996 decision, Mrs. Bowie was happy to live to see her vision take place before her death in April 2011. She once told my son Ken that if she knew that she was going to live so long, she wouldn’t have given so much of her money away.
One Saturday morning last year as Joyce and I were driving up Parker Bowie Road and saw the ball parks filled with kids and parents, passed the barn with a wedding party there, the arena filled with the monthly cowboy church horse show, horse trailers lined about to ride the trails, and Site 1 with a family birthday party, Joyce said, “Mrs. Bowie still speaks from the grave.” God Bless Marie and Parker Bowie.
Parker and Marie were recognized for their philanthropic efforts with honorary Doctors of Humanities degrees from Erskine College. Mrs. Bowie was honored with the Wil Lou Gray Outstanding Educator award, two Orders of the Palmetto awards in 1998 and 2002, and the Anderson County Pointing the Way award in 2008.
Gary Jordan, March, 2014
Thomason Bowie Foundation