Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Could the City of Georgetown give a Charlotte man a nice present for his 85th birthday?
That's a strong possibility, and the present would be a written agreement to accept a big gift from Jerry Blackmon.
That sort of exchange would in reality be a gift to Georgetown of most of Goat Island.
Blackmon sat down for a lengthy talk with the Georgetown Times on Friday. He came to the city for a long weekend at his second home in Litchfield, and to meet and talk with several other people and to enjoy the 24th annual Wooden Boat Show.
Those boats and their kith and kin are primary reasons Blackmon has been working to give away about 20 acres in Georgetown Harbor, with a value estimated to be close to a million dollars.
He'd like Goat Island to be used to give transient boaters a place to dock as they travel north and south.
Georgetown was laid out in 1729, became a Port in 1732 and for more than three centuries the sea and boats and ships have been vital to its lifeblood.
Until about 1949 or 1950, there was no Goat Island.
A peninsula jutted out into the Sampit River, and what we know today as Goat Island was formed.
Several lumber companies operated from lands that today are the locations for International Paper Co., ArcelorMittal Steel, Praxair, Akzo-Nobel, the Port of Georgetown, Bayview, the Carroll Campbell Marine Complex and more.
The channel was cut in the peninsula so ships handling cargo for International Paper could have a more direct route to load and discharge from the paper mill.
“It took 10 to 12 years to buy the island,” Blackmon said. “I was just intrigued with the island.”
He and his wife Irene also own 701 and 703 Front Street. Those two properties are a vacant store and the Thomas Café building next to the Town Clock.
“I've been coming to Georgetown since the early 1950s,” Blackmon said.
He was born in York County, was graduated from the University of South Carolina, and over time has owned three different houses at Litchfield Beach as a second home.
He and his wife have lived in the Charlotte, North Carolina area for years.
Blackmon has an engineering degree from USC, but has been more interested in the business side of engineering. He's served as a Mecklenburg County commissioner, a member of the North Carolina state senate, and was a member of the state Ethics Commission.
He's president of Carolina Products Inc. in Charlotte, owns real estate there, tree farms in several counties in South Carolina, and farm land in North Carolina and Virginia.
But he loves spending time in Georgetown County.
What does the future hold?
Blackmon doesn't claim to have a crystal ball, but he's ready to share his thoughts.
“I think now is the time Georgetown needs to open up a little bit,” he said.
Young people go off to college, and there's not enough industry to bring them back to Georgetown.
“They need to come back because they need to stay in these old houses and keep that Historic District,” Blackmon said.
He noted that he saw a 7,000-square-foot house in the town of Clio. That's near Bennettsville in Marlboro County. The asking price was $200,000. In just about any other place, that house would sell for $1.5 to $2 million.
“I don't want that to happen in Georgetown.
“This is a great community.”
Blackmon has owned the building where Thomas Café is located for about 25 years, and owns the building next to it as well.
He will be 85 years old in December.
“I'm turning things over to the developer. He is helping me with Goat Island.”
Vernon Good, the developer, doesn't get even one nickel from this project. He's intrigued by the idea, and wants to help Blackmon and the City of Georgetown reach an agreement.
'”We need a vision about what can be done with Goat Island,” Blackmon said, “and to keep business in Georgetown.”
The Times will explore some of that vision in an upcoming issue.