John E. Peoples, the Viaduct, and a Lost Street

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John E. Peoples, First Baptist Church (Author’s Collection)

In my home town of Anderson, South Carolina, there are three statues of prominent Andersonians in the downtown area. Two are on the square: William C. Whitner and William W. Humphreys (atop the Confederate Monument). Both of these deserves their own story, but it is the third statue which concerns the first post of Under the Kudzu. The third statue is hidden behind a tree in the graveyard of the First Baptist Church on Manning Street. This life size statue of a man facing downtown is of John E. Peoples, and his name was once used to denote the southern part of what is today Murray Avenue.

 

Peoples was born in Newberry County, 20 March 1853. His father died when he was two, and his mother moved to Greenville. He lived with her until he moved to Anderson in 1875, at the age of twenty-two. Peoples quickly became one of Anderson’s youngest and most successful businessmen. He started working for his uncle, a Mr. Gilreath at the firm Gilreath & Burgess, dealing in stoves, tin-wear, etc. Within a few years, Peoples, bought our Burgess’ share in the company and it was renamed Gilreath & Peoples. Within a few years, Peoples bought out his uncle. His wealth continued to grow, and he made wise investments. Peoples seemed able to convert just about anything into money matching the skill of any medieval alchemist.

Peoples married into one of Anderson’s most prominent families in March 1887. His wife was Miss Josephine Bleckley, the eldest daughter of Sylvester Bleckley, a business pioneer in the town. They had two children.

During the fall of 1889, Peoples’ health began to suffer and he was diagnosed with  consumption. Around the first of February 1890, acting upon the advice of his physician, he, along with his brother-in-law G.W. Howell, went to Thomasville, Georgia, for a few weeks of recovery. For a couple of weeks, Peoples’ health got better, but it was only temporary. On the morning of March 12, just ten days after celebrating his thirty-seventh birthday, Peoples passed away.

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Hand Holding Hat (Author’s Collection)

His body was bought back to Anderson by his brothers-in-law, and his wife. It was met by and escorted with honors the Board of Trade, the Knights of honor, and the Hiram Lodge, all of which he was a active member.

Peoples was buried in the First Baptist Church Graveyard. His funeral was lead by the Rev. Charles Manly, D.D., of Greenville, who preached what was described as an interesting and impressive sermon. Out of respect, all businesses were closed during the funeral service. The Hon. J.L. Tribble, Master of Hiram Lodge, delivered the graveside eulogy.

The statue that marks his grave was commissioned by his wife, Josie, and was carved in Italy from a photograph. The statue faces west, looking towards the downtown of his adopted home, holding his hat in his hand. Peoples’ prominent muttonchops dominate the now weathered face. To honor this young and much respected business leader, the city fathers of Anderson named the street beginning at the railroad cut and extending south Peoples Street.

Unlike its namesake, however, Peoples Street was never a great street. It not a widely used road because of its location. The main reason Peoples Street was difficult to use was because of the 1854 railroad cut that was made as part of the Blue Ridge Railroad. In about 1900, a new street that began north of the railroad cut was planned. It was named Murray Avenue, after Maj. Edwards Bobo Murray, whose property the street ran through. There was no bridge over the railroad cut between the two streets. The only way to go from Murray Avenue to Peoples Street was by cutting through downtown. This often caused traffic problems and bottlenecks, so work began on a bridge connecting the two streets. By 1919, a wooden bridge was constructed but it was not used because the angle on the Peoples’ side was too steep.

The solution to the problem? The Viaduct. The term viaduct is a combination of two Lain words, “via” meaning “to go,” and “ducere” meaning “road.” They are characterized by graceful arches which support the roadbed, and they very much resemble the aqueducts.

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G. Cullen Sullivan, Mayor of Anderson (Anderson Daily Mail, 50th Anniversary Edition)

The first viaduct was completed during 1940 during the mayoral administration of G. Cullen Sullivan. Murray Avenue and Peoples’ Street were now connected but this only generated confusion. Where did one street begin and the other end? The city fathers took a hard look at the situation. There were dozens of homes were located on Murray. No one lived on Peoples. Businesses were established on Murray. There were train depots, and the coal yards. There was not much in the way of commercial activity on on Peoples Street.

These factors weighed in the decision, and, sadly, Peoples disappeared from the city map. The entire road south of the railroad cut became Murray Avenue. Incidentally, the original viaduct was torn down within five years, and a new four-lane viaduct was erected. Construction was completed during the summer of 1945 and dedicated on September 16 of that year. The official name of the viaduct is the G. Cullen Sullivan Memorial Viaduct, named after Sullivan who had died while in office. The present bridge was completed in 1955 and is technically not a viaduct, although it is still locally so called.

 

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