The life of Florence Henning Harll
Compiled and written by Gale Harllee Dixon Updated Oct. 4, 2015
Florence Henning Harllee, born in Marion, SC, on July 2, 1848, was one of six children born to General William Wallace Harllee and his wife, Martha Sarah Shackleford Harllee. The Harllees were married May 28, 1840, at her mother’s home on Wentworth Street in her native Charleston, SC.
Their six children were: Edward Porcher, Charles Stuart, James, Florence Henning, Elizabeth Ashby (Lizzie) and Martha Shackleford (Mattie). They lived in Marion District where Gen. Harllee practiced law until Florence County was formed in 1888. Then they moved to Florence. General Harllee was a distinguished soldier, statesman, citizen and counselor. According to Mrs. Henry H. Heard of Florence, William Wallace Harllee was reading
“Dombey and Son” by Charles Dickens before his daughter’s birth. He named his baby girl for Florence, the heroine of the novel. In 1846, General Harllee was elected to the SC House of Representatives for the purpose of getting a charter for the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad. In 1847-48, he was made president of that railroad, retaining that office until its completion. Wooden buildings were erected to provide services for the construction crews and later the railroad passengers.
These were the beginnings of the town of Florence. As owner of the railroad, it was up to Gen. Harllee to name the small station. Several men were in favor of naming the spot Harlleeville, but another S.C. town bore that name. It was the superintendent of railroad construction, Col. Fleming, who suggested naming the railroad station for Harllee’s eldest daughter, Florence. The first railroad depot in 1852 was on Hoffmeyer Road near the present site of the Florence Mall. The station was later moved to the present site near McLeod Regional Medical Center.
When the station was named, a silver cup was presented to little Florence Henning Harllee. The cup is inscribed “Florence H. Harllee,” but bears no date. It is believed that the year was 1854. (A map of South Carolina by J.H. Colton & Co., New York, dated 1855, shows a station called Florence on the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad.)
This lovely octagonal silver cup was given to the Florence Museum by Florence Harllee’s grandniece, Florence Boykin Hay of Camden, SC. The cup is displayed in the Florence County Museum today along with a portrait of Florence Harllee when she was about six years old. The portrait was copied from a tintype and presented to the museum by Mr. and Mrs. Norman Elliott Rogers of Statesville, NC. In 1852, General Harllee bought 750 acres of land from J. Eli Gregg near Mars Bluff Depot in Marion County.
The land is situated near the Pee Dee River approximately seven miles east of the present city of Florence and about one mile north of Francis Marion University. Gen.Harllee built a law office on this property which still stands today. His plantation home, built on the same property, was called “Sunnyside.” The Harllees planted groves of magnolias, shrubs, varieties of trees, bulbs and a rose garden. He was one of the largest planters in the state and was able to lavish the most generous hospitality upon all his friends.
From his new mansion, the general could oversee the arrival of men and materials for the building of the railroad six miles away. It was in this setting that young Florence grew to womanhood. General and Mrs. Harllee personally attended to their children’s education. Family letters show that Florence went to private school in Charleston and later to St. Mary’s School for Girls in Raleigh, NC. Florence seriously considered entering one of the religious orders of the Episcopal Church, but later abandoned this plan.
Deep religious convictions were a marked characteristic of her life. Florence was in her teens when her father was appointed Lt. Gov. of S.C,. serving under Governor F.W. Pickens. During the war years 1861-65, Florence could have been in the limelight often as “her town” grew in size and importance. Since Florence was a railroad center, trains bearing large number of troops and many supplies were a common site. With the bombardment of Charleston by the Federal troops, refugees from that city came in large numbers.
Among the arrivals was Mrs. Church, who founded the first Episcopal Church in Florence. Later St. John’s Episcopal Church became the home church for Gen. and Mrs. Harllee, Florence and Lizzie. A serious housing shortage developed since newcomers came to Florence almost daily. New streets were opened and houses, often mere shelters, were built as fast as possible. It was estimated the number of inhabitants at that time was around 600-700.
In 1871, Florence, SC, officially became a town. Florence loved her community and wanted to do much good for it, but she was the most modest person about anything connected with publicity. In 1873, Florence’s life was changed when her beloved home, Sunnyside, was burned to the ground. After the fire, the family moved into the nearby two-room building which General Harllee used as his law office.
Ever increasing financial difficulties soon forced the sale of the Mars Bluff property, and the family moved back to Marion. It was a sad time. It is recorded that Florence turned back, gazed at the once magnificent formal garden and said: “I just want to tell my roses goodbye.” After the Harllees left, the property changed hands several times and finally came back into the Gregg family.
John Parker Gregg left it to his daughter, Mrs. J. K. Bultman. After her death, the property was left to her daughter, Mrs. Thomas Lang Beaty (Alice), who lives there presently. The law office was renovated into a home and stands in the same location today. With the passing years, the Florence Station had become a center of trade for the area, as well as a focal point in the railroad system. Florence County was formed in 1888 from parts of Marion, Darlington and Williamsburg Counties.
Florence became the county seat. In 1889, General and Mrs. Harllee with their two unmarried daughters, Florence and Lizzie, came to Florence to live. Their new home was a white cottage on the southwest corner of Pine and Irby Streets. It was on a rather large lot, surrounded by a picket fence, which soon provided a place for Miss Florence to grow roses again. The house had a front hall which ran back to a large room known as the parlor, which was furnished with lovely old furniture.
General Harllee died on April 29, 1897. His wife, Martha, died Aug. 5, 1903, although her grave marker says 1904 in error. Both are buried at Hopewell Cemetery near Claussen in Florence County. After their death, the Harllee sisters used the parlor together to entertain company. Each had one side of the house, including a kitchen, in which they lived as in their own house. There were few ways in which a woman could support herself just before and after the turn of the century, but out of necessity the Harllee sisters had to earn a living.
They became school teachers. To supplement their meager income, Florence sold spices and flavorings, and Lizzie sold cloth or “yard goods” as it was called. The first library in Florence was in the office of Belton O’Neall Townsend. Later it was moved to a room in Allen Hall. In 1903, the library was moved to the city hall, with Florence Harllee as the librarian. Little Woodville School (on present day Old Marion Highway) in the Christ Church community was one of the Florence County schools in which Miss Florence taught.
One of her pupils recalled that Miss Harllee was always so anxious for the students to get the correct answers, that she began nodding as they started to recite and almost finished the lesson by answering the questions herself. A gala Pee Dee River bridge-opening celebration was planned in 1923 by Florence and Marion Counties, and the officials of the two cities invited Florence, her niece, Florence Boykin and her grandniece, Florence Boykin Hay, to be there for the great day. Special seats were to be reserved and Florence was to receive an outstanding honor.
Florence said, “The very idea of being willing to make a spectacle of ourselves!” She wrote a letter thanking the proper persons, but regretfully declining for herself and her family. About 6,000 people attended the festivities from both counties. The toll bridge replaced the ferry, and for the first time, highway traffic could cross between the counties. In May 1923, a citizens meeting voted a $50,000 special tax to build a library. The city of Florence purchased the Harllee residence at the corner of Pine and Irby Streets in 1925 in order to build the Florence Public Library on the site.
Florence and Lizzie then bought a small bungalow in nearby Chase Park. Florence was a woman of great strength and character and devoted to the work of her church in which she remained active as long as her strength would permit. She was quiet and unassuming and had many friends and admirers in the area. Florence became ill for more than a month with complications following a severe attack of influenza. Sensing the end was near, she left careful instructions for all funeral arrangements.
A list of pallbearers had been made, and she requested to lie one night in her beloved St. John’s Episcopal Church on Dargan Street. Florence Henning Harllee died May 5, 1927, at the age of 78. She is buried near her parents at Hopewell Cemetery in the Claussen Community near Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Florence County.
The Rev. W.S. (Parson) Poynor, rector of St. John’s, conducted the services. The following account is from “Kinfolks”, written in 1939: Mayor’s Proclamation (From a Florence, SC, newspaper, May 7, 1927) In honor of Miss Florence Harllee whose name the city of Florence bears, all the stores and business places of the city will close for an hour today. Last night Mayor H.K. Gilbert issued a proclamation requesting that this be done.
The proclamation is as follows: “Whereas, God in His all-wise Providence has seen fit to remove from our midst Miss Florence Harllee, for whom the city of Florence was named, and whereas, it is our desire to pay tribute of love and respect to her memory, therefore, I, H.K. Gilbert, as Mayor of Florence, do hereby affix my hand and seal to this proclamation requesting all the people of Florence to suspend business generally today from 11 A.M. to Noon, the hour of the funeral. H.K. Gilbert, Mayor.”