September 1, 1988 | State, The (Columbia, SC)

Elgin watches aren’t the most popular timekeeping pieces in the blooming community of Blaney.

“If somebody comes in and is 15 minutes late, we say, ‘Well, you must have an Elgin watch,” says Nettie Moak Campbell, clerk of the town of Elgin, population 595.

See, Elgin wasn’t always thusly named. Before 1963, the town was called Blaney, and even today, after 25-plus years of Elgindom, the natives call it Blaney. Their persistence is not so much dislike for the Elgin name, but a case of old habits dying hard.

After all, much of Elgin is still Blaney. Blaney Baptist Church. Blaney Fire Department. And Blaney Elementary School.

The name was changed in 1963 under the administration of Gov. John West, who was eager to attract industry to South Carolina. The town of Blaney was courting Elgin Watch Co. of Illinois in hopes of bringing jobs to the struggling community. The dowry Blaney offered was land outside the town limits and a promise not to annex — Elgin Watch Co. didn’t want to pay in- town taxes.

Claude Campbell (no relation to Nettie Campbell) has run Campbell’s Grocery on U.S. 1 for 36 years. His father, the late T.E. Campbell, opened the store in 1946, and the elder Campbell was acting mayor of Blaney when talk of changing the town’s name arose.

According to Campbell, the idea came from nothing more than a local’s conversation with an Elgin Watch official, who said he regretted leaving the town of Elgin, Ill. to move the company. The story, Campbell said, is that, trying to please the company officials, Blaney residents responded that they had no sentimental attachment to the name, which came from some long-forgotten railroad worker, and would consider changing it.

The official vote was 61 for, 16 against. Campbell remembers the tally because of the inverted numbers. He was one of the 16.

“I personally think they would have come whether they changed it or not,” Campbell said.

They came, all right, but not for long. Four years later, the Elgin Watch Co. left Elgin. B.F. Goodrich took over the building.

“It’s a sore spot,” Mrs. Campbell said. “I love ’em, but they didn’t stay long enough to do us any good.”

Claude Campbell, a Blaney/Elgin resident for all of his 58 years, is benevolent.

“A lot of people thought they were going to pay higher wages than they did,” he said. “Regardless of what they paid, I think it was good for the community. A lot of people went to work that wouldn’t have worked otherwise.”

After the departure of the Elgin Watch Co., a few dissidents called for the name to revert to Blaney, but the secretary of state’s office doesn’t look kindly upon towns switching names back and forth. Elgin it is; Elgin it stays.

Mrs. Campbell, who was preparing to be married in 1963 “and couldn’t care less” then, says “Elgin is OK.”

James Jackson, however, still calls his community Blaney. Mail is delivered that way sometimes, too, from the Elgin Post Office. Jackson offers that he often has to direct truckdrivers who arrive in Blaney territory looking for the wrong Elgin. South Carolina has another one, a community near Lancaster that tried to block the name change, but couldn’t because it wasn’t incorporated.

Claude Campbell believes most folks don’t care anymore.

“It took a while to get used to it, but I don’t think it really matters now.” he said. “A lot of years have passed.”

Caption:Photos, bw1. Elgin residents reminsce about the old days in Blaney at Campbell’s Grocery. JENNIFER NICHOLSON / The State

2. The Elgin Town Hall serves a population of 595.

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