Sophia and Lynn Derricks’ wish list was relatively simple: land for hunting, a pond, and within an hour’s drive from Columbia. They were searching for their retirement getaway, a place to enjoy nature and spend time with friends and family. In 2016, Tom and Tombo Milliken, of NAI Columbia, showed them a plot of land nestled just off Highway 378, a mere 23 miles outside of downtown Columbia. The Derricks made an offer on the property the same day. It seemed a welcome and straightforward ending to a search lasting more than five years.
Even before closing on the property, Sophia and Lynn began clearing away the brush that had ruled the land for four decades. Huge pine trees still bear the scars left by vines that wound up their length and dug into their bark. Through the snare of bushes and brambles, they caught sight of a house-like structure, one with two front doors. That discovery began a journey into history. “We didn’t buy the property because of its historical value, but it became a huge factor,” says Lynn.
Lynn told attorney Allen Wise about the curious structure at the closing. Equally intrigued, Allen went with Lynn to the Richland County Courthouse to study the property records. The last land survey was done in 1920, but the house predated it. At this point, their search was thwarted by none other than Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who destroyed much of Columbia, including county property records, during his fiery Civil War march through the state. Undaunted, Lynn turned to Ancestry.com and to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. The riddle was solved with his discovery of a lawsuit filed in Richland County: Bates vs. Palmetto Society in Columbia, et.al.
In 1847, a group of citizens met at Good Hope Baptist Church to start a school for their children, called Palmetto Academy. The group members donated money to build a schoolhouse and hire a schoolmaster. One of them was John Bates, owner of thousands of acres encompassing much of modern-day Eastover. His property, which spread north from the junction of the Wateree and Congaree rivers, included the plot of land Sophia and Lynn now own. John donated $500 in cash and 37 acres of land where the schoolhouse was built, just off Garners Ferry Road. The school had two doors, one for boys and one for girls — and rooms upstairs where the schoolmaster lived. A nearby spring provided fresh water for the children.
The Palmetto Academy closed in the late 1880s. By that time, John had passed away and his daughter-in-law, Clara Bates, owned his property. Clara sued to reclaim the Palmetto Academy property, taking the case all the way to the South Carolina Supreme Court, and lost. The case set legal precedent, holding that an unincorporated society, like the Palmetto Society, could possess land. In the end, Clara bought the property for $137.65 in 1899, after it was seized by Richland County for failure to pay taxes.
When she died in 1933, Clara’s will listed the Palmetto Academy land first, directing her daughter, Carrie Elizabeth Henry, to hold the land in trust for her two grandchildren, Fannie Matilda Davis and Joseph Bates Gerald. Fannie and Joseph sold the land to Peter Larsevick, an immigrant from Bavaria, who owned it from 1939 to 1977. Then, the property was sold to Sara and Joseph Ard, and in 2016 the Ards sold the property to Sophia and Lynn.
“We tracked down two surviving Larsevick daughters and invited them out to the farm,” says Lynn. “They showed us where the spring was and told us their dad built the dam for the pond in 1953. They showed us where they ate and swam, where they kept their cows, and where their dad raised quail.”
With a new appreciation of their property’s history, the Derricks set about making it their own, naming it Spring Pond Farm. Sophia sought to model their cabin after a photograph of a Minnesota fishing lodge she saw online, one with a large porch that wraps around the front and side of the structure. Both Sophia and Lynn credit their builder, Will Murphy of Blue Crab Construction, for making their dream come true. “Will is special,” says Lynn. “He’s a real hands-on guy. There’s nothing he can’t figure out.” It was Will who recommended that the Derricks remove more than 40 trees to achieve an unencumbered view of the pond from the cabin.
The two-bedroom cabin is spacious and comfortable, decorated with unique pieces the Derricks found at Mr. Bunky’s Market on Garners Ferry Road and at Ducks Unlimited banquets. They also pulled wood from the schoolhouse to make a few things for the cabin, including a bench for the fire pit outside. “We wanted to incorporate the old house into our new cabin,” says Sophia.
Just like the days when the schoolhouse was in use, the cabin does not have cable or Wi-Fi. It is truly a place to unplug. On the porch, huge rocking chairs beckon. “The inside of the cabin is 1,500 square feet, while the porch is 1,000 square feet,” she says. “It’s all about being outside, watching the deer and the ducks.”
Barnyard Red is the color of the Derricks’ metal cabin roof. The bright color is remarkable from the ground, but the couple learned that it is especially so from the air. Lynn frequents Mr. Bunky’s Market, where he once described the cabin’s roof to a pilot from McEntire Joint National Guard Base. The pilot’s response was immediate. “He said, ‘Oh yeah, we call you Red Right Return. We see your roof and know it’s time to turn right and head out toward Myrtle Beach.’”
Clemson Extension agricultural agent Charles Davis taught the Derricks about the environmental features of their land. Charles encouraged them to leave plenty of natural, brushy areas for animal habitats. He also taught them about the trees on their property and ways to keep them healthy for the benefit of the creatures that live there. Charles brought along a wildlife biologist who tested the pond water. “The pond is full of bass and bream, yet we’ve never stocked it,” Lynn says. “The pond is spring fed, and the water is so pure you can drink it.” Sophia and Lynn spend many hours watching deer, raccoons, and other animals do just that. Their matching black labs, Grits and Grizzly, also enjoy the pond. They wade in for a swim and a drink, then bound back out again.
Having big, wet dogs around does not bother Sophia. “We built the place to be indestructible,” she says. She is not just referring to strong, weatherproof building materials but to spiritual strength and protection as well. “We wrote Bible verses on the rafters above the front door, the side door, and the master bedroom door.” The verses reveal the Derricks’ faith and their view of life: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua 24:15; “You will be blessed when you go in and blessed when you go out,” Deuteronomy 28:6; and “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God,” Hebrews 3:4.
Sophia and Lynn know more than most about the pain life can inflict. For them both, 2001 was a terrible year. Sophia lost her first husband, Bill, to cancer. Lynn lost his 4-year-old son, Michael, in an accident and subsequently lost his marriage as well. A year later, a mutual friend encouraged Sophia to attend an oyster roast Lynn was having. “I knew him because we went to Hammond together, but I hadn’t seen him in years. I said, ‘I can’t just show up at his oyster roast!’”
Then, she just happened to run into Lynn, who echoed the invitation. It was one that the oyster lover and single mother of two boys could not turn down. “He told me to come and bring my kids, so I did.” In the four years that followed, Sophia and Lynn built their relationship, simultaneously melding the relationships between their sons as well. At another oyster roast, Lynn hid an engagement ring in an oyster shell, proposing to Sophia in front of all their friends. They married in 2006. “God figured it out for us,” says Lynn.
As with the events that brought them together, the Derricks credit God for helping them locate the Palmetto Academy land, find a great builder in Will Murphy, receive help from people like Charles Davis, and for the support of family and friends. Now, Spring Pond Farm is a place where they entertain frequently with cookouts and oyster roasts. In addition to hunting and fishing, a horseshoe pit and croquet are available for games. “We’re always cooking, hanging out on the porch or by the fire,” says Sophia.
When 5 p.m. rolls around, it is time to move. “We have 5 o’clock wine walks every day,” she says. “Everyone goes.” They take a trail that winds around the property past the old Palmetto Academy, where one can peek underneath the porch to view the hand-hewn timbers that span the whole width of the building or the piles of stones from the original foundational pillars. Sometimes, the old schoolhouse hosts an occupant, like the vulture that once chose to nest there. The Derricks could see the mother peering out at them, her white chick at her side. Around Halloween, the building is inhabited by a black widow mannequin standing ominously in the doorway, daring anyone to enter. Her name is Elvira.
The Derricks enjoy the farm’s close proximity to Columbia, easily traveling into town for 8:30 a.m. church services or to visit the gym. They especially like spending time at the farm with their family. Sophia’s sons, Whit and Jordan Floyd, both live in Columbia and are frequent visitors. Whit and his wife, Maxine, have two children, 5-year-old Will and 3-year-old Roey. Lynn’s younger son, Charles Derrick, lives in Washington, D.C. His older son, Tripp Derrick Barnes, lives in New York City. On a recent visit, Tripp, an artist, made a drone video of Spring Pond Farm that can be viewed on the farm’s Facebook page. “They’d rather be here than at our house in Columbia,” says Sophia. In summer, the family can be found floating in the pond on inner tubes or playing on a homemade water slide. Will and Roey like to go treasure hunting in the woods.
“We never know what we’re going to find,” Sophia says. The Derricks have found objects like original mason jars, interesting pots, and old tools.
Visiting Spring Pond Farm, it is easy to see why the Derricks consider it a “gift from God.” The tree-lined dirt and gravel drive is worn from centuries of passing wheels, both mechanized and horse-drawn. In the clearing, four ancient white oak trees stand sentinel before the old Palmetto Academy schoolhouse as they have for hundreds of years, their limbs twirled ballerina-like into the heavens.