History of Sherwood Forest Neighborhood

This is in response to your letter of June 7, 2005, seeking certain information about the area of Columbia known as Sherwood Forest. I understand the the Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association has or will post information about itself and the neighborhood on a website.

To help me answer your questions the best I can, on June 10, 2005, I paid a visit to my aunt Elizabeth Belser Fuller, in Clemson. She is the oldest child of William Gordon Belser and moved to 530 Kilbourne Road, with her father, stepmother and five siblings (including my mother), around 1920. She has a good recollection of growing up in the area and was a big help in answering some of your questions. Further, from 1953 until 1965, I lived at 4000 Bloomwood Road. Consequently, I have both pretty clear personal recollections of the area from the 1950’s forward, plus oral information I remember from conversations with my late mother, Caroline Gordon Belser Grimball.

As to the specific inquiries, sometime in the World War I time frame, say 1914 to 1918, William Gordon Belser purchased 30 rural acres east of Columbia for purposes of building a new home for his wife and their family of six children. The property was well removed from the city and was connected to downtown Columbia by a dirt road; and my mother said that a trolley track ran part of the distance to the property.

During that same time frame my grandfather also purchased an interest in another 100 acres adjacent to, and south of, the 30 acre tract. These two tracts comprise what is now generally called Sherwood Forest. The 100 acre tract was acquired jointly by William Gordon Belser and his law partner, William Davis Melton. I don’t know who the grantor was, but public records should show it.

Mr. Melton was a well established and older lawyer, who in 1898 had married Caroline Baker Belser, Willam Gordon Belser’s only sister. Caroline Belser Melton died on May 6, 1904. Thereafter, Mr. Melton married Miss Meta Loeb of Charleston. William Gordon Belser and William Davis Melton practiced law together for many years.

In 1921, Mr. Melton became president of the University of South Carolina, serving as such until his death in 1926. Either by his will or by an earlier gift, Mr. Melton’s daughter Caroline Melton Bristow inherited his interest in the 100 acres. Consequently, it was William Gordon Belser, with the advice and consent of Caroline Melton Bristow, who developed the 100 acre tract in the 1940’s and thereafter. The 30 acre tract, which was owned solely by William Gordon Belser, was kept undeveloped until the early 1950’s when Bloomwood Road was cut through it. Thereafter, two houses were built on Bloodwood Road by family member, the first being 4000 Bloomwood Road into which my family moved in 1953. I recall several other houses being built on Bloomwood Road in the 1950’s. After the death of William Gordon Belser in January 1961, the 30 acre tract gradually was developed over the next 30+ years, into its present circumstance.

You asked about the Belser family. It is a large family, mostly of German and Scotch-Irish descent. The founder of the Belser Family in South Carolina was Christian Belser, who came to this country at some time prior to or during 1775. Family tradition says that he came from the Duchy of Wurtemberg, though no definite proof is at hand on this point.

William Gordon Belser was originally from the Summerton area of Clarendon County, South Carolina. He was born on Woodside Plantation on October 8, 1875. He was educated at Summerton High School, and at the University of South Carolina, receiving an A.B. degree with the highest honors. (I clearly recall that his three piece business suit typically displayed a gold chain with a Phi Beta Kappa key on one end and a gold pocket watch on the other.) He did post-graduate work in English literature at Johns Hopkins University, and then studied law at the University of South Carolina, receiving an LL.B. degree in 1900. Following receipt of his law degree he began a very successful real estate practice in the firm of Melton and Belser.

The 130 or so acres known as Sherwood Forest were, in the early 1900’s, essentially woodlands. The name “Sherwood Forest” was selected by William Gordon Belser, drawn from his love of English literature. There was a pond on the 30 acre tract known then as Poor’s Pond (it was built by a Mr. Poor). The pond remains, being located within the W.G. Belser Arboretum between Bloomwood Road and Wilmot Avenue. Even in the 1950’s it received surface flow from upstream, and below the pond were several springs. The pond’s outflow and the spring’s waters all flowed along a creek bed, down-gradient into Gills Creek. Unfortunately, at this point in time piping of surface flow has all but dried up Poor’s Pond and the springs.

I know of no colonial, revolutionary or civil war history. However, at times in the area’s history American Indians used the natural springs and had encampments on the high ground near where Bloomwood Road is located. As a young person I picked up many arrow heads (“points”, more correctly) in the plowed fields of that area, as did my mother and her siblings before me.

In the 1920’s the only house recalled by Mrs. Fuller on the 100 acre tract was a tenant house occupied by a black man. There were several small crop fields near the house. There was also a house on the property now called Cameron Court (at Poinsettia and Devine Streets). It was occupied by a black caretaker named Tom Jones. Sometime around 1940, Poinsettia Street was extended from Devine Street southward into the tract, to connect with the lower section of Blossom Street, and a house was built by William Gordon Belser’s son, William Gordon Belser, Jr., at that location. That white, split level house, on the south side of Blossom Street immediately adjacent to the Arboretum, may have been the first house of any size built on the 100 acre tract. The first house build on the 30 acre tract, of course, was 530 Kilbourne Road, built circa 1920, and occupied by William Gordon Belser and family until sold following his death.

Your letter contains some questions about the structure and planning of the development of Sherwood Forest. I do not have information of that type. If any comes to my attention, I will try to share it.

As you know, my sister Mary Elliot Grimball Tilden and family live at 4040 Bloomwood Road, and I will send a copy of this letter for information. Also, I would be remise to not note that Caroline Melton Bristow, the co-owner/developer of Sherwood Forest, had three children: Judge Walter J. Bristow, Jr.; Caroline “Caro” Bristow Marchant (Mrs. T. Eston Marchant); and William Melton Bristow, Judge Walter Bristow, and Caro Bristow Marchant live here in Columbia and may be able to assist you in your research.

I hope this information will be of some use. Please feel free to telephone me if you have further questions.

John B. Grimball

A correspondence received in June 2005