Remembering Harllee’s Bridge

To The Editor:
Going up Highway 9 from Dillon, S.C. is a crossroad we call Little Rock. Hang a right and in about one mile you come to a wide spot in the Little Pee Dee river called Harllee’s Bridge.
In the 1940s and ‘50s, that was THE swimming hole for the folks in Dillon County, Rowland, N.C and that area.
On Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you might see 30 or 40 people enjoying “the river” as it was known.
The water there was almost black, cypress trees here and there, and a small sandy beach providing a nice gradual entrance before you got to the deep water.
The bridge itself was anywhere from 10 feet or so above the water and usually 12 feet deep in the middle of the river.
The favorite diving spot was the bridge itself. I can still see Deward Fowler doing his perfect one-and-a-half from the rail.
Mrs. Minnie Lee Kerr would swim up-river to the bend, turn over on her back and float back down the bridge.
Occasionally, a church group I would call “deep water Baptists,” would hold a baptismal ceremony, and we would clear out for them and politely wait up on the bridge. I think people were more respectful back then.
On the far side of the river stood a tall cypress tree where someone had driven large spikes for climbing.
Buddy, Melvin, Floyd, and I had to try jumping from the lower limb at least once. It was one of those situations where you could say it was 15 feet up and 100 feet down. A local fellow named Butch fashioned a dive he called the “Torpedo Shallow Dive” in which he stood at attention up in the tree, hands by his side and dove headfirst. Sometimes, he landed on his head and sometimes not.
Funny how we progressed as swimmers and divers—one of us would try something, usually Melvin, then the rest of us would be too embarrassed not to do the same.
The first step was learning to swim, then being able to swim across the river, then to dive from the bridge.
I can’t remember anybody every drowning or getting seriously hurt in all the years we swam, dived, and played there.
Speaking of playing, if we wanted a break from swimming, we could walk a few hundred yards to the sand dunes, careful to avoid sandspurs and broken glass.
There was a beautiful white sand where we could romp and run and burn the bottoms of our feet. Some say that’s where the ocean shore was eons ago.
Harllee’s Bridge was much more than a swimming hole. The beauty of it and the memories it provided are eternal. A classmate of my sister was dying of cancer and he requested that his ashes be tosses off Harllee’s Bridge because “that’s where I had the most fun in my life.”
Well, we all know how life changes through the years. I visited relatives in Dillon recently and felt the urge to pay a visit to the river. The little beach was covered with trash, and I couldn’t locate that famous cypress tree.
My vision of heaven would include the aroma from gardenias, a huge life oak tree and a chunk of the Little Pee Dee River flowing by. A simpler time, simple pleasures. But what more could a boy ask for.
Buddy, Floyd, and Melvin are no longer with us, but I still have the memories.
Joe Frank Williams
101 Tandy Court
Jamestown, NC