In Your Town: Bishopville, South Carolina

Tyler Ryan went to Bishopville to meet the Button King, explore the history, and find out about the legend of the Lizzard Man

If you have ever heard of The Button Man, the Cotton Museum, or even the Lizard Man, you canâ??t say you arenâ??t familiar with Bishopville, South Carolina.

Bishopville, named after Jacques Bishop in the late 1700â??s, is located smack dap between Columbia and Florence, and Hartsville and Sumter. Boasting an in-city population of under 4,000, Bishopville serves as the Lee County seat.

When you roll into the town, just off I-20, it looks like many small towns in the Palmetto Stateâ?|a couple gas stations, a Hardees (With possibly the biggest sign in the world), and buildings that come alive with history.

Speaking of history, Bishopville is proud to have several ties to days gone by. One of the first buildings that pops up when you enter the historic district is the Opera House. The building has seen several generations, from serving as a court house, to a furniture store, and since the late 1980â??s, the home of the Lee County Arts Commission. With an art gallery, meeting rooms, and a large ball room, the Opera House continues to serve the community.

The history continues around the corner from the Opera House, with the South Carolina Cotton Museum. The museum is one of the finest collections of original artifacts, period representations, and education related to the industry that has endured generations. From the rise and fall of the Boll Weevil to the introduction of aviationâ?|not to mention the fact that cotton is found in just about everything we come in contact withâ?|yes, ever our foodâ?|the Cotton Museum is a must see on your way through town.

One of the best parts about exploring new communities are the surprises that you find around every corner, and in some cases, just down the hall. After we toured the history of cotton, Jenson Cox, our host, took us down the hall to the Bishopville Veterans Museum. After merging the local VFW and American Legions, this special place us packedâ?|and I mean packedâ?|full of military history, artifacts, uniforms, flags, books, weapons, and of course, honor. With nearly everything from a Nazi flag signed by the Americanâ??s that took it down to a tribute to World War I, complete with a machine gun dating back to the era, the history drips from every uniform and picture.

Bishopville also is large in outdoor activities, with the Lee State Park just down the street from the historical district. Since 1935, the area has been the destination for hiking, biking, water sports, and even a fantastic place to explore on horseback.

16,333. The number of buttons that Dalton Stevens sewed on a suit, creating his rise to the thrown as the Button King. The King, who suffers from chronic insomnia, says he started sewing buttons as a way to pass the time in the wee hours of the night. Twenty-five at a time, he began stitching buttons of all shapes, sizes and colors to one of his favorite outfits. Not content with a simple suitâ?|I mean, who would beâ?|Stevens went on to cover 2 cars, 2 coffins (Yes coffins), an entire bathroom, instruments, hates, and various other items with buttons. His discipline has landed him in the company of Johnny Carson, Dave Letterman, Geraldo, and even Don Emery.

The King, as it were, proudly displays his passion at the museum in his front yard, just off highway 34. He doesnâ??t charge anyone to come in and look around, but does accept donations, and sells DVDâ??s of his adventures, and his CD of button related tunes.

Bishopville, although rich with history, and also looking ahead to the future, with several programs aimed to attract businesses to the downtown area, and surrounding community. The Lee County Chamber, after taking a year to reorganize, re-opened in 2014. According to Chamber Director Jina Williams, they already has nearly 70 members, on their way to an eventual goal of 250.

Lee County Council Chairman Travis Windham says with continued efforts to make Lee County and Bishopville a destination, many are looking for a bright economic future for the community.

The next time you are passing through Lee County, take a moment to pull off the highway, meet the Button King, check out the museums, and if you run into the Lizard Man, give him my contact info. I would love to do the interview.

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