Portrait from the Greenwood Evening Index, March 3, 1910
As has become the custom the past five years, the final posting of the year is devoted to an especially odd named political figure, and of the hundred or so names featured here over the past year, Creswell Archimedes Calhoun Waller is by far the most unusual. Odd name notwithstanding, Waller was for over five decades a business and political power player in Greenwood, South Carolina, eventually seeing that city become the county seat of Greenwood County in 1897. A one-term member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Waller won election as the first state senator from Greenwood after it became a county and later was elected to a second term. In addition to politics, Waller also had a lasting impact as an educational benefactor, being a prime mover in the Lander Female College's move to Greenwood, and was a member of that institution's board of trustees.
The son of Albert and Jane Elizabeth (Creswell) Waller, Creswell Archimedes Calhoun "Criss" Waller was born in Greenwood on June 22, 1839. Receiving his first name as it was his mother's maiden name, Waller was bestowed his two middle names in honor of Greek mathematician and academic Archimedes and former Vice-President John C. Calhoun, who at the time of Waller's birth was serving as U.S. Senator from South Carolina. One of eleven children, Waller wouldn't be the only child in the family blessed with a curious name, with his brothers Peleus Augustus, Codrus, and Cadmus Garlington Waller receiving unusual names of their own. Referred to by family and friends as "Criss", Waller's formative education took place in Greenwood (then a part of the Abbeville district) and in the late 1850s enrolled at the Furman University in Greenville.
"Criss" Waller would graduate from Furman in 1860 with his Master of Arts Degree, and in the year following volunteered for service in Co. F. (Secession Guards) of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment. His time with that unit saw him in action "through the campaigns of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and North Georgia, as a member of McLaws division and Longstreet's corps, up to and including the battle of Chickamauga." Waller's war service from 1861-1863 saw him in action at several of the war's most heated battles, including the First Battle of Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, both battles of Chancellorsville, Brandy Station, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, the Battle of the Crater, Deep Bottom, and Mechanicsville. Nearly killed by an unexploded shell at Mechanicsville, Waller carried the bullet with him for the remainder of his life and was put out of service for six weeks recuperation.
Having been promoted to captain following meritorious service at the battle of the Crater, Waller was later made a second lieutenant in the 64th Georgia Infantry, with which he would serve through the remainder of the war. In February 1864 Waller took part in the Battle of Ocean Pond in Florida and during that engagement lost his elder brother, Peleus Augustus Waller. Criss Waller was subsequently promoted to first lieutenant in his brother's stead, and in December 1864 was made commander of Co. G of the 64th Georgia Infantry. In April 1865 Waller surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse with the remainder of his company, and in addition to his brother Peleus, suffered the death of two other brothers during wartime, Robert Aurelius and James Leonard.
After his discharge from service Criss Waller married on February 1, 1866 to Mary Elizabeth Vance (1845-1927), to whom he was wed for over fifty years. The couple would remain childless. Returning to Greenwood in the year of his marriage, Waller found the town markedly changed from when he last saw it, with the "community depressed and conditions unfavorable for business enterprises." Resolving to make his name in local business, Waller joined with his brother Cadmus and I.V. Gaillard in establishing a mercantile firm in Greenwood, and after purchasing Gaillard's interest in the business the firm (now called Waller and Waller) "was the first to buy a car of South Carolina fertilizer here."
In addition to merchandising Waller was a real estate broker in Greenwood and held a keen interest in the layout of Greenwood's roads and landscape. A firm adherent to the original town square/plaza layout for the town, Waller saw the need for an improved road system, advocating for the opening of new streets, which in turn would connect to the "bigger field of railroads." This, in turn, would lead to a railway route between Greenwood and Augusta, Georgia, with the eventual construction and opening of the Knoxville and Augusta Railroad, which was completed in 1882.
Creswell A.C. Waller began his political career at the local level, being elected as intendant (mayor) of Greenwood in 1872. He would serve at least three more terms in that office in 1879, 1886 and 1887, and in 1888 was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives from the Abbeville District. Waller's service in the 1889-91 session saw him sit on the committee on Railroads and in 1890 made an unsuccessful run for the state senate, being defeated by Confederate veteran and incumbent senator Robert Reid Hemphill by just 75 votes. Though his senate candidacy may have come to naught, his previous service in the house was lauded in the April 9, 1890 issue of the Abbeville Press and Banner, which notes that:
"Since his election, his work in that honorable body has fully developed that fact. His untiring efforts in behalf of reform and retrenchment were commendable in an eminent degree and should be rewarded with the highest County position. He is a close observer, deep thinker, good reasoner, hard worker, liberal in his views of economy and fearless in giving vent to his thoughts for the good of the whole people."
From the Abbeville Press and Banner, April 9, 1890.
With his boosting of improved roads and the overall layout of Greenwood, Criss Waller was a firmly established figure in that town in 1897 when it was officially made the county seat of then recently formed Greenwood County, developed from portions of Abbeville and Edgefield Counties. With the establishment of Greenwood County (and three other counties) in early 1897, the citizens of these new areas were allowed to elect their first senators and representatives to the state legislature, and that year Creswell A.C. Waller was the man selected by the Greenwood citizenry as their first state senator.
Elected for a session that initially began in January 1897, Waller took his seat during the start of the second session of the Senate which began in January 1898 and served until 1900. Named as chairman of the committee on Enrolled Bills, Waller also sat on the committees on Claims and Grievances, Finance, Immigration, and Privileges and Elections. During his first senate term, Waller proved invaluable when it came to the field of local education, serving as chairman of the board of trustees for the Greenwood graded schools, and is remarked as "really the founder of the present graded school system of Greenwood."
Waller's dedication to education saw his name forever connected to the history of the Lander College, originally named the Williamston Female College. This all-female university in Williamston, South Carolina had been established in 1872 and during his term, Waller became a prominent booster for the relocation of the college to Greenwood, to aide in "educational opportunities for women" in the still young county. With the backing of other distinguished Greenwood citizens, Waller's work paid off and in the early 1900s college founder Samuel Lander agreed to the move, with the college, now called Lander College, opening its doors in 1904. A member of that college's board of trustees for a number of years, Lander's Waller Hall was named in his honor. Lander College (now Lander University) is still in existence today and in 1943 became a co-ed institution.
In 1908 Waller was returned to the state senate for a second term, and during the 1909-13 session chaired the Federal Relations committee and was a member of the committees on Claims and Grievances, Contingent Accounts, and the Dispensary. Criss Waller continued residence in Greenwood following his last Senate term and would have a popular thoroughfare in the city, Waller Avenue, named after him. Curiously, Waller is also recorded as having fancied cats, reportedly keeping 30 or so cats on his property. Shortly before his death, Criss Waller was discovered unconscious in his room and was admitted to the Greenwood Hospital, where he succumbed, "following an attack of urina", on May 5, 1920, aged 80. He was survived by his wife Mary "Molly" Vance Waller and was interred at the Magnolia Cemetery in that city.
Waller's birthdate is misgiven in his obit from the Abbeville Press and Banner, May 7, 1920.