Gerhard Spieler, Lowcountry historian, writer and newspaper columnist, dies at 92

cconley@islandpacket.comJuly 16, 2012 

Gerhard Spieler, a German native who spent nearly four decades researching and writing about the Lowcountry's historical people and events -- many of which were catalogued in weekly columns in The Beaufort Gazette -- has died.

He was 92.

Spieler died Saturday at home in Beaufort from an undisclosed illness, according to Ruth de Treville Spieler, his wife of 36 years.

Known as a prodigious researcher with a vast collection of historical documents, Spieler wrote extensively about local churches, cemeteries, military forts and prominent local families. His research also included the area's African American history, including churches and cemeteries. Spieler's weekly column ran from 1972 to 2007 in the Gazette, and most recently he wrote the "Historically Speaking" column for the Sea Island Scene, a tourist publication distributed in greater Beaufort.

Spieler also wrote for a Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce magazine. Several of those articles were compiled in the 2008 book "Beaufort, South Carolina: Pages from the Past." He also is credited as an author of the 1991 book "Ebb Tide-Flood Tide: Beaufort County, Jewel of the Low Country."

At the time of his death, he was working with local historian Lawrence Rowland on the second and third volumes of "The History of Beaufort County South Carolina," which haven't yet been published.

"Gerhard has assembled an immense amount of local history in his home," said Rowland, professor emeritus of history at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. "For several sections of the book, I relied on his research, his collections and his advice."

Wise, who curates the Parris Island Museum at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, said Spieler "in many ways ... popularizes history, and his articles were things people read every week and looked forward to reading."

Former Gazette Editor Jim Cato described Spieler as "a man who was very dedicated to his community and the history of his community."

"He was always the go-to man when anybody needed information about the community," said Cato, who retired in 2008. "It was recorded in notebooks all over his house, and he could find it at a moment's notice."

Spieler was born in 1920 in Ballenstedt, Germany, but moved to Linden, N.J., with his parents in 1930. He was drafted by the U.S. Army and served in various non-combat roles during World War II. He left the Army after four years with an honorable discharge.

Spieler moved to Beaufort in about 1967 when Tenneco opened a plant nearby. Not long afterward, when the company ceased operations there, Spieler decided to stay. He later worked for Beaufort County.

"He just fell in love with Beaufort," Ruth Spieler said Monday during an interview at the family's home. "There was just so much history, and it hadn't been researched, and that was what he loved to do."

Friends and colleagues also described a man keenly devoted to his wife, whose family can trace its roots to Jamestown.

The couple, both of whom had children from previous marriages, were married in 1976. From then until last year, when his health declined, Spieler served his wife a breakfast of tea and toast each morning.

"The time when you are happy with someone, it just goes like the wind," Ruth Spieler said. "We were just lucky."

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  1. The best of Spieler: Hessians and Tories, Nov. 2, 2003
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