Yemassee's The Week the Women Went: best subplot of the little town that could

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comAugust 16, 2012 

In this file photo taken in July, women residents of Yemassee practice leaving town during a rehearsal for the television show "The Week the Women Went." The five-day series, the first episode of which airs tonight on Lifetime, chronicles how the men and children of the town survived for seven days taking care of business while also completing a community project with the women away.

It's the biggest thing to hit Yemassee since the fire at Harold's Country Club.

It's bigger than when the men in town discovered shrimp baiting. It's bigger than the night a woman in an old Oldsmobile hit an odd-looking animal that turned out to be a pygmy hippopotamus escaped from a private plantation.

This week, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Variety -- the list goes on -- turned their eyes to the little town on the railroad tracks at the four corners of the Lowcountry, where Beaufort, Hampton, Jasper and Colleton counties come together.

Yemassee is now starring in a five-week reality television show that debuted Tuesday night on the Lifetime network. "The Week the Women Went" shows what happened in the town of 1,027 when more than 100 women boarded Amtrak's Silver Meteor for a week at a Florida resort, leaving the men and children behind.

BBC Worldwide Productions bills it as "a social experiment of biblical proportions."

But didn't we know by the fourth chapter of Genesis that men need women, women need men and children need whippings?

The big-city reviewers say children carry the show. They like the 4-year-old who says, "Daddy, I'm going to play. Just don't mess with my coffee."

Insiders say more drama is yet to come over the next four Tuesday nights, with many subplots erupting in the next episode.

But the real subplot is what the TV show has already done for Yemassee.

For years, the town where for half a century more than 500,000 Marine Corps recruits got off the train en route to Parris Island has wanted to polish links to its history. It wanted to rejuvenate a downtown some called an eyesore. They think it will help small businesses around the only train stop between Charleston and Savannah, serving 13,500 passengers a year.

The Yemassee Revitalization Corp. was formed, and its first target was to renovate the train depot. It bought the building from CSX for $1, and the land with parking lot for $7,500. In four years, it had raised $87,000 of $252,000 needed for the first phase of renovation.

BBC producers wanted the renovation to be part of the show -- a project for the men left at home. They wanted the whole job to take place during the week the women were gone.

Yemassee found out in June 2011 that it got the show, winning out over 100 other towns. The women left town on July 30. That gave the nine-member Revitalization Corp. board about a month to raise $165,000, find a contractor, pick colors, and check off a long to-do list. BBC kicked in $33,000. Others were generous, excited to seize a rare moment and put Yemassee on the map. In the end, two board members, chairwoman Paula Flowers and Melvin Lane, personally signed a bank note for the last $43,000.

Brunson Construction Co. of Hampton and its president, Wally Hiers, took the job, bidding $25,000 under previous estimates, and coming in $3,000 under budget.

In the final episode, the women of Yemassee will pull back into the heart of town on the Silver Meteor. They will be greeted at the depot by men with wet paint on their hands.

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  3. Yemassee buys train depot, the cornerstone of town redevelopment

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