Joggling board returns to roots

A new joggling board sits outside the Gilmerton, a Scottish manor house where the joggling board is believed to have been invented. Beaufort resident Earl McMillen III, a descendent of the family that owns the house, gave it to his relatives as a present.

Almost two centuries after its invention, the Lowcountry's iconic piece of outdoor furniture has returned to its roots.

A new joggling board, the wiggly bench that graces hundreds of Charleston piazzas, gardens and lawns, now sits outside Gilmerton, the Scottish manse where it is believed to have been first imagined.

The story of its arrival in America --and its recent trip back across the pond -- is as long as the pine board held up by two rocking supports.

And it can be explained best by two people.

One is Tommy Thornhill, the Charleston businessman who kept joggling boards alive first by building them in his basement and then by joining with Edward Fulghum to create the Old Charleston Joggling Board Co. in 1970.

The other is Earl McMillen III, a Beaufort resident, classic yacht restorer and history buff who first learned of the board when he saw one at a Georgetown plantation and later learned of its connection to his ancestors.

The story (or legend, more accurately) begins in the early 1800s, when Cleland Kinloch of Weehaw Plantation near Georgetown built a new plantation called Acton in Sumter County, according to a history compiled by Thornhill's company.

After his wife died, Mary Benjamin Kinloch Huger arrived to help her brother care for the household. She suffered from rheumatism and wrote her relatives at Gilmerton about the difficulty it caused her.

That's when her Scottish cousins apparently sent a model of a joggling board, suggesting she could bounce gently on it for exercise.

She had one built by a plantation carpenter following the model, and the novel piece of furniture spread across the new state.

Thornhill says fewer joggling boards were made after World War II because it was tougher to find suitable wood. In 1959, he began making them in his basement with hand tools -- part hobby, part business and partly an effort to keep this unique bit of state heritage alive.

"It's a tough business because we hand-select the wood (from suitable southern pine trees). You can't just get the wood at Lowe's," Thornhill says. "Nothing bounces like the sap in the pine tree."

McMillen says he bought a joggling board as a Christmas present for his wife years ago but only recently read the history of the board and realized its link to him and his wife.

McMillen says his fifth great-grandfather, Francis Kinloch, was the brother of Cleland and Mary Kinloch Huger.

"Mary Kinloch was married to and later widowed by Benjamin Huger, who was the brother of Daniel Huger, my wife's fifth great-grandfather," he says. "So from our perspective, the joggling board history and the Gilmerton connection, were very meaningful."

His ancestors acquired Gilmerton in 1655 and have managed to hold onto it since (the mansion currently is available for rent to vacationing families, and the McMillen family stayed there during their overseas trip earlier this summer).

"The house is almost exactly as it was when my eighth through 10th great-grandfathers lived there," he says. "The paintings of those we descend directly from are still hanging on the same walls as when James Kinloch (a young son of the second Baronet) went off to South Carolina to make his way."

McMillen says he has no idea if a joggling board ever was made at Gilmerton. He made sure that changed, but laments it arrived just a few days after he left.

"Unfortunately, we weren't there to bounce on it together," he says.