French Huguenots settled the region in the early 1700s and brought the name Abbeville with them from a small town in the home country about 20 miles from the Atlantic coastline. The county was formed in 1758 and stretches from the Savannah River to the Saluda River across the upstate; its namesake town has been county seat since it was formed in the late 18th century.
Abbeville is often referred to as the “birthplace and the deathbed of the Confederacy.” The first meeting to discuss a possible secession from the United States of America was held here on November 22, 1860. Scheduled for Court Square, the meeting was moved to a nearby hillside, known since as Secession Hill, as the crowd grew to thousands. Five years later, on the night of May 2, 1865 Confederate President Jefferson Davis arrived in Abbeville at about 10 a.m., six days after General Robert E. Lee had urged the evaluation of the disbanding capital of Richmond and General Joseph E. Johnston had surrendered to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman at Greensboro, N.C. While in town he would meet with Confederate Secretary of War Generals John C. Breckinridge, Braxton Bragg and five brigade generals at the Burt home. Captured eight days later, it would be the last ever war council held by the leaders of the Southern Rebellion.
Downtown Abbeville, little touched by incursions of manufacturing and commercial growth, has always centered around its Court Square and that is where we begin our exploration, with a trio of monuments...
Robert McGowan Hill put in five terms as Mayor of Abbeville in the 1880s, during which time this alarm bell was acquired.
WALK SOUTH DOWN THE MIDDLE OF COURT SQUARE.
The monument is actually Abbeville’s second Confederate monument. The first was erected August 23, 1906 but was damaged by fire from a Christmas tree display on December 28, 1991. The damaged marker was donated to the Southern Culture Centre by the local UDC chapter. The current marker was erected on December 14, 1996. It was hand-carved by Italian sculptor Dario Franco Rossi. The monument remembers the Confederate cause and the “Five Colonels” who met here in the dying days of the rebellion.
National Humane Alliance Fountain
This is one of 125 watering troughs/fountains presented to communities around the country in early 1900s by National Humane Alliance with an endowment from Herman Lee Ensign. His wife, Minnie Maddern Fiske, an actress and activist to improve the lot of workhorses, donated proceeds from her performances to fund these watering troughs. Abbeville’s 5-ton fountain is one of the few still in its original location, installed as watering trough in 1912. The ingenious design of water flowing from lions’ mouth into basin of polished Maine granite trimmed with bronze allows horses to drink from the upper bowl and cats and dogs to imbibe from the cups at the bottom.
CROSS OVER TO THE WEST SIDE OF THE SQUARE.
Old Bank/Welcome Center
107 Court Square
This two-story, stuccoed brick bank building was designed by S. Henry James to house the first Bank of South Carolina in the Upstate, later the National Bank of Abbeville. It is one of oldest remaining buildings on the Square after a series of downtown fires in the 1870s destroyed much of downtown. The first story bays are defined by stuccoed pilasters. Above each of the first story bays is a semicircular plaster decoration. It remained a bank until 1998 when it was donated to the City and converted to a Visitor Center. On display are 1922 paintings by Wilbur Kurtz that once adorned the bank lobby. They depict a hundred years of early Abbeville history.
CONTINUE WALKING SOUTH TO PICKENS STREET.
The Press and Banner
107 West Pickens Street
A weekly paper called The Banner showed up on town streets in 1844. In one form or another, currently the Press and Banner, it has served Abbeville ever since.
TURN LEFT ON WEST PICKENS STREET.
101 West Pickens Street
This storefront dating to 1865 features a prominent parapet at the roofline.
The Belmont Inn
104 East Pickens Street
With the coming of a new century, city leaders realized the need for a “new and modern hotel” and in August 1903 it became a reality when the $30,000, Spanish-styled “Eureka” opened with 34 guest rooms. During the days of vaudeville and the great road show, companies traveled between New York and Miami stayed at the Eureka, Abbeville being a mid-point stop. The Eureka operated for many years serving the railroad, textile industries and quests of the Opera House before closing in 1972. In December 1983, restoration began and transcended the hotel into the twenty-five room Belmont Inn with private baths and all modern conveniences.
TURN LEFT AND WALK NORTH ON THE EAST SIDE OF COURT SQUARE.
Abbeville Opera House
100 Court Square
When the Abbeville Opera House opened in 1908. connected by a brick passageway to the the new courthouse next door, the buildings were acclaimed “equal in beauty of architecture and modern conveniences of any in the state.” The design of the Opera House, by William Augustus Edwards, closely copied Atlanta’s Grant Theatre and Richmond’s Lyric, with a huge 7,500 square-foot stage to accommodate large touring casts. The Opera House has unusual brickwork on the main floor, which includes a starburst design around keystones, an elaborate entrance crowned by large diminishing stone slabs, masonry quoins, and a large entablature with dentils and fretwork. The Opera House drew prominent attractions such as the Ziegfield Follies, George White Scandals, Jimmy Durante, and Fanny Brice. According to local tradition, William Jennings Bryan spoke from the Opera House stage during a campaign for President of the United States.
Abbeville County Courthouse
102 Court Square
A litany of ills have befallen Abbeville County courthouses after the initial wooden frame building was pulled down in 1825. The second courthouse, a two-story brick building, had to be demolished after the discovery of workmen’s fraud, kaolin was used instead of lime in the mortar. A third courthouse, designed by the illustrious Robert Mills who resided in town for a while, was deemed unsafe when cracks appeared in a wall and one corner began sinking. Its replacement was destroyed by fire in 1872. A fifth courthouse lasted scarcely a generation. This sixth and present courthouse, designed in theBeaux Arts classical style by Edwards & Walter of Atlanta, was dedicated in 1908. As with William Augustus Edwards’ other county courthouses, Abbeville’s incorporates heraldic devices and symbols of justice to emphasize the symbolic role of county government. Edwards used colossal orders, formal symmetry, lions’ heads, swords, tomes and other explicit or implied symbols of law, reason, truth and power in his courthouses, and many of these features are evident in the Abbeville County Courthouse.
northeast corner of Court Square at Washington Street
David Poliakoff came to America from Russia in 1896 and peddled his first goods on foot and then by wagon in South Carolina. On February 19, 1900, at age 25, he launched his first store on Court Square. As a purveyor of fine hats and clothes and shoes Poliakoff’s catered to a clientele that extended across the upcountry and beyond the Savannah River into Georgia. The business passed through the family until it closed in 2000, just five months short of its 100th anniversary. A family member, Dr. Samuel Poliakoff, assembled one of the best public collections of contemporary Western native American ceramics, bronzes, weavings, and paintings outside the Southwest United States and donated it for display in the Abbeville County Library on South Main Street.
County Savings Bank
109 Washington Street
The mid-block County Savings Bank building was constructed around 1873; the dueling Ionic columns came along later.
TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON STREET AND TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET TO EXIT COURT SQUARE ON THE NORTH END.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church
102 East Pinckney Street at North Main Street
When John J. Enright settled in the Abbeville area he purchased multiple land plots, one of which was his estate that he willed to the Catholic Diocese in Charleston for the construction of a church. Construction was completed on the Norman-Gothic church, the fourth in town, in 1885 became a reality and was dedicated on October 24, 1885. It is noted for its beautiful stained glass windows. Over the vestibule is a large rose window, in the center of which is a dove bearing an olive branch. The three figured stained glass windows in the sanctuary represent the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Saint Joseph. All of the glass is late 19th century and of exceptional quality. The bell in the tower was donated by Trinity Episcopal Church in Abbeville.
Abbeville Presbyterian Church
301 North Main Street
The Abbeville Presbyterian Church was organized on April 19, 1868 with fifty-nine charter members. The Sanctuary and adjacent rooms were built in 1888 at a cost just under $14,000.
305 North Main Street
This 1888 Queen Anne house was the home of Gen. Samuel McGowan until his death. McGowan, a lawyer, Confederate general, and jurist born in Laurens County, had moved to Abbeville in 1841. He was an officer during the Mexican War and during the Civil War he commanded a South Carolina brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia. After the war McGowan bought the house on this lot, built by Colonel James Perrin in 1860. It burned in 1867; this house was built on the old foundation. McGowan served as a justice on the South Carolina Supreme Court from 1879-93. The Barksdale family bought the house in 1905, and WWII General William E. Barksdale was the last to live here. In 1998 his nephew J.D. Bundy gave it to the Abbeville County Historical Society as its headquarters.
First Baptist Church
307 North Main Street
The Baptist church in Abbeville organized in 1871 in a building on the corner of West Pinckney and Church streets. The current Greek temple-like sanctuary was built on the site where the Presbyterian church stood and burned in 1887.
400 North Main Street
On May 2, 1865, Confederate president Jefferson Davis held his final cabinet meeting in this mansion. After the fall of Richmond, the government convened here where it was decided that Davis should continue to Washington, Georgia, where conditions would dictate his further course of action. Meanwhile the wagon train of specie would be divided, with $25 each going to the officers and men. Davis’s flight lasted only another eight days before he was apprehended on the anniversary of Stonewall Jackson’s death, a date that came to be celebrated in the South as Memorial Day. Davis’s host for the final war council was ex-congressman Armistead Burt, who lived in this Greek Revival plantation house for six years in the 1860s. It had been built in the 1830s by David Lesley, a planter, lawyer and Abbeville judge. A granite monument and cannon commemorate this historic meeting.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO PINCKNEY STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN LEFT ON CHURCH STREET.
Trinity Episcopal Church
101 North Church Street
The Gothic Trinity Episcopal Church, marked by a 125-foot steeple, dominates the Abbeville skyline. Built by a congregation made prosperous by the economy of cotton in the antebellum period, it was constructed in 1859-60 to replace its 1843 wooden structure. The congregation engaged Columbia architect George E. Walker who found his inspiration in the Gothic cathedrals of France. Designed to hold 400 persons, the church was consecrated on November 4, 1860 and still retains many of its original elements. The organ built by John Baker of Charleston dates back to 1860. The bell in the tower is also original and survived repeated Confederate requests to be melted down into cannon balls. The boxwood gardens were planted at the same time by Reverend Benjamin Johnson from the nursery at Pomaria, South Carolina.
TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT ON COURT SQUARE.