The county of Marlboro was established on March 2, 1785 and named for John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, who resided in Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England after one of the greatest military careers in British history. The site chosen for Marlboro’s first courthouse was on the banks of the Great Pee Dee River near Gardner’s Bluff. A few years later, it was moved a short distance inland and near the north bank of Crooked Creek where it crossed the old River Road. Its existence today has been wiped away, save for a granite marker.
As the county’s population grew away from the river, Welsh Baptist settlers in the region requested that a more central location for the courthouse and jail, a common early American tale. In December of 1819, the state General Assembly authorized the removal of the courthouse from the river to that requested more-handy location, along an old stagecoach road. This was on a high bluff above Crooked Creek. The town was named for South Carolina Governor Thomas Bennett, although it is certain he had never been in the village and likely that no one there knew him. Just the way things were done in those days; the new town would become a center of trade dependent upon the production of cotton.
As the Civil War was waning, Marlboro County was host to every unit of General William T. Sherman’s Union Army when it left Cheraw, crossed the Great Pee Dee River, and made its way to a final engagement in North Carolina. Bennettsville was captured March 6, 1865, by Major General Frank P. Blair, commanding general of the Union Army’s 17th Corps. Although some frame buildings, warehouses, and a few downtown structures were burned, Marlboro County’s courthouse was spared, giving this county one of the state’s oldest complete set of county records.
A core of town businessmen, their names still seen on street signs and buildings throughout Bennettsville, guided the town to prosperity in the coming years following Reconstruction. The arrival of the railroad did a great deal to lead development of the county as it made it possible to transport Marlboro-grown cotton to markets and mills far from her borders. By the 1890s, Marlboro County produced record harvests of cotton, corn and other grains. Timber brought additional revenue, and textile mills sprang up in the county. It was declared that Marlboro, boasted the “highest yields of cotton, the highest priced lands and as prosperous farmers as any part of the whole Cotton Belt.”
Much of the building stock around Bennettsville traces its history to those heady times around the coming of the 20th century. Noted professional architects called the town home and graced it with a variety of buildings not often seen in a South Carolina town of its size. Our walking tour will begin outside a pair of residences of the man who did more than any other to lay the groundwork for that prosperity...
D.D. McColl House
304 West Main Street
This two-story Queen Anne brick house, with prominent corner turret and wraparound one-story porch, was constructed in 1884 by Duncan Donald McColl. The house is constructed of yellow brick stained to simulate red brick. McColl brought the railroad to the county with the 50-mile South Carolina & Pacific and shortly afterwards he opened Marlboro County’s first bank. In 1897 he established the Bennettsville Cotton Mill - the town of McColl is named for him. The house now serves as the home of the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. Next door at #300 is an earlier McColl House. It was built in 1826 and was first owned by H.H. Covington. It was sold in 1871 to D.D. McColl, at the time a prominent Marlboro County lawyer. The McColls would live in this house until 1884. Still in the family a hundred years later, Hugh L. McColl, Jr., former Chairman and CEO of Bank of America, restored the house, relocated it next to the later house and donated it to Marlboro County in 1991.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE MCCOLL HOUSES, TURN LEFT AND WALK WEST ON MAIN STREET.
Thomas Memorial Baptist Church
308 West Main Street
This was the first church established in Bennettsville, back in the 1830s. This sanctuary, with a large belfry tower, arched entrances and impressive stained glass, was constructed in the 1890s.
J.L. Powers House
411 West Main Street
This fine example of a Neoclassical mansion was designed by local architect Ernest Richards on the edge of town in 1906. It features a quartet of two-story Ionic columns flanked by Ionic pillars supporting the expansive single-story porch.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ALONG MAIN STREET TO LIBERTY STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
4.Bank of Marlboro
104 South Liberty Street
This was the home of Marlboro County’s first bank, the Bank of Marlboro, founded by D.D. McColl in 1886. The bank remained under the direction of three generations of McColls until it was liquidated in 1939.
106 McColl Street at northeast corner of Liberty Street
One of only two three-story buildings in downtown, the lodge was executed in the Italian Renaissance style in brick in 1912. Decoration comes from horizontal banding and stone accents.
TURN LEFT ON MCCOLL STREET. TURN RIGHT ON BROAD STREET.
First Presbyterian Church
130 Broad Street
The impetus to establish a Presbyterian outpost in Bennettsville began in the Pee Dee Church, about five miles south of town, in 1852. A frame church was constructed on this site for a cost of $2,800. In 1905 the church was moved from the site to make room for a new sanctuary that was ready in August, 1907. After a Thanksgiving service that same year the new church burned to the ground. The replacement, designed in the Neoclassical style by Henry Harrall with a large Corinthian portico, was finished and dedicated on October 8, 1911.
151 Broad Street at southeast corner of Fayetteville Avenue
This two-story clapboard house of late Victorian styling is typical of homes in Bennettsville around the turn of the 20th century.
TURN LEFT ON FAYETTEVILLE AVENUE.
100 Fayetteville Avenue
In 1903 Alexander James Matheson brought Bennettsville its only example of the Beaux Arts style, popular nationally for monumental public buildings at the time. The two-story building features swags and dentils at the roof/wall junction and massive Ionic columns and pilasters. Matheson, a merchant with extensive real estate holdings in the PeeDee, named it Shiness for his paternal grandmother’s home in Sutherlandshire, Scotland.
TURN LEFT ON MARLBORO STREET.
northeast corner of Fayetteville Avenue and Marlboro Street
Harriett Beckwith Murchison built this school in 1902. Henry Harrall designed the Italian villa-style brick building with a three-story central bell tower, low hip roof and extensive interior and exterior decorative work. He showed the way inside with a wide Romanesque arch.
120 South Marlboro Street
Originally built for a hotel, this two-story brick structure from the early 1900s features a second story iron piazza. Designs are executed in contrasting colored brick.
123 South Marlboro Street
This 1902 Victorian dwelling festooned with Ionic pillars was the home of John Frank Kinney and his son Prentiss M. Kinney, both doctors. Donated to the Marlborough Historical Society in 1997, the museum features many exhibits including a Victorian parlor, Indian artifacts, farm implements and tools, military, textiles, and children’s toy room. A hollowed-out gum log which was the bed of Mason Lee, considered Marlboro County’s most eccentric citizen, is a highlight. The small white building in front of the museum was Dr. Kinney’s office and is now the Medical Museum.
121 South Marlboro Street, back off the street
Built in 1826 by one of Bennettsville’s earliest physicians, E.W. Jones, this home was occupied by another doctor, J. Beaty Jennings, from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. The J.J. Brown family lived in the dwelling from the 1930s until 1968. Thus, the name, Jennings-Brown House for the two families who resided the longest in the home. The most famous resident only stayed two days, however. Union troops used the home as headquarters on March 6th and 7th, 1865 under Union Major General Frank P. Blair Jr.’s command. The house is now part of the Marlboro County Historical Museum complex. Furnished with period antiques, a rosewood box grand piano featuring gold strings and a floral design is one of the century pieces displayed. A painted ceiling, known as the ‘Crown Jewel’ in one of the upstairs bedrooms, was discovered during the restoration of the home in the 1970s. Next door is another historic building contributing to the museum, the Bennettsville Female Academy that was built in the 1830s.
WALK OUT OF THE MUSEUM COMPLEX TO THE BACK ONTO PARSONAGE STREET. TURN LEFT AND TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET. WALK DOWN THE SOUTH SIDE.
402 East Main Street
The Queen Anne style of architecture swept into Bennettsville around 1890 as it was reaching it zenith of popularity around the country. This two-story clapboard house with a turret, turned balusters, shingles and gables is a noteworthy example.
404 East Main Street
Thomas Bouchier, an attorney and farmer, had this house built as a wedding presentfor his new bride with the proceeds from one cotton crop in 1886. The land was a wedding gift from his father-in- law, circuit court judge, C.P. Townsend, who served in the South Carolina House of Representatives for three terms. The house seen today dates to 1905, when the Bouchiers commissioned English architect Ernest Vincent Richards, just beginning a ten-year residence in town, to make additions to the home, including the thirty-eight columned wrap round veranda and semi-circular two-story Ionic portico. Richards was born in Plymouth, England, educated at Eton, and in 1877, was the last architect engagedto assist Constantino Brumidi, in completinghis allegoricalpainting entitled The Apotheosis of George Washington, located in the eye of the rotunda dome of the U.S. Capital in Washington, D.C. Now serving as an inn, the house takes its name from a family who resided here for 54 years in the 20th century.
508 East Main Street
Magnolia House, also known as the Johnson-Kinney House, is a fine example of a well-preserved late antebellum neoclassical, or “bracketed Greek Revival” home in rural South Carolina. Magnolia is a two-story frame house constructed in 1853 by Bennettsville lawyer, William Dalrymple Johnson. Johnson was a signer of the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession. Notable details of the structure include a one-story porch supported by ten Doric columns, which extends along the northern exposure and front portion of the eastern side. Also, matching double leaf, five paneled doors are at the front and rear entrances, framed by rectangular transoms and sidelights with unusual rectangular pane design. Boxed cornices are bracketed all around. Behind the house are a barn and the old slave quarters, which were built around the year 1853.
CROSS THE STREET AND TURN LEFT, WALKING UP MAIN STREET ON THE NORTH SIDE.
First United Methodist Church
311 East Main Street
Methodism came to Marlboro District over 50 years before the Bennettsville church was organized. The Methodist Society at Beauty Spot, about 2 miles northwest of the present town of Bennettsville, was organized before 1783 with itinerant circuit riding preachers attending services in private homes. The first church built by Methodists in South Carolina was described as “logs, covered with long boards held in place by weight poles, and the seats were split pine logs.” Until 1834 the Methodists in Bennettsville worshipped at Beauty Spot. On June 21, 1834 Colonel William J. Cook conveyed one and a half acres of land for a town church. The first church, a plain square building without steeple, portico or other architectural adornments, was built that year. Two doors opened directly on the street and led directly into the body of the church. It was never painted. The present Gothic-inspired church, the third on the site, was started in 1900 and described as the most beautiful church east of Columbia when it was completed three years later. The woodwork was of the best quality. The sanctuary was the octagonal Akron plan with the pulpit in front of the choir loft with exposed organ pipes above the choir.
TURN RIGHT ON LINDSEY STREET. TURN LEFT ON MARKET STREET.
303 East Market Street
Mrs. Genevieve Weatherly operated an eating-place and boarding house in this building that was located on East Main Street. The 1830s house was moved to this location in the 1890s. Today it is home to the Marlboro Arts Council.
214 East Market Street at northwest corner of Clyde Street
This was a Depression-era project of the 1930s, designed by local architect Henry D. Harrall as the Marlboro County Public Library.
TURN LEFT ON CLYDE STREET.
Marlboro Civic Center
106 Clyde Street
The former Playhouse Theater hosted Broadway touring road shows moving south to Miami after it was constructed in 1917. In 1934 the building was remodeled for motion pictures and renamed the Carolina Theatre. Later it was The Cinema. It spent four decades afterwards as a movie house but the eclectic-style building has since been restored as a venue for live theater.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
200 East Main Street at southeast corner of Marlboro Street
The Marlboro Drug Company operated on this corner before being destroyed by fire i the early 1900s. This building was constructed in 1920. It was home to the Mutual Savings Bank and the third floor ballroom also served as a high school gym. Dr. Prentiss M. Kinney from down the street bought the building in 1956.
112 East Main Street
General John McQueen, United States Congressman from 1849 to 1860 established his offices as a young lawyer in 1828 on this site. During the War Between the States, McQueen was General of the South Carolina militia and a member of the First Confederate Congress. In the 1880s, C. S. McCall, who had a cotton yard and warehouse on the north side of the tracks across from the Cheraw & Darlington Railroad’s buildings, opened a huge mercantile operation here. The elaborate cast-iron facade with its classical colonnade and fancy cornice is one of the finest in South Carolina.
southeast corner of Courthouse Square at Main and Marlboro streets
The Confederate Monument was erected in 1907 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, funded by donations. The Confederate Monument made Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” newspaper column once because it is said to have a Union Army field cap atop the rebel soldier’s head.
Marlboro County Courthouse
Main and Broad streets
Architect Henry Harrall used elements of the Colonial Revival Style when he renovated the Marlboro County Courthouse in 1950. This is the third structure located on this site since the founding of the town; it was constructed between 1881 and 1885. Robert Mills designed the first building and around it developed one of South Carolina’s largest squares. The mills building was replaced in 1852 and in 1884 a French Empire style courthouse was erected and it remains the central portion of the current building.
CONTINUE ONE MORE BLOCK ON MAIN STREET TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.