Camden is the oldest existing inland town in South Carolina. The frontier settlement, once called Pine Tree HIll, was part of a township plan ordered by King George II in 1730. Quakers and Scots-Irish migrated down from Virginia to settle here. One newcomer was Joseph Kershaw, a native of Yorkshire, England, who arrived in 1758 and established a store for a Charleston mercantile firm. At his suggestion, the town became Camden, in honor of Charles Pratt, Lord Camden, champion of colonial rights. Kershaw prospered and by 1768 the town, situated at the head of the Wateree River near major Indian trails, was the inland trade center in the colony. Kershaw was engaged in milling “Carolina flour” and had his hands in sawmills, indigo works, a tobacco warehouse and a distillery. In 1774 wide streets were laid off in a grid pattern.
In the spring of 1780, after Charleston fell to the British, the Revolutionary War came to Camden, one of several military posts established in the interior of South Carolina. General Lord Charles Cornwallis entered Camden on June 1, 1780 and made his headquarters here for nearly a year. Fourteen battles would be fought in that time, including the Battle of Camden that was the worst American defeat of the War, before the British evacuated and burned the town. With the occupation over, the townsfolk set about to rebuilding and the town was incorporated in 1791 when Kershaw County was created and it became the county seat.
In the 1800s, as the town went about its business, the area of began attracting the attention of wealthy Midwesterners and Northerners seeking a milder winter climate. Camden developed as a resort town and winter training center for thoroughbred racing as the sandy soil provided non-slip footing for the steeds and the ideal yearlong climate was a perfect combination for breeding, training and racing horses not just in the cold months, but all year long. Other horsing disciplines soon followed.
In the 1890s Rogers L. Barstow, Jr., only 23 years of age, stepped off his private Pullman car in Camden with “a bag of gold in one hand and a Polo mallet in the other.” A skilled polo player, Barstow immediately organized, trained and outfitted a local polo team. He laid out and developed the polo field that is the third oldest in the country and still in use. In 1925, after coming to Camden to see polo, Harry D. Kirkover was so impressed he relocated to town. His game was steeplechase and he soon purchased land and laid out what is now considered to be one of the finest steeplechase track in the United States. The Carolina Cup was organized in 1930 and has been held every year since then, except for 1943 and 1945, enabling Kershaw County to fancy itself “the Steeplechase Capital of the World.”
Most of the original town of Camden was destroyed by fire in 1813. As it rebuilt the center of town gradually crept uphill from its swampy lowlands to the piney sandhills. Our walking tour will begin in the older section where handsome mansions were constructed around the core of former cottages and work downhill towards the beginnings of town where stands a prototypical work of “South Carolina’s Architect,” Robert Mills...
Broad Street at Laurens Street
This park consists of four quadrants with monuments to the Mexican War and the Civil War setting off two quadrants. The first was erected in 1856 to honor James Polk Dickinson, a Camden native, a Colonel of the Palmetto Regiment and Mexican War hero who died in the Battle of Churubusco, five miles from Mexico City, in 1847. Next up in the square, in 1883, dedicated in memory of the local “brave sons who fell during the Confederate War, defending the rights and honor of the South,” was the Confederate Monument that features a dove on top.
WITH THE MONUMENTS BEHIND YOU AND FACING BROAD STREET, TURN RIGHT AND WALK SOUTH.
Camden Archives & Museum
1314 Broad Street
Housed in an Andrew Carnegie-donated library dating to 1915, the Camden Archives and Museum collects, preserves and displays artifacts of importance to the community.
Joshua Reynolds House
1310 Broad Street
This Charleston-type house, built around 1815, has been refurbished to serve as a guest house. It was once owned by George Rodgers Clark Todd, a Kentucky native who became a Confederate surgeon. He also happened to be the brother of Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln. In December 1864 he was in charge of the Wayside hospital, a large wooden building that was located just north of the Mills courthouse on Broad streets. He sold the house to another brother-in-law and moved to Barnwell where he practiced medicine for the last 30 years of his life.
1307 Broad Street
Samuel Flake built this hose in 1803 to resemble a Charleston house. The piazza entrance, with pilasters supporting a Classic entablature, opens directly on the sidewalk and the two-story piazzas have columns, balustrades and a flat roof. After 1826 the house was the home of a cousin of General Robert E. Lee. During the Civil War it was used as a Confederate hospital. Set ablaze by Union soldiers in 1865, it was saved by Mrs. Lee, who directed a bucket brigade of servants and neighbors.
United States Post Office
105 DeKalb Street at northeast corner of Broad Street
The Neoclassical, gleaming white post office has served the community since 1914
E.L. Dibble Store
southwest corner of Broad Street and DeKalb Street
This store, constructed in 1891 on what was then the corner of 6th Avenue and DeKalb Street, was the second home of E.H. Dibble and Brothers Grocery, which sold “general merchandise” as well as “heavy and fancy groceries” and operated in downtown Camden for more than fifty years. “The family is known all over the state,” historian Asa Gordon wrote in 1929, “and its achievement in the mercantile business is of historic importance.”Eugene Heriot Dibble also served in the South Carolina House int he 1870s. After E.H. Dibble's death in 1934 at the age of 78 an obituary recalled,”he always lent his influence for the good of the community.”
The First National Bank of Camden
1035 Broad Street
This building was constructed in 1918 for the First National Bank of Camden. Its Neoclassical look with strong Doric columns was typical of classical revival architecture favored by small-town banks of the early twentieth century. The stonework on the faced was done by a local man, E.H. France. In later days it was the home of the South Carolina National Bank.
Opera House Tower
950 Broad Street at southeast corner of Rutledge street
Camden’s most famous personage has stood watch over the town for the better part of 200 years. From about 1750 until 1763 King Haiglar, a Catawba chief, was a valuable friend to the pioneers of Pine Tree Hill, as Camden was then known. Some time between 1815 and 1826, J.B. Mathieu, executed a 5’1” iron effigy of King Haiglar and presented it to the town. It stands as a weather vaneatop the Opera House tower that was constructed in 1886. This is the third clock tower built in Camden. The first was built for the town marketplace at the corner of Bull and Market streets. It was destroyed by fire in 1812. A bell and clock joined the second marketplace/tower in the 1820s. The present tower was erected in 1885. In addition to the market on the first floor, it also served as an opera house and City Hall offices. In 1954 the city sold the building but retained the rights to the 107-foot tower. When the government moved into new offices at the end of Rutledge Street in 1995 a copy of King Haiglar was placed atop new City Hall.
Robert Mills Courthouse
607 South Broad Street
Designed in 1825 by Robert Mills, America’s first native-born professional architect, and completed in 1827, the courthouse features a copper roof, brick floors, vaulted central hallway, double arched ceilings downstairs, and vestiges of its original radiant heat systems. Built to be fireproof, the walls of the structure are 22-inch thick masonry at the base covered by plaster, tapering to about fifteen inches thick at the second floor. The courtroom is restored to conform to an 1845 renovation, when wide pine plank floors were installed to cover the second story brick floor. The judge’s bench and witness stand are as Mills designed them. The original ornate woodwork is visible above period silk and damask window treatments. It is now home to the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center.
RETRACE YOURSTEPS TO KING STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN LEFT ON MARKET STREET.
900 block of Market Street
This 1859 arsenal was used before and during the War Between the States for the storage of arms and ammunition. The walls are hollow to encourage ventilation to keep the powder dry.
TURN RIGHT ON RUTLEDGE STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO ITS END AT LYTTLETON STREET.
1000 Lyttleton Street
When it came time to move into new quarters in the mid 1950s city fathers chose to build a Neo-Georgian City Hall that harkens back to the days of the American Revolution.
TURN LEFT ON LYTTLETON STREET. TURN LEFT ON DEKALB STREET.
Bethesda Presbyterian Church
502 DeKalb Street
Johann Kalb was born on an Austrian peasant farm in 1721 and left home at 16 to find adventure fighting in the French Army as Jean DeKalb. He rose to the rank of major before his marriage to a wealthy woman enabled him to retire in 1765. He returned to the army a decade later as a brigadier general and came to America with Lafayette in 1777 to enhance his military fortunes in the American Revolution. It took two years for Congress to assign him a rank commensurate with his status in the French Army. He was assigned to command the esteemed Maryland and Delaware Continentals in the South and led these troops onto the field at Camden. While the main of the American Army was routed and Horatio Gates was covering 60 miles in retreat in one day, Baron DeKalb fought heroically, his body riddled with ten bleeding wounds. It was not until felled by an eleventh injury that hismen dispersed. he died three days later in Camden. DeKalb’s remains are beneath the granite monument in front of the Bethesda Presbyterian Church. The church was built in 1822 and designed by South Carolina native Robert Mills. The cornerstone was laid in 1825 by the Marquis de lafayette, who had sailed with Baron DeKalb to America to fight for freedom nearly a half-century earlier.
506 Dekalb Street
T. Lee Little opened the Majestic Theater on April 7, 1915. The opening attraction was Wildflower starring Marguerite Clark and Harold Lockwood. Later Little brought the famous Mac Sennett bathing beauties to appear in person at the Majestic Theater. One episode of the movie serial, Perils of Pauline was filmed in Camden. In April, 1950, the Majestic Theater became the Little Theater.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON DEKALB STREET TO LYTTLETON STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Lyttleton Street United Methodist Church
1206 Lyttleton Street
On April 5, 1787, the first formal Methodist service was held in Camden with traveling preacher Bishop Francis Asbury presiding. Later in the day, he organized a church that has continued in Camden going on 225 years. The first meeting house in Camden, constructed about 1798 on King Street was a small, wooden structure. In 1825 a lot on West DeKalb Street was purchased and a simple church with plain adornments was completed in 1828. The evolution of the current building began in 1875; it was dedicated in May 1879, and has seen many improvements and renovations through the decades.
General Joseph Kershaw House
1305 Lyttleton Street
Joseph Brevard Kershaw was born in Camden in 1822. He left his law practice and seat in the South Carolina Senate during the Civil War to command a brigade under Robert E. Lee. He survived three years of fighting in many of the war’s most significant actions and returned to South Carolina in 1865 and was chosen president of the State Senate. He was judge of the Circuit Court from 1877 to 1893 and in 1894 in his last year of life he was appointed postmaster of Camden. While living in this Greek Revival House, dating to the early 1840s, he planted many of today’s old trees.
Pantheon to Confederate Generals
Rectory Square, Chestnut Street between Lyttleton and Fair streets
The gleaming white pergola is supported by six concrete columns in honor of Camden’s Confederate generals: James Cantey, James Chestnut, Zack Cantey Deas, John D. kennedy, Joseph B. Kershaw, and John Villepique. The memorial, for which $2,000 had been raised to erect, was dedicated on May 10, 1911, the date that South Carolina celebrated Confederate Memorial Day.
TURN LEFT ON CHESTNUT STREET. TURN LEFT ON BROAD STREET.
Charles John Shannon House
1502 North Broad Street
A Robert Mills-inspired plantation mansion in the style of Greek Revival and Federal architecture, this house was built by Charles John Shannon between 1828 and 1832. Designed to suit the social life of the time, the expansive drawing rooms and spacious bedrooms were a necessity for accommodating guests who frequently stayed several days while traveling between plantations. Today it is a guest house.
James H. Clyburn House
1410 Broad Street
Behind this impressive two-story wraparound porch is the trademark symmetry of a Colonial Revival house from 1903.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.