Georgetown was South Carolina’s third city, following Charleston and Beaufort. The first permanent settlers to the area were the English who were actively involved in the Indian trade. The settlement was founded in 1729 and declared an official port of entry in 1732. This meant that all foreign imports and exports no longer had to pass through Charleston andthe area’s merchants and planters could deal directly with all ports.
Georgetown quickly flourished on the back of its indigo and rice crops. In the early days indigo, used in dyes, was the big money crop but it was not grown after the Revolutionary War. Rice, which had been grown in the area as far back as 1690, picked up the slack. By the 1840s more rice moved across Georgetown’s docks than any seaport in the world. Every other grain of rice consumed in the United States was the local variety called Carolina Gold.”
The Civil War changed the whole way of life for this region. The reconstruction period that followed was a social, political and economic upheaval. The rice crops following the war were failures, and rice could no longer support the economy of Georgetown. The combination of the disruption of the work patterns, competition from Southwestern rice growers, and several devastating hurricanes spelled the end of the once fabulous rice culture by the dawn of the twentieth century.
Into the economic void stepped the region’s virgin forests that had once shielded Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox of Revolutionary War fame, in his skirmishes against the British. By 1905 there were five lumber companies in Georgetown producing over 300,000 tons of milled lumber. The Atlantic Coast Lumber Company was incorporated in 1903 and within a decade was the largest lumber producing plant on the East Coast. However, the company could not survive the Depression and Georgetown entered a period of immense economic decline.
In recent years the paper industry and specialty steel and commercial fishing and, of course, tourism, have assumed the reins of Georgetown’s economic engine. Most of the downtown grid, laid out by Elisha Screven when he founded the town in 1729, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Along the streets are scores of structures that reach back to the 1700s and early 1800s and our walking tour to investigate them will begin at one of the grandest, on a conspicuous bluff overlooking the languid Sampit River...
1003 Front Street
This house, a typical “single house” sited on a bluff overlooking the Sampit River, was built by Paul Trapier, a merchant successful enough to be called “The King of Georgetown.” Born in 1716 of Huguenot parents in the French Santee section of Berkely County, Trapier moved to Georgetown and opened a small store. By the 1750s he was considered one of the wealthiest merchants in the colony with stores in Charleston as well. During the Revolution, Trapier was active in supplying the military with provisions until the fall of Charleston to the British in 1780. Trapier gave the property to his daughter Elizabeth in 1769 and it is assumed the house was standing at that time. Harold Kaminski, from a later mercantile dynasty and one-time mayor, purchased the house in 1931 and his wide, Julia, donated it to the town for use as a museum.
LOCATED BEHIND THE KAMINSKI HOUSE TO THE WEST, FACING ONTO FRONT STREET IS THE...
Robert Stewart House
1019 Front Street
In the 1840s this was the home of Elizabeth Ann Horry Dent,widow of Captain J. Herbert Dent, Commander of the frigate U.S.S. Constitution, familiarly known as “Old Ironsides. The front of the house was built a decade earlier, the back of the house came about a decade later. The second story and Ionic columns with the unique crossed capitals added in 1935.
WALK OUT TO FRONT STREET AND TURN RIGHT, TOWARDS THE CENTER OF TOWN.
United States Post Office
1001 Front Street
This Neo-Georgian brick structure was erected in 1906 for use as a post office and federal customs house. It sports an especially fine interior.
TURN LEFT ON KING STREET. TURN RIGHT ON PRINCE STREET.
Joseph Hayne Rainey
909 Prince Street
On December 12, 1870, when Joseph Hayne Rainey was sworn in as a member of the Forty-first Congress of the United States he became the first black person to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rainey was born a slave in Georgetown to Edward L. Rainey and his wife Gracia on June 21, 1832. His father, a barber, purchased the family’s freedom, and they moved to Charleston in about 1846. By 1860 Joseph Rainey had become a barber at Charleston’s fashionable Mills House hotel. During the Civil War he fled to Bermuda with his wife on a blockade runner. After the war, Rainey settled in this Georgetown single house, where local tradition holds that he was also born, and it was from here that he launched his political career in the state senate in 1867. He would be elected to four terms in the House before returning to Georgetown to look after his business interests, including as head of the Enterprise Railroad, a black-owned corporation organized in 1870 to transport freight by horse-drawn street railway between the Charleston wharves and the railroad depot. Joseph Hayne Rainey died in Georgetown in 1887 and was buried in the Baptist Cemetery.
William Doyle Morgan House
732 Prince Street at northeast corner of Broad Street
Born to the parents of New York Irish immigrants, William Doyle Morgan served as mayor from 1891 to 1906 and was the catalyst for much of Georgetown’s growth and prosperity by the turn of the century. Under his watch the town saw the development of a modern water and sewer system, electric lights, paved streets, sidewalks, a deepened harbor, and jetties in Winyah Bay. In the private sector he founded and was president of the Bank of Georgetown. A committed Catholic, he held services in this house, built around 1880, before St. Mary’s Catholic Church was constructed a block away in 1902.
TURN RIGHT ON BROAD STREET.
710 Front Street at Front Street
The Art Moderne Strand Theater opened Monday, October 6, 1941 with a showing of Blossoms in the Dust starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. Its stay as Georgetown’s movie house was relatively brief, closing in 1963. Since 1982, the Strand has been home to the Swamp Fox Players, which presents live theater. The marquee is original and the 40s-style box office has been refurbished to old time beauty.
TURN LEFT ON FRONT STREET.
Rice Museum/Town Clock
637 Front Street
In 1841 fire destroyed the main Front Street businesses between Queen and Screven Streets. The old wooden market which had sustained severe damage in the hurricane of 1822, was torn down as a fire break. In 1842 the entire block, including the market, was rebuilt - this time in brick. The Greek Revival clock tower was added about 1845. Until recently, the town government met here. Today the Old Market Building houses the Rice Museum, dedicated to the lowcountry of the Carolinas, a region that supplied 50 percent of American rice in the 1800s. The story of rice culture comes to life through maps, dioramas, artifacts and exhibits. Woven into the story of rice is a description of how an agricultural area lives when dependent on only a single crop.
633 Front Street
This is another building constructed of brick in 1842 after the fire swept away the wooden buildings on this block. Heiman Kaminski, a Polish native, bought the building in 1869 for his hardware store and added its cast iron facade. Today the building houses the Maritime Museum Gallery; the Browns Ferry Vessel, built in the early 1700s and sunk approximately 1730, is on permanent display. This is the oldest vessel on exhibit in America, and predates by 50 years all vessels previously found. The vessel is approximately 50 feet long and was a general purpose freighter used on the rivers and coastal waterways during the 1700s. Discovered on the Black River in 1976, this vessel was reconstructed and stored by the University of South Carolina and brought to the Museum in 1992.
Mary Man House
528 Front Street
Mary Man had this house built using timber and labor from her father’s plantation, Mansfield, around 1775. It features a hipped roof behind the impressive portico.
TURN RIGHT ON CANNON STREET.
Charles Fyffe House
15 Cannon Street at waterfront
Charles Fyffe, a Scottish physician, arrived in South Carolina in 1748 and in short order became one of Georgetown’s leading citizens. He was a charter member of the Charleston Library society and one of the first stewards of the Winyah Indigo Society. In 1763 he bought the lot on which this house was to be built and and erected an impressive Georgian-style house under the pyramidal roof supported by a king post trussing system. In the coming rebellion Fyffe remained staunchly loyal to the British crown and it cost him dearly. He was banished and his property confiscated and sold. He never regained his home.
Red Store Warehouse
east side of Cannon Street at waterfront
This brick building, probably once part of a shipyard, is over 200 years old. Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of Aaron Burr and wife of Governor Alston, boarded the packet Patriot here in 1812 and the ship was lost at sea with no trace.
RETURN TO FRONT STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
John & Mary Cleland House
405 Front Street at Saint James Street
This is one of Georgetown’s earliest homes, built around 1737 by John and Mary Perry Cleland. Mrs. Cleland inherited the property from her father John Perry, who had been granted a large tract in 1705 including the site of present-day Georgetown. This house is a raised tidewater residence with its main entrance facing the Sampit River. In 1753 the house was purchased by the Cleland’s nephew Archibald Baird. He made small additions to each end of the house and relocated the main entrance to Front Street. A porch was added there around 1780. Later prominent owners of the house included John Withers, Jr., Francis Withers, Dr. Joseph Blythe, and Robert F.W. Allston.
TURN LEFT ON SAINT JAMES STREET.
Samuel Kirton House
132 Saint James Street
This single-story Greek Revival cottage dates back to the 1830s.
Mary Gilbert House
212 Saint James Street
This mid-1700s house has been oft-praised for its elegant simplicity.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO PRINCE STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Charlotte Ann Allston House
422 Prince Street
This house has been greatly altered since it was built nearly 200 years ago around 1815, transforming a relatively modest structure into an imposing corner Victorian sentinel.
Thomas Hutchinson House
417 Prince Street
This was one of two twin houses constructed by master builder William Cuttino around 1790. During theWar Between the States, it was stripped by Union soldiers and freed slaves.
Savage Smith House
421 Prince Street
This was Cuttino’s other commission, almost identical to the Hurchinson house on the corner when first built. It was utilized as a hospital by Union troops during the Civil War.
Francis Withers Cottage
202 Cannon Street at northeast corner of Prince Street
This is an early example of a raised Classical Revival cottage from the early 1800s.
Winyah Indigo Society Hall
508 Prince Street
Springing from the fervor for indigo, the colony’s vital new crop for making blue dye, the Winyah Indigo Society was begun in 1755 and incorporated 1757 to ensure stronger financial support for the free school which it had founded. Thomas Lynch was then president of the society, which also maintained a library and served as an intellectual center. It is one of the oldest social clubs still active in the country. The 1857 building here was used by Union forces during the Civil War.
South Carolina Champion Oak
515 Prince Street
The live oak between houses 513 and 515 Prince Street is registered with The American Forestry Associates as a State Champion – South Carolina. In 1940 the tree was estimated to be over 500 years old, and it measured 23 feet in circumference, 120 feet tall, with a crown spread of 125 feet.
Georgetown County Museum
632 Prince Street
This much-altered architecturally indeterminate building was once the lodge of the Winyah Masons; since 2005 it has been the home of the Georgetown County Museum.
southwest corner of Screven Street and Prince Street
This courthouse, designed by prominent architect and South Carolina native Robert Mills, was built in 1823–24 to replace a courthouse which had been battered by two hurricanes. Mills himself, who also designed the Washington Monument, called this courthouse “a great ornament to the town.” A modern Mills scholar has described it as “the most sophisticated of his South Carolina courthouses.” An initial appropriation of $12,000 was approved for the new courthouse. This Mills design is an excellent example of the Classical Revival style so widely used in American public architecture during much of the nineteenth century.
TURN RIGHT ON SCREVEN STREET.
Temple Beth Elohim
230 Screven Street
Jews arrived in Georgetown in the mid-1700s and by 1800 South Carolina had more Jewish inhabitants than any other state. Temple Beth Elohim was established in 1904 when the town’s congregants, who were worshipping in peoples’ homes and at the Winyah Indigo Society, became the sister temple to Charleston’s Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim. The historic Beth Elohim Cemetery, located on the corner of Broad and Duke streets, was established in 1772 and is the second oldest Jewish burial site in the state. It contains the graves of three of Georgetown’s six Jewish mayors and many Confederate soldiers.
TURN LEFT ON HIGHMARKET STREET.
John Ernest Poyas House
southwest corner of Highmarket Street and Screven Street
This lot was staked out as far back as 1737 but the house was built about 1790.
Prince George, Winyah, Parish Hall
301 Screven Street at Highmarket Street
This brick building from the 1840s has seen three significant uses: a jailhouse, a library and now as a parish hall.
Prince George, Winyah, Episcopal Church
300 Broad Street at Highmarket Street
The Parish of Prince George, Winyah, was formed in 1721 from St. James, Santee, Parish. The first building was in a bend in the Black River about twelve miles north of where Georgetown is now situated. New parish boundaries necessitated a new church building after 1734. Bricks were being saved from the ballast of sea-going ships as early as 1740 and the first rector, sent by the English Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, held the initial service in Prince George on August 16, 1747. The church building was desecrated by enemy troops in both the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States. A gallery and the chancel were added about 1809 when repairs were made after the Revolution. The steeple was added in 1824. Prince George is one of the few original church buildings in South Carolina dating to the colonial period still in use; four of the clear windows are original, many with the same panes of glass from over 250 years ago.
Saint Mary, Our Lady of Ransom Roman Catholic Church
317 Broad Street at Highmarket Street
The homes of Georgetown Catholics, most notably William Morgan, were sufficient to accommodate the small congregation for many years. In the 1890s Father Charles D. Wood was assigned to serve Georgetown but could visit only during the week, since he had other duties connected to the Cathedral. After approval was granted to build a church, a special groundbreaking ceremony took place here on October 10, 1899. The church is of pressed brick with granite trimmings of Romanesque style architecture was officially dedicated on January 5, 1902. Originally the church was in the form of a Latin cross, but this no longer exists since the church was renovated and enlarged in 1967. Noted for its outstanding stained glass windows, the four large memorial windows were made in Germany and are genuine art glass.
Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church
901 Highmarket Street
Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church traces its organ to Bishop Francis Asbury’s visit to Georgetown in February 1785. This was just two months after the famous Christmas Conference held in Baltimore during Christmas Week 1784. The first building is believed to have been located near the eastern line of the current property and facing Highmarket Street but nothing is known for sure. A wooden church was erected facing Orange Street in 1833, ornamented with colored glass windows. In 1840 a bell was purchased and a cupola erected for its accommodation. It was replaced in 1895 by the bell which is now in the bell tower of the present sanctuary which was completed in 1902 for a total cost of $15,000.
TURN LEFT ON ORANGE STREET. CROSS FRONT STREET AND WALK DOWN TO THE SAMPIT RIVER.
Sampit River, at Front and Orange streets
The two cannons you see in the small park between Front Street and Harborwalk were formerly mounted in front of the U.S. Naval Reserve Building on Front Street. Originally they were part of the Confederate defense system at Battery White near Georgetown. At the west end of Harborwalk is another cannon, cast in Maryland over 200 years ago. Weighing over 5000 pounds and capable of shooting a 24-pound cannon ball about one mile, it is similar to guns used on the United State frigate U.S. Constitution, more familiarly known as “Old Ironsides.” This gun is one of three known to exist today - the other two are in Savannah, Georgia. It was found on the banks of the Sampit River in 1991 during an excavation project and its reason for being in Georgetown is a mystery.
TURN RIGHT ON THE HARBORWALK BOARDWALK (THE RIVER WILL BE ON YOUR LEFT) TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.