This was long the land of the Catawba, Cherokee and Waxhaw Indians. In the 1750s Scotch-Irish immigrants from the northern colonies seeking inexpensive land and religious freedom began settling in the area. Many came from southern Pennsylvania and brought the Lancaster name, tracing back to the House of Lancaster in 15th-century England, with them. The House of Lancasteropposed the House of York in the legendary War of the Roses and the town still today claims the red rose, the traditional coat of arms of the House of Lancaster, as their emblem.
Shortly after arriving in 1759, one of those Scotch-irish immigrants gave birth to a son just south of the North Carolina border and South Carolina had its first - and only - native-born President of the United States, Andrew Jackson.
The first county court was held in the home of John Ingram, south of Heath Springs, but was later moved to Nathan Barr’s Tavern. In 1795, a log courthouse was constructed on the corner of Main and Dunlap Streets; a two-story frame courthouse replaced it in 1802, and the town growing up around it was named Lancasterville. In the 1820s its two most important buildings - a new courthouse and jail - were designed by America’s first native professional architect, Charlestonian Robert Mills.
Most of the early days in and around Lancaster were devoted to agricultural pursuits. During the Civil War, Union troops visited the town but did not burn it, apparently impressed with the local hospitality.
The fabric of the community changed dramatically with the arrival of Leroy Springs who founded Springs Cotton Mill in 1895, an industrial enterprise that grew to become the “largest textile plant in the world.” Global in scope, Springs Industries shaped the fortunes of Lancaster and its citizens for more than 100 years.
The names Mills and Springs will be much in evidence during our walking tour of Lancaster which will begin at the county courthouse, where an arsonist’s torch ended 180 years of continuous judicial service in 2008...
Lancaster County Courthouse
104 North Main Street
This is the third courthouse on this site, having served the judicial needs of Lancaster County since 1828. It replaced an earlier courthouse notorious for hosting the last witch trials in America. The first was a log structure erected in 1795. The two-story building of handmade brick (some 300,000 made by slave labor) with recessed arches in the English Palladian manner was built on designs attributed to South Carolina’s premier superstar, Robert Mills. The first floor walls are solid brick 24 inches thick, the second floor walls are 18 inches thick. A series of double barrel brick vaults supports the second floor and forms the ceiling of the first. The floors were brick but covered with wood in 1892. A ground floor room still retains an original fireplace. The roof and second floor were seriously damaged by an arson attack in the summer of 2008 but officials were determined to restore the courthouse, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973. It was not the first time a torch had been put to the building - General William Sherman’s Union troops attempted to burn it down but succeeded in only destroying some important papers. The 30-foot Confederate monument out front was unveiled on June 4, 1909 has the distinction of being the first Confederate sculpture carved in the South. Previous monuments were carved in the North and transported to their sites. The $3,000 price tag was borne largely by the women of Lancaster County. The soldier on the monument is Captain Amos McManus of Lancaster County.
FROM THE FRONT OF THE COURTHOUSE, TURN RIGHT ON DUNLAP STREET. TURN LEFT ON S. CATAWBA STREET AND RIGHT ON GAY STREET.
First Methodist Church
200 West Gay Street
This was the first church in Lancaster, organized in 1839 with 23 members. Their first building was a small frame structure and over the years two brick churches on this site succumbed to fire. The current sanctuary was built in 1950.
Leroy Springs House
201 West Gay Street
This was the home of Leroy Springs, one of the most dynamic pioneers in cotton manufacturing in the South. Springs was born on the family plantation at Fort Mill near the North Carolina border in 1861. In addition to his life a planter on a large scale, his father was a lawyer, president of a railroad, director of two other railroads; and far-ranging interests in banking. After getting an education at the University of North Carolina, Leroy entered the mercantile business and became a salesman for a Charlotte wholesale grocery firm. He began his own business, Leroy Springs and Company in Lancaster in 1884 and organized the Kershaw Mercantile and Banking Co. in 1888. Springs entered textiles late in his career. He organized the Lancaster Cotton Mills, one of the largest in the South in 1896; the Eureka Cotton Mills and Springstein Mills in 1899; and Kershaw in 1904. Now known as Springs Industries, it is the largest industry in the county. In 1906 he bought this 1820s house and hired James M. McMichael, an architect from Charlotte to plan changes and additions. The façade features a two-tiered pedimented portico defined by fluted columns with Doric-influenced capitals. The pediment contains a semi-elliptical window with tracery. The home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was bought from the Springs family in 1957 by the City of Lancaster for use as City Hall. It now houses the Lancaster County Council of Arts and the Springs Foundation.
Old Lancaster County Jail
208 West Gay Street
This is the oldest building in Lancaster County, the result of more handiwork from Robert Mills. At the time Mills drew the plans for the jail, Lancaster County’s second, in 1823 when he was engineer of the Board of Public Works of South Carolina. It features hand-hewn stones and in its early years stocks and whipping posts were used here. Scaffolds were erected on jail grounds as needed for hangings. In 1865 the jail was damaged by fire when Union soldiers threw turpentine soaked balls of cotton on the roof but it was used as a county jail until 1979. In a commissioned book of the South Carolina Tricentennial Commission on state architecture, 1670-1970, is this description: “In the Lancaster jail, Mills achieved a sense of sturdy strength and simple form with very limited architectural means. On the ground floor three blind arches with their architraves accented contain a rounded arched entrance door flanked by square headed windows with lintels. Very bold quoins are joined at the floor lines in string courses. The wide chimney breaking through the roofline distinctly transforms was might have been a pediment into a gable end.” On December 27, 1979, a fire broke out in the ancient building. Eleven prisoners died of smoke suffocation. County officials decided to build a new law enforcement center with modern facilities. The old Lancaster jail, which was a designated National Historic Landmark, was insured for only half the cost of renovation has been restored for county and state offices.
Lancaster County Library
210 West Gay Street at northeast corner of French Street
The history of library service in Lancaster County goes back to 1771 when the Reverend William Richardson, first licensed pastor of Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church, left 300 pounds sterling for the purchase of religious books for the use of the poor people of the settlement. Modern lending libraries in the county trace their roots back to 1904 when a group of Lancaster women known as the Franklin Circle sponsored the organization of the Lancaster County Library Association. Supported in fits and starts by subscriptions and donations, the fledgling library struggled to survive for its first thirty years, moving often and closing for stretches of time. In 1936 the library was appended to the county school system and work was begun on this fireproof brick building. It was dedicated in 1937 with busts of Lancaster County’s two most famous sons, Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States, and Dr. J. Marion Sims, world famous surgeon, placed inside. In the 1960s the library was severed from the school system and in 1970 moved to a new location, ending three decades of service at this location.
Old Presbyterian Church
307 West Gay Street
This congregation was organized on May 5, 1835 with James H. Thornwell, later the head of South Carolina College in Columbia, as its first minister. After worshipping in a common wooden structure for its first quarter-century the Presbyterians built the first brick church, in the popular Gothic Revival style, in Lancaster County in 1862. The walls are stuccoed and scored to resemble stone. Interesting details include hood moldings over the arches, cornice brackets with pendants under the gallery, and round wooden columns supporting the gallery. During the War Between the States, General Sherman’s soldiers stabled their horses inside the church, one day to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1926, the congregation moved to a new church on Main Street. The old structure was then used by another church and later by the Masons. In 1962 it was purchased by Dr. Benjamin F. Emanuel under whose direction it became the Carolina Museum but was unoccupied by 1972. A cemetery dating from the 1830s is located to the left and rear of the church. Many of any Lancaster’s leading citizens, including veterans of five wars, are interred here.
African Methodist Episcopal Church
309 West Gay Street
This building was the first A.M.E. Zion church in Lancaster, organized in 1870 by Bishop Isom Clinton, former treasurer of Lancaster County and the founder of 130 A.M.E. Zion churches.
TURN LEFT ON PLYLER STREET AND TURN LEFT ON ARCH STREET.
Lancaster City Hall
216 South Catawba Street at northwest corner of Arch Street
Lancaster’s Neoclassical City Hall was completed in 2000.
The Spirit of Lancaster, Mural and Sculpture Park
northwest corner of Arch and Main streets
South Carolina-based muralist Ralph Waldrop created this mural featuring a cross-section of Lancaster residents in 1977. Finished in a paint-by-number style it was completed with the help of local volunteers. The park, established in 1976 as a U.S. Bicentennial project, was the home site of Daniel Washington Brown. In February of 1865, Union General Judson Kilpatrick made his headquarters here while occupying Lancaster during the War Between the States.
TURN RIGHT ON SOUTH MAIN STREET.
Lancaster and Chester Railway Company
512 South Main Street
As industry replaced agriculture, railroads replaced rivers as transportation arteries. The Lancaster & Chester Railroad was originally built to haul products from the Springs Cotton Mill to market. Today, the station houses a railroad museum (on the second floor) and the nation’s only up-fitting operation where retired rail cars are tailored to the tastes of celebrities and others who prefer to travel by land. The highlight of the museum is a scale model replica of the original 29-mile route of the L&C. Railroad enthusiasts have taken on the responsibility of making exact replicas of every building and facility on the route, plus shrubs, trees and bodies of water.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS UP MAIN STREET, HEADING NORTH.
United States Post Office
301 South Main Street
The former United States United States Post office was constructed of yellow brick in 1927. This was the home site of Dr. Bartlett Jones whose daughter Theresa married world-famous surgeon Dr. J. Marion Sims, who was born and raised in Lancaster County near Heath Springs. The building did duty as a post office until 1986.
203-209 South Main Street
Built by Colonel Leroy Springs in 1905 of red stretcher and common bon brick, this block has housed many of Lancaster’s leading businesses. In 1936, fire destroyed the southern end of the block which included the Hotel Royale and Lancaster Mercantile. The entire block was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984; it was restored in 1986 in conjunction with Lancaster’s Main Street Revitalization program.
Farmers Bank and Trust Company
206 South Main Street
This Neoclassical bank vault was constructed for Farmers Banks and Trust around 1915, faced with Indiana limestone. It has been restored and is now a law office.
Bank of Lancaster
200 South Main Street
Lancaster’s oldest bank, the Bank of Lancaster, was just one of the tenants in this ornate building, constructed on the home site of Dr. J.F. Mackey in 1907. It is two stories and is built of red stretcher bond brick with second floor double-hung windows. The roof is low and rounded with a flemish ogee gable centered in a parapet. It is often called the Opera House because the second floor was used for plays, concerts, and dances. Later the second floor served as the armory for the Lancaster National Guard.
125 South Main Street
This is perhaps the oldest commercial building located in downtown Lancaster, built in the late 1860s or early 1870s. This block was known for years as the McKenna Block. William McKenna was the largest landowner in downtown Lancaster in the 1830s and 1840s.
114 South Main Street
This brick building was constructed around 1888-1889 to house the first Bank of Lancaster office. Colonel Leroy Springs began his banking career in this building, which also included the offices of the L & C Railroad and the Leroy Springs Cotton Company.
107 South Main Street
Prior to the Civil War this property was a cotton gin owned by William McKenna. In 1866 thomas H. Davis acquired the “Crossroads Gin House” and converted it into his residence and store rooms. In 1880 Davis developed a variety of okra known as the “Clemson Spineless Okra,” still popular today. At various times the Davis Building store rooms housed a bakery, a Chinese laundry, a combination butcher shop and ice house and several different grocery stores.
106 South Main Street
This expansive building of yellow brick was built around 1875. It once housed the Dunlap House, The Cunningham Home Hotel, and, until the late 1930s, Dr. J. D. Pittman had a hospital on the second floor.
Lancaster County Administration Building
northeast corner of Main Street and Dunlap Street
Another new Neoclassical government building, the county headquarters opened in 2002.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.