Newberry County came into existence with the new nation after the American Revolution, having been carved out of the Ninety-Six district in 1785, once described as the largest tract of unbroken farm land in South Carolina. The origin of the county’s name is still unknown. It is likely an alternate spelling for the English town “Newbury,” but a more folksy explanation maintains that the surrounding fields and forests were as pretty as a “new berry.”
A site for the county courthouse was selected near the center of the county in 1789 on land donated by John Coate. Frederick Nance was the first resident of Newberry, having been appointed Clerk of the Court in 1794 in addition to establishing a small mercantile trade and managing the post office. Early settlers in the town were wealthy plantation owners and entrepreneurs not in need of many services. The small town had the only post office in the district, a jail, a school, a cemetery and even a library but not much else. No churches were built in Newberry until the 1830s when the town’s residents petitioned for incorporation.
In a familiar tale, Newberry grew largely as a result of the coming of the railroad in 1851. By the late 1800s the town was the hub for both the Greenville & Columbia Railroad and the Laurens Railroad. By the 1870s Newberry possessed the second largest cotton market in the state after Charleston. Cotton mills brought industry to the town in the 1880s and upon its completion in 1883 the Newberry Cotton Mills was the largest steam-powered factory in America.
Many of Newberry’s buildings appeared in the years to follow - although it seemed town residents were in a perpetual state of rebuilding. In June 1866 half the town was destroyed by fire; an 1870 fire claimed 20 stores and another blaze in 1879 took another dozen. A tornado swept though downtown in March 1884. The last devastating fire occurred in 1907 when five square blocks of downtown burned.
Our walking tour of Newberry will begin in the Public Square, which the government abandoned for more spacious quarters around town in 1906, and fan out to visit the structures that followed the old courthouse, including a monumental Neoclassical brick pile and a rare Italian Renaissance classic in South Carolina...
Newberry County Courthouse
Public Square at Caldwell and Main streets
This building, the fourth in a series of five Newberry County courthouses, was used for court sessions between 1852 and 1906. It is an outstanding example of Greek Revival architecture in stuccoed brick highlighted by six fluted Tuscan columns which support a massive triangular pediment. During Reconstruction, Osborn Wells remodeled the courthouse, including a bas-relief mounted on the frontal pediment. It depicts the spirit of the prostrate state with a United States eagle holding an uprooted palmetto tree in its talons while, perched upon the tree roots, a gamecock crows defiantly (it originally sported a gold coin for an eye). At the top of the tree a dove bears an olive branch.
FACING THE FRONT OF THE COURTHOUSE, WALK AROUND BEHIND THE COURTHOUSE TO THE RIGHT ON PUBLIC SQUARE ALONG BOYCE STREET.
Old Newberry Bank
1117 Boyce Street at corner
The first banking institution in Newberry was established here around 1852. The rectangular stuccoed building is brick with a stepped gable and an egg-and-dart motif on the cornice. The windows are in recessed arches. The columned classical revival structure next door was built in 1912 to house another financial institution.
Public Square, behind courthouse, Market Street at McKibben Street
This obelisk with a pyramid-shaped arrangement of sculpted cannonballs on top was dedicated to “the Soldiers of the Southern Confederacy” from Newberry on June 30, 1880. The front of the sculpture has reliefs of crossed Confederate flags with crossed rifles in the middle, and a palmetto tree on a shield. At the base of the tree are two branches with leaves and acorns. The obelisk is mounted on a stepped base and enclosed by a decorative fence.
CONTINUE ON PUBLIC SQUARE ACROSS MCKIBBEN STREET.
World War I Monument
Public Square, Market Street at Nance Street
The statue, “erected in grateful recognition of the service of the sons of Newberry County who at the call of their country enlisted in the World War, and to the memory of those who sealed with their lives their devotion to the cause of liberty and democracy” is entitled Over the Top and was sculpted by John Paulding.
Newberry Opera House
1201 McKibben Street at the corner of Boyce Street
The Newberry Opera House was completed in 1881 at a cost of $30,000. More than 100 years later the building was immaculately restored at a cost of some $5,500,000. C.L. Norman, an architect from Columbia, drew on eclectic French Gothic inspiration for the downtown showpiece. The building was constructed with brick from three local brickyards. The granite used in the construction came from a quarry approximately two miles outside of the city limits. Local craftsmen and artisans created the woodworking and masonry used throughout the construction of the original building. The original design called for the first floor to house the fire engine room, council chambers, a clerk’s office, a police officer, and three jail cells. The second floor was a hall 53 by 52 feet with a stage 29 by 52 feet. Topping the building is a tower 130 feet high, itself topped with a garfish weather vane and housing an E. Howard Tower town clock which was 90 feet from the ground. The Opera House quickly became know as “the entertainment center of the Midlands.” On its stage appeared touring companies of New York plays, minstrel and variety shows, famed vocalists and lecturers, magicians and mind readers, novelty acts and boxing exhibitions. Silent “moving pictures” were shown at the Opera House in the early 1900s and slowly, movies replaced the big stage shows. In the 1920s the Opera House was remodeled as a movie theater. It lasted until 1952. Public outcry enabled the building to dodge the wrecking ball until the renovation took place in the early 1990s.
LEAVE PUBLIC SQUARE AT NANCE STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
DETOUR: TO SEE THE OLDEST HOUSE IN NEWBERRY AND VISIT THE COUNTY MUSEUM, CONTINUE UPHILL ON NANCE STREET FOR THREE BLOCKS. OTHERWISE, TURN RIGHT ON HARRINGTON STREET.
1503 Nance Street
The Gauntt House, considered Newberry’s oldest house, was built on College Street around 1808.Jacob Gauntt’s father, Israel, came to Newberry around 1765 and settled on 350 acres of land. Being a loyal Quaker, he did not fight in the American Revolution, but did furnish supplies to the patriots. One of “Bloody Bill” Cunningham’s Tory gang, named Hubbs, with two cohorts set out to rob Israel. Hubbs tricked Israel’s wife, Hanna to gain entry into the house. When he pointed his pistol at Israel, the old man’s daughter also named Hanna, threw up the weapon and wrestled Hubbs to the floor where she held him until Israel disabled him with blows to the head. Some believe that this is the same house where that incident took place. The Gauntt House is a small 18th-19th century vernacular style dwelling that is two stories high, with a large double shouldered Williamsburg type chimney at one end. There is a unique doorway leading directly from the front porch to the stairs leading to the second floor. Later additions were removed before the house was moved to its present location in the county museum complex area in 1972.
Newberry County Museum
1503 Nance Street
The Newberry County Museum Association was organized on May 20, 1995 with a mission to establish a Newberry County Museum. On November 1, 1997 the City of Newberry agreed to lease the E. S. Coppockhouseto the Museum Association for housing a museum. The Coppock house, circa 1820, stands on five acres of land overlooking down town Newberry, and includes the old Water and Lights building, circa 1929.
IF YOU HAVE TAKEN THE DETOUR, RETURN TO HARRINGTON STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Newberry County Courthouse
College and Harrington streets
Frank P. Milburn designed this, the fifth Newberry County courthouse, in the Neoclassical style in 1908. The monumental building of red brick and terra cotta was completed at a cost of $50,000. The porticos are marked by paired Ionic columns with swags suspended from the volutes of the column capitals. In 1938 the building was enlarged with a matching red brick rear addition, designed by Columbia architect Heyward S. Singley, who hailed from Newberry County.
TURN RIGHT ON COLLEGE STREET.
corner of Main and College streets
Henry Larkin Parr, head of the Exchange Bank, secured a franchise to build an electric light railway in Newberry as well as to furnish heat, light and power to the town as well. None of these grand plans came to fruition but he did build this five-story office building for his bank in 1918. Designed by Newberry architect Ernest Summer and faced in yellow brick it was the town’s first skyscraper. Features of the building include a projecting molded cornice, a series of paired one-over-one windows on each floor, and a pedimented entranceway of stone on the Main Street facade. After it was purchased by his grandsons it became known as the Parr Building.
TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET.
1513 Main Street
The Art Deco style Ritz Theater opened on October 16, 1936 as a movie theater. It retains much of its original character. Beginning in 1974 it became a live performance theater and home to the Newberry Community Players.
1531 Main Street
The original core of this two-story weatherboarded house dates to 1840. It picked up its Victorian Eastlake facelift in 1890 with a remodeling that included a projecting double-tiered front veranda under a shingled gable. The porch is enhanced by heavy carpenter’s ornamentation. James N. Martin had owned the house since 1870 when he hired Cam Davis to spruce up the place.
1604 Main Street
This Georgian Revival brick house, buoyed by fluted Ionic columns, appeared on Main Street in 1935. Both the core roof and the porch roof are hipped. There is an elliptical fanlight over the door with diamond sidelights and a geometric wood balcony surmounts the front door.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
1605 Main Street
In 1836, The Reverend Cranmore Wallace conducted the first Episcopal services in Newberry. Within a decade, the first vestry of St. Luke’s was organized. The congregation continued to worship in various places before land on which to build a church was obtained in early 1855. Construction began shortly after. That church served for 129 years until it was almost demolished destroyed by a tornado in 1984. With help from many sources, the church was restored in the Gothic style of the original building.
Newberry Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
1203 Calhoun Street at Main Street
South Carolina architect Frank P. Milburn delivered the Gothic Revival design for this church in 1908.
TURN RIGHT ON CALHOUN STREET.
1103 Calhoun Street
This Neoclassical design, studded with fluted Corinthian columns, was erected in 1903. Contractor C.C. “Cam” Davis was the builder. Both portico roof and floor feature turned balustrades. The front upper facade displays a balcony with dentils.
TURN RIGHT ON FRIEND STREET.
The City Filling Station
1304 Friend Street
Strother C. Paysinger, founder of the Newberry Oil Company among his varied interests, operated the City Filling Station after returning from World War I.
Newberry-Saluda Regional Library
1300 Friend Street
James Knox Taylor was chosen by the federal government to oversee construction of all its buildings in the early 1900s. His design commissions ranged from the United States Mint in Philadelphia to the eventual Governor’s Mansion in Juneau, Alaska. In Newberry he contributed this 7,000 square-foot Italian Renaissance building of brick, granite and limestone with a pantile roof. It was used first as a post office and, after 50 years, it was converted into the Newberry-Saluda Regional Library. With the moving of the library into more spacious modern quarters two blocks down the street its future may lie as a museum.
TURN LEFT ON CALDWELL STREET.
Central Methodist Church
1005 Caldwell Street
Built in 1901, this polychrome Romanesque Revival edifice was designed by famed architect Reuben Harrison Hunt of Chattanooga, Tennessee and constructed for a cost of $12,000. Commanding a full city block, the asymmetrical building rises from a lower facade of natural granite to white brick facing its left one-story turret, recessed center and right three-story square bell tower. Terra cotta belt courses encircle the bell tower below and abovetwo narrow arched windows on the second floor.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON CALDWELL STREET BACK TOWARDS THE TOWN CENTER.
northeast corner of Main and Caldwell streets
In 1880 the two-story Newberry Hotel was constructed at the northeast corner of Main and Caldwell streets. This prominent building was distinguished by its three-story corner clock tower and arcaded storefronts facing Main Street. Although its storefronts have been remodeled, this building retains much of its original design.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.