It has long been noted that the landscape around Rock Hill is not particularly rocky and not particularly hilly. If anything, the dominant geographic feature in the area is the Catawba River. The city was named for a flint hill of rock that was in the way of the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad Company, which was building a rail line from Charlotte to Columbia. Much of this rock was removed to make way for the railroad, which built a depot at the site that eventually became known as Rock Hill.

For hundreds of years this was the land of the Catawba Indians, perhaps as many as six thousand. In 1763, despite mostly friendly interaction with the Scotch-Irish who were settling in the rolling backwoods, a treaty with the Catawba, their population greatly reduced by smallpox, left the tribe with a fifteen-square-mile tract on which present-day Rock Hill is located. By the end of the American Revolution Indian Land, as the parcel was known, was home to maybe 250 Catawbas. 

It was 1852 when the railroad arrived and a post office called Rock Hill was established. When the state legislature incorporated the town in 1870, Rock Hill was home to three hundred residents, two churches, eleven bars, two hotels, two schools, a tannery, cabinet shop, Masonic Lodge, and post office. In 1870, building contractor A. D. Holler built Rock Hill’s first two-story commercial building. Ten years later James M. Ivy and A. E. Hutchison organized the Rock Hill Cotton Factory and built South Carolina’s first steam-powered mill, one of the state’s earliest postbellum industrial developments. 

The venture was so successful that within 25 years there would be seven textile mills in Rock Hill and the town’s boom was in full swing. It scarcely slowed during the Great Depression - labor unrest, not unemployment was the main obstacle to growth - and in the post-World War II years Rock Hill experienced the greatest population growth of any South Carolina city or town. In 1947, thirty-two manufacturers employed over 5,000 people.

But the new residents were not settling in the old neighborhoods, like Oakland, the city’s first planned suburb northwest of town, or the once-prosperous areas to the south and east. They were living near the plants miles out of town and the downtown businesses would eventually follow. Urban renewal came in the 1970s, destroying as much as 40% of Rock Hill’s 19th and early 20th-century buildings by one estimate. To mimic the new suburban shopping malls, a roof was placed over Main Street to create an enclosed retail space called Town Center Mall. It proved a dreary imitation and was finally removed in the 1990s as the town rededicated it priorities to the restoration and rehabilitation of existing buildings.

Our walking tour of the resulting streetscape will begin at the York County Library and the plaza it shares with City Hall on East Black Street...

Rock Hill City Hall
150 Johnston Street

Rock Hill’s dome-clad City Hall was dedicated in 1992. A time capsule, scheduled to be opened in 2092 was buried in front of the building on Christmas Eve 1992. A town clock was also located between the City Hall and County Library. Rock Hill Economic Development Corporation commissioned Audrey Flack in 1988 to sculpt the Civitas, a quartet of 22-foot sculptures to stand with two Masonic columns in a landscaped setting, creating a gateway for the city of Rock Hill over on Dave Lyle Boulevard. Civitas is Latin for “civic pride.” The Civitas was designed as a female version of Michelangelo’s “David” to reflect the spirit of Rock Hill’s textile heritage in the clothing and hair, which suggest billowing ribbons of material. A fifth Civitas statue stands in the Rotunda of Rock Hill City Hall. 


113-115 East Main Street

Arnold Friedheim arrived in Baltimore as a 17-year old in 1853. He drifted south, finding work in various clothing firms. After serving in the Civil War Friedheim found himself in Rock Hill in 1866 selling shoes and other merchandise. The emporium was a success and soon his brothers Julius and August came on board and the store became A. Friedheim & Bro. It was the largest in rock Hill when it burned on the night of April 2, 1898. By the spring of 1899 Friedheim’s and Smith-Fewell next door were set to re-open to the public. Following the design of Rock Hill architect Hugh Edward White both structures were built by local craftsmen using over one million bricks, five railcars of stone,150,000 board feet of lumber and over 700 square feet of plate glass. Friedheim’s was the first store in Rock Hill to sell ready-to-wear clothes, along with carpets, furniture, buggies (suspended from the high ceilings), and dry goods. In addition to being a mercantile establishment the Smith-Fewell building also did time as the Rock Hill Library. Arnold Friedheim died in 1915, leaving the store in the hands of four of his sons. The department store that was modeled after the big-city counterparts eventually met the same fate when mid-20th century shoppers departed for the suburbs.

Children’s Museum  
133 East Main Street

The People’s National Bank Building, the premier banking institution in Rock Hill, moved into the town’s first modern office building, an excellent example of the commercial designs of the prolific Columbia firm of Shand and Leafy, in 1910. The bank weathered the Great Depression and for nearly twenty years was the only bank active in Rock Hill before merging with Citizens and Southern Bank of South Carolina in 1964. The bank moved out of the building in 1972. The brick four-story building, plus basement, was the first in the city constructed as a speculative office building, the first with a passenger elevator, and the tallest commercial building in Rock Hill. After a near million-dollar renovation it is enjoying a second life as a young children's museum.

135 East Main Street

This building dates to 1901. It’s most memorable occupant was McCrory’s Five & Dime from 1937 to 1997. On February 12, 1960, black students from Friendship Jr. College in Rock Hill were denied service at the McCrory’s lunch counter but refused to leave. Their “sit-in” was one of the first of many calling attention to segregated public places in downtown Rock Hill. These protests lasted for more than a year. Many Rock Hill protesters were arrested, convicted, and fined. On January 31, 1961, ten students from Friendship Jr. College were arrested when they refused to leave McCrory’s. Nine would not pay their fines and became the first Civil Rights sit-in protesters in the nation to serve jail time. This new “Jail No Bail” strategy by “the Friendship Nine” was soon adopted as the model strategy for the Freedom Rides of 1961.

Citizens Bank Building
157 East Main Street

Architect Charles C. Hartmann of Greensboro gave Rock Hill’s first high-rise office building, a six-story steel frame structure, its classical revival touches. It follows the pattern of treating high-rise buildings as a column with a distinctive limestone ground floor (the base) and decorative top floor (the capital) over the less distinctive middle stories (the column). It was built in 1925 at the plum downtown location of the former St. John’s Methodist Episcopal Church who sold the land to the Citizens Bank fronted by former Rock Hill mayor W.R. Armstrong. The bank was closed by 1927 - it failed before the Great Depression even struck. Rock Hill National Bank opened on the ground floor in 1941 and remained here until 1976. WRHI Radio, one of the state’s earliest stations, signed-on with studios on the 2nd floor in 1944 and broadcast from here until 1977.  


Episcopal Church of Our Savior
144 Caldwell Street

The first services were in private homes and at Rock Hill Academy in the years between 1857 and 1861. The church was formally organized on Easter 1870. The oldest church building in Rock Hill, the Church of Our Savior was built in 1872 as a Gothic frame chapel with board-and-batten siding. In 1895, the vestibule was added. In 1908, the transepts, chancel, and tower came along, and the church was encased in brick. That same year the first stained glass windows were inserted. The Parish Hall was constructed in 1922 to the southeast along Oakland Avenue; it contained Rock Hill’s first gymnasium available to the public. The Parish Hall was demolished in 1990. 


Post Office and Federal Building
201 East Main Street

This building was described as “handsome in every respect” when it opened in 1932. Rectangular in plan, the three-story building has a low, pink granite podium, a rusticated limestone first floor, and two stories of yellow pressed brick in running bond, topped with a limestone entablature. The Post Office and Courthouse’s carefully composed classical exterior and richly-ornamented lobby and courtroom, designed by the Supervising Architect’s Office of the Treasury Department, are distinctly superior to other buildings constructed in the area during the period. Rock Hill’s first post office was opened in 1852, the year the town was established. The location of the post office moved periodically over the next fifty years, generally occupying parts of other buildings. It replaced a 1906 Classical Revival post office that was far in advance architecturally of any building in the town. This post office stayed active until 1986 and provided offices and headquarters for several U.S. Congressmen, including Thomas S. Gettys, 1965-75.

Fink’s Department Store
206 East Main Street

This two-story brick commercial building has housed Fink’s Department Store, a Piggly-Wiggly grocery store and others. It was built around 1930. The facade has a low-relief corbelled brick cornice. The cast storefront cornice is supported by brick piers with cast stone bases. There are four rectangular windows on the second level with cast stone sills and lintels. Seibels House lays claim to being the oldest remaining building in Columbia, a portion of which is believed to have been built in 1796 (a local historian spotted the date on a hand-hewn basement beam about 75 years ago). It stands on the plantation lands of Thomas Taylor, one of the city’s founding fathers. It carries forward the name of the Seibels family who purchased the property in 1858. Its appearance is a Colonial Revival renovation by architect J. Carroll Johnson in the 1920s.

McFadden Building
212 East Main Street

Built in 1919 by Vincent Brown McFadden, this is the only surviving building of the original car dealerships in Rock Hill; he handled Buicks, Dodges and Fords. McFadden had brought the first automobile to Rock Hill in 1902. Customers would drive through the building to get to the white, flintrock garage in the back. McFadden’s also sold gas. Inside a huge electric elevator would lift cars to the second floor. The City Motor Company did not survive the Depression in the McFadden family and the U.S. Department of Agriculture used the building to repair trailers and tractors. Since the 1940s the facade has changed to accommodate the many different businesses to occupy the McFadden Building. You can,however, still see a spoked wheel at the top of the building.

First Baptist Church
215 East Main Street

The present sanctuary of the First Baptist Church, completed in 1920, is the third building of the congregation. The engaged monumental pedimented portico features Doric columns and three paired entrances with three paired windows above. The sanctuary has a central projecting pavilion with gabled parapet atop a full entablature, a triple stained glass window, and three round windows within the arch above.


Old United States Post Office
325 South Oakland Avenue

This is the first building in Rock Hill constructed specifically to serve as a post office. It opened in 1906 under the supervision of James Knox Taylor, supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury Department from 1897 to 1912 and it reflects his vision that public buildings should be monumental and beautiful. The Neoclassical single-story building was originally located on Main and Caldwell streets but moved one block to this spot in 1931. It was used as the Public Library from 1932 to 1974 and is currently a private office building.

St. John’s United Methodist Church
321 South Oakland Avenue

Before a Methodist church was organized, an itinerant minister would come to preach to a group of people who met in a framed schoolhouse called Pine Grove Academy located directly back of today’s complex. St. John’s was Rock Hill’s first fully organized congregation. First located on Hampton Street and later at two sites on Main Street, the church relocated here in 1924. The Oakland Avenue facade has a large entrance wing with gabled parapet and cross ornament, patterned stone work, buttresses at either side with stone caps, three segmental-arched entrance doors, and large Tudor-arched traceried windows at the second level.


First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
201 East White Street at South Oakland Avenue

This congregation, organized in 1895 with 26 charter members, built the sanctuary in 1897-98. The church was designed by A.D. Gilchrist of Rock Hill. The facade features a dominant bell tower at the left front with a smaller tower on the right front and a polygonal projecting wing in the center. There are matching rose windows with triple windows beneath in the front-facing gable and each side gable. 


White Home
southeast corner of East White Street and Elizabeth Lane

This was the first house built in Rock Hill, or,more correctly, it was standing before the town arrived and grew around it. George Pendleton and Ann Hutchinson White moved here after their marriage in 1838. It is surmised that the couple erected a small house that was enlarged in stages to become the imposing upcountry plantation home seen today. Five successive generations of Whites lived here. The White House followed the usual pattern of upcountry plantation homes. It is a frame building. constructed with hand-hewn oak sill, heart of pine weatherboarding, and the wide board floors typical of antebellum houses. The original lattice work on the two front porches was done by hand. Some Victorian scroll work was added in the late 1890s. It was modernized in the early 1920s with electricity and central heating. The present-day site covers over three acres and includes the main house and several out-buildings. It was purchased by Historic Rock Hill and is the centerpiece of the organization’s preservation efforts across the city. 


First Presbyterian Church
234 East Main Street

This church was begun in 1854 as Antioch Chapel of Ebenezer Church under the leadership of Reverend John G. Richards, on land of the Steeles and Workmans, three miles south of Rock Hill. The sanctuary, completed in 1895, was the work of Charles Coker Wilson, who would design the Andrew Jackson Hotel thirty years later. It has a polygonal central block with an octagonal roof capped by a cupola. There are eight gables projecting from this central block, five of which contain round stained glass windows which light the sanctuary. At the east corner is a five-story bell tower with triple windows set in rounded arches at the first level, rectangular windows at upper levels, vertical brick panels, an open fifth level above a corbelled cornice, and a flared pyramidal roof with a finial.

Andrew Jackson Hotel
223 East Main Street

In the boom years of the early 1900s it was not unusual for local business leaders to fret about the lack of a first-class hotel in their towns and often money was raised from the citizenry to build one. Such was the case with the Andrew Jackson Hotel. Rock Hillers ponied up more than $250,000 and Charles Coker Wilson, perhaps the leading architect in South Carolina in the early 1900s, was retained to design the town’s “keeping up with the Jones” hostelry. Wilson delivered a fine example of the Beaux Arts style and when the Andrew Jackson opened in 1926 it was hailed as one of the city’s “greatest triumphs.” It was more than a hotel. In 1938-39 many stars of early country and gospel music, such as the Monroe Boys, Delmore Brothers, and South Carolina native Arthur Smith, recorded hit songs for RCA in sessions here. The building also included the Rock Hill Chamber of Commerce before it closed as a hotel in 1970. Vernon Grant, director 1957-65, was a leading American illustrator from the 1930’s to the 50s. Best known as the creator of Kellogg’s “Snap!Crackle!Pop!” and Rock Hill’s Glen the Frog, he illustrated thousands of ads and magazine covers. He married Elizabeth Fewell of Rock Hill in 1936 and in 1947 moved his family to York County, where he lived until his death in 1990.