In 1870, Seneca was a wilderness penetrated only by a strip of iron rails along the Blue Ridge Railroad Line. A few years later the Richmond Air Line Railroad crossed the Blue Ridge and this obscure railroad junction became a transfer point for freight shipped to and received from every section of the country. It was a natural townsite and in 1873 the first auction was held for building lots. The new town was named for Sinica for an old town of the Cherokee nation and it was destined to become the largest in Oconee County, that had been formed in 1868.
When the town celebrated its Centennial in 1973, preservationists mobilized to list the Seneca Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. Located south of the railroad tracks in Seneca the residential district consists of a number of homes and three churches that were built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The houses have architectural styles that were popular in the period.
But before we explore the Historic District our walking tour will begin on the north side of the tracks, in the commercial district along a colorful block that not so long ago was a ghost town of dilapidated structures that has been reinvigorated...
Ram Cat Alley
Main Street and North Townville Street
This is the original Main Street of Seneca, established in 1873 and so named because of the throngs of cats lured to the flatbed carts that carried fish and meats on mounds of ice from the railroad depot to Main Street grocers two blocks away. Locals at the time would say that there were so many felines, “you couldn’t ram another cat into the alley.” It had long deteriorated with many buildings in disrepair or used for storage by the 1990s. But the buildings were pressure washed and the street repaved and the commercial district has re-emerged as the center of town.
WALK DOWN RAM CAT ALLEY TO THE WEST, TOWARDS FAIRPLAY STREET.
Old Seneca Post Office
126 Ram Cat Alley
J.E. Harper constructed this one-story structure in 1917 and outfitted it with English bond brickwork. The upper front facade has a dividing masonry band and also has a recessed rectangular brickwork pattern. Harper sold the building to house the post office in 1921.
Main Street Barber Shop
125 Ram Cat Alley
This is an 1887 structure, a one-story structure that features brickwork with an English bond. It originally served as a barbershop, boarding house, and grocery in its first 25 years of existence.
Harper and Patterson Building
122 Ram Cat Alley
This structure originally enclosed Harpers 5&10 Store and the L.C. Patterson General Store. The Harpers five and dime was the original store and headquarters in what became a successful regional chain of stores.
Fred Hopkins Meat Market
117 Ram Cat Alley
The first floor of this century-old two-story brick structure originally housed Fred Hopkins Meat Market. As you can imagine this was a prime gathering spot for the namesake cats because of the smell of meat and fish. Nonetheless, Hopkins lived upstairs on the second floor.
Harper and Jones Building
113 Ram Cat Alley
This two-story, two-storefront commercial block was built in 1897. J.W. Harper operated a general store and a grocery here. It features a recessed rectangular brick pattern that livens up the otherwise reserved facade.
C.F. Adams General Store
112 Ram Cat Alley
The builders used a variety of tricks with their bricks to enhance this 1920 store. There is a course of just headers (the short side of the brick) every seventh course. There is a horizontal row of colored brick across the entire facade and vertical bands of colored brick on the lower level. The upper facade is decorated with three flush terra cotta diamond-shapes and ten terra cotta squares.
109 Ram Cat Alley
This one-story structure, built in 1917, features multi-colored brickwork with an English bond. It has a glass storefront with an above dividing brick band and a recessed brickwork pattern on the upper portion of the front facade. A concrete bond tops the brickwork on the front facade. This structure originally served as a general store.
TURN LEFT ON FAIRPLAY STREET. TURN RIGHT ON SOUTH FIRST STREET.
Seneca Presbyterian Church
115 West South 1st Street at Oak Street
The congregation was founded in 1875; the church dates to 1917. The architecture is a beautifully preserved example of the traditional classicism which dominated American architecture in the early decades of the 20th century.
211 South 1st Street
Dr. & Mrs. W.J. Lunney came to Seneca and established Lunney’s Drug Store on the town square in 1886. The built this California-style bungalow in 1909 by and it was occupied continuously by the Lunney family until 1969. Its distinctive Arts and Crafts architecture extends to include a two-story carriage house and a “two-seater” outhouse. This house museum contains a collection of Victorian furniture as well as Oconee County historic memorabilia.
RETURN TO OAK STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN LEFT ON SOUTH THIRD STREET. TURN LEFT ON FAIRPLAY STREET.
Seneca Baptist Church
210 South Fairplay Street
The Seneca Baptists organized in 1873 and moved into their first church a decade later. This Classical Revival church, with an Ionic portico dominating its facade, was built in 1924. In the 1970s the congregation was obviously divided over a solution to a need for new sanctuary space and the result was a completely different church on the southern side of the property.
B.A. Lowery House
206 South Fairplay Street
This is most certainly not your typical South Carolina house. Referred to locally as “California Style,” this house, built in the 1920s for Mayor B.A. Lowery, has much of the character of a west coast bungalow. The heavy columns and lattice-like treatment of the gable are indicative of this period.
D.P. Thompson-Waikart House
215 South Fairplay Street
This 1914 house blends the half-timbering ofthe medieval England-influenced Tudor style with the traditional South Carolina porches on the front and side of the building. Those porches are supported by paired columns.
TURN RIGHT ON EAST SECOND STREET. TURN RIGHT ON TOWNVILLE STREET.
210 South Townville Street
This house from 1885 is a splendid example of late 19th Century domestic architecture with spindled porch posts and scroll work. An oddity of this house is that it faces North, at right angle to Townville Street and away from the adjacent South Third Street which suggests that it must have had more lawn and entrance drive toward South Second Street. Dr. Stribling was one of the early medical doctors of Seneca.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS DOWN TOWNVILLE STREET TOWARDS THE CENTER OF TOWN.
H.L. Thompson House
206 South Townville Street
This house was built by the Lonsdale Company, a purchaser of local textiles, for its General Manager in the 1920s. Although this square clapboard house has classic proportions, great solidity and dignity, there are actually no classic details. The porch roof is supported by paired square posts rather than by columns and the trim has little or no molding.
northwest corner of South Townville and South Second streets
The church was organized in 1879 and this elegantly simple church constructed in 1882. The small congregation entered the 20th century with around a dozen families. The building is now owned by the Blue Ridge Arts council.
Whit Holleman House
southeast corner of South Townville and South First streets
Whit Holleman, a local politician, built this house overlooking the railroad and the town of Seneca in 1889. The presence of two bay windows, each with its own roof, suggests that the house has been greatly modified and its original aspect changed. It features a full two-story portico up front came along later, at the same time two sections of the house were lopped away.
CROSS SOUTH FIRST STREET AND LOCATE A NARROW FOOTPATH THAT LEADS UP AND ACROSS THE RAILROAD TRACKS. CROSS CAREFULLY AND PICK UP TOWNVILLE STREET ON THE OTHER SIDE.
105 North Townville Street
This two-story structure from 1917 features brickwork painted white with an English Bond. The second story facade strings nine arched 9/1 double hung windows and sports Romanesque Revival cornice work at the roofline. The first story facade features an inset comer entrance. The building served as a large-scale farm supply store and housed Seneca’s first freight elevator capable enough to transport carriages to the second level of the building.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.