The city of Sumter is the seat of Sumter County and the largest city, the eighth largest metropolitan area in the state of South Carolina. In 1798, the village was selected for the site of the courthouse of old Sumter District. With no access to waterway or railroad, development was slow until the Camden branch of the South Carolina Railroad extended into the town in 1843. Incorporated as Sumterville in 1845, the city’s name was shortened to Sumter in 1855. It has grown and prospered from its early beginnings as a plantation settlement.
The city and county of Sumter bear the name of General Thomas Sumter, the “Fighting Gamecock” of the American Revolutionary War. Born in Virginia in 1734, Thomas Sumter settled in St. Mark’s Parish in 1767. He founded the town of Statesburg, where his financial interests included a sawmill, grist mill, general store and a large plantation. During the Revolution, Sumter fought in numerous skirmishes and battles, including the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, the Georgia Campaign, Turnbull’s camp, Hanging Rock and Fish Darn Ford. His fierce revolutionary zeal had its origins in an incident involving a Captain Campbell, whose men plundered his home, placed his invalid wife in her wheelchair on the lawn and then set fire to the house. This event so enraged Sumter that he formed and led a band of guerillas in victorious combat against the British, helping to turn the tide in the war for independence.
Following the war, General Sumter continued in the service of the young nation, ultimately as a member of the United States Congress. He retired at age 76 to his beloved “Home House” in the High Hills of the Santee, where he continued to actively manage his business affairs and remained a respected figure in the Statesburg community until his death in 1832 at age 98, the last surviving general of the Revolutionary War. General Sumter is buried in Statesburg, the adoptive hometown to which he gave so much.
In 1912, the city of Sumter became the first city in the United States to successfully adopt the council-manager form of government. It is still in effect today. Sumter’s council-manager government combines the political leadership of elected officials in the form of a seven-member City Council headed by the Mayor, with the strong managerial experience of an appointed City Manager, who serves as the chief administrative and executive officer of the city.
Sumter’s political, commercial, and cultural development is reflected in the architecture of the central business district that spans a time period from 1828 to the present. Many of the buildings in the original commercial district date from 1880 to 1912 and are typical of turn-of-the-century commercial buildings, using materials such as pressed tin, limestone, and brick. Detail work of buildings includes arches, columns, decorative brickwork and dentil work. Our walking tour of the downtown historic district, listed in the National Register on April 21, 1975, will begin in front of the town’s most glorious building, practically obscured from the tree-lined street...
Sumter Opera House
21 North Main Street
After the destruction by fire of an earlier Opera House (built in 1872) in December 1892, this scrumptious Richardsonian-Romanesque replacement rendered in Cumberland Bluff stone was built from 1893-1895. The 100-foot clock tower has been the focal point of downtown Sumter ever since. In 1936 the Opera House was renovated into a movie theater to the tune of $120,000. The very first film shown at the Opera House was Earthworm Tractors; tickets to the first movie were 35 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. In 1982, after several interior renovations, none to the better, the Opera House closed its door after 46 years of operation as a movie theater. The City of Sumter, in need of additional office space and hoping to attract more visitors to the downtown area, purchased the building in 1984 and began a painstaking restoration of the Opera House. The Opera House still houses City Hall and many of the City’s departments and offices, including City Council’s chambers. The first floor auditorium is once again an entertainment showcase.
FACING THE OPERA HOUSE, TURN RIGHT AND WALK SOUTH ON MAIN STREET.
Bank of Sumter
2 North Main Street
In 1882 this was the site of the J. Ryttenburg and Sons store, the largest store in Sumter. In 1913, the Bank of Sumter, the first locally owned and operated bank in town, constructed a Neoclassical sandstone encased building dominated by a pair of engaged Ionic columns. In 1932 the structure came to house Bradham Realty and later Bradham Insurance.
TURN LEFT ON LIBERTY STREET.
First Baptist Church
107 East Liberty Street
Organized in 1813 with 13 members, this branch of Stateburg’s High Hills of Santee Baptist Church (founded before 1772) became an independent congregation on September 24, 1820. It became known as Sumterville Baptist Church, and by 1820 this congregation had built Sumter’s first church. Subsequent buildings date from 1854, 1902 (now Brown Chapel), and 1973. Named First Baptist in 1901, the church has been active in Southern Baptist associations and conventions, as well as in missions.
RETURN TO MAIN STREET AND TURN LEFT.
12-16 South Main Street
Opening in 1927, the Capitol department store became Sumter’s leading fashion emporium for several decades. The Capitol moved to this location in 1939. Its run ended in the mid-1980s and the building has since been divided into three different businesses.
53 South Main Street
This high-style Italian Renaissance two-story building was erected by the federal government in 1907. It features a colonnade of Doric columns and paired brackets supporting a hipped, tile roof.
102 South Main Street
This three-story brick structure crowned by a parapet, much altered, dates to 1902. Kimbrell’s began operation in 1915 and is one of the oldest furniture chains in the Carolinas.
TURN RIGHT ON BARTLETTE STREET. TURN RIGHT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
Monument to Confederate Dead
west side of North Washington Street, between Liberty Street and Hampton Avenue
The Ladies’ Monumental Association of Sumter District was organized in about 1867 by the women of Sumter, South Carolina. They published a four-page newspaper known as The Fair Enterprise. Their sole purpose was to raise funds for and to promote the building of a Confederate Monument dedicated to those who lost their lives in the late war who were from Sumter District. The monument was placed in front of what was then known as Washington School. (The school buildings that were there have long since been torn down.) The one acre site was given to Sumter in 1837 to use as a public school by Colonel John Blount Miller who was a soldier during the War of 1812.This southern half of the where the monument is located was purchased from the John B. Miller estate for the sum of $200, in 1872. The upper half of the property had been purchased from the Frierson estate in 1871, for $300. Inscribed with the names of 341 of Sumter District’s Confederate dead, the cornerstone for the monument was laid on May 6, 1874. An engraving on the monument states that it was erected in the year 1876. It took until 1888 to fully complete the monument.
TURN LEFT ON WEST HAMPTON AVENUE.
13 Church Street
Sumter’s Jewish community, dating to 1815, has long been one of the largest and most influential in inland South Carolina. These early settlers were of Sephardic background and many had fled persecution in Spain. As oppression spread in Germany, Poland, and then Russia, immigrants from these countries also settled in South Carolina and the Sumter Community. The Hebrew Cemetery Society was founded in 1874, the Sumter Hebrew Benevolent Society was founded before 1881, and the two societies agreed to merge that year. A formal merger in 1895 created the Sumter Society of Israelites, the official name of Congregation Sinai. The first synagogue, a frame building constructed by 1900, burned. It was replaced in 1913 by this Moorish Revival brick synagogue, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.
RETURN TO WASHINGTON STREET AND TURN LEFT.
Sumter County Museum
122 North Washington Street
In 1845, Andrew Jackson (A.J.) Moses, a prosperous merchant, and his wife Octavia Harby Moses purchased 42 acres of land in the heart of Sumter, then called Sumterville. While it is not known if a house was part of the purchase, by 1848 the Moses family occupied a spacious home on this site. During their years in Sumterville, A. J. and Octavia had seventeen children, fourteen of whom lived to maturity. In 1892, Octavia sold the Moses house to Perry Moses, their fourth child, and his wife Rose. In 1915, Perry and Rose deeded the house to their daughter R. Virginia Moses Phelps as part of her inheritance. Virginia’s husband, Aaron Cohen Phelps, a prosperous businessman, hired a contractor to again remodel the Moses home. It was, however, in such poor condition that it could not be saved. Thus, they demolished the original structure and built the present Edwardian house on the same site. The only thing saved from the original house were the two cast iron lions which still grace the front entrance. Donated in 1972 for a museum, today it features one of the finest textile collections in the state.
TURN RIGHT ON CALHOUN STREET
First Presbyterian Church
9 West Calhoun Street
Organized on May 29, 1823, with five charter members, First Presbyterian Church was the second church in what was then known as “Sumterville.” The first sanctuary was built in 1830 in what at the time were the outskirts of the village. This small building was used until 1850 when a larger structure was finished to meet the needs of a growing congregation. The present building was dedicated on November 10, 1907. Additions were made through the years, including the installation of a magnificent stained glass window entitled “Christ in Gethsemane” in 1951.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
Church of the Holy Comforter
213 North Main Street at corner of Calhoun Street
The first Episcopalians in Sumterville met in private homes and other churches until the construction of their first church, consecrated on February 18, 1859. The church was designed by Joseph H. Long of Charleston and he and his fiancé were the first couple married in it. In the fading days of the War Between The States on April 9, 1865, however, Long and several others were killed by the advancing troops of General Edward Potter as they fought their way toward Sumterville. General Potter’s army used the church for a hospital and the altar as an operating table. In 1905, after approximately fifty years of service at the original site, the small wooden structure was rolled on logs down Main Street to this location, The present church was completed in 1909 at a cost of $20,000, including furnishings and the original organ.
Sumter County Courthouse
141 North Main Street
The Beaux Arts-inspired Sumter County Courthouse was one of nine courthouses designed byWilliam Augustus Edwards, a prominent South Carolina architect of the early twentieth century. It replaced a brick-and-stucco building designed by Robert Mills and completed in 1821. Edwards designed an I-plan courthouse, set in the center of a deep open block that ran all the way from Main to Harvin Street. The I-plan was a popular design for courthouses all over country at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century.
Folsom Jewelry Store
101 North Main Street
F. Haltom Folsom worked as a watchmaker for the Mason jewelry store until the American Civil War, when he entered the Confederate Army and served out the duration of the conflict. Returning home in 1868 he opened his own business under the name of “Folsom Jewelry Store,” and owned the building for twenty years until his death in 1888. The business moved across the street at a later date, and again 16 years later into a building that was formerly part of the Rogers’ Grocery. 1905 was the year that Lawrence W. Folsom purchased this building at 101 North Main Street, and it would remain the home of the business until its closure some 50 years later after serving as the town’s premier clock, jewelery and watch retailer for 87 years.
35 North Main Street
Constructed in 1890, this basic two-story structure is one of the oldest stores in the business district. The facade was remodeled in 1927 and given a brick face. The family business evolved into a gift shop and departed the downtown area in 1984.
A FEW MORE STEPS AND YOU HAVE REACHED THE TOUR STARTING POINT.