Although named for prominent Patriot leader Richard Winn, who arrived in what would become Fairfield County a few years before the outbreak of the American Revolution, the picturesque town is better remembered as the winter headquarters of Lord Cornwalis after the disaster at Kings Mountain aborted his first invasion of North Carolina. The British remained in Winnsboro for four months beginning in October 1780, building the army’s strength to more than 4,000 troops. Quite an influx for a tiny village that maybe sported 20 residences when the British arrived.
That army found room to camp on the grounds of Mt. Zion Institute that had been founded in 1777, one of the first upcountry schools in South Carolina. During the stay of Lord Cornwallis, Colonel John Winn and Minor Winn attempted to ambush and kill his Lordship, but they were frustrated. They were captured and condemned to the gallows, but Cornwallis pardoned and released them.
From its beginnings until the exhausted soil gave out in the 1920s this was cotton country. In December 1832 Winnsboro, already the Fairfield County seat, was incorporated as a town. Industry never intruded much on the town as it grew around its agricultural and educational heritage. One exception was the quarrying of Winnsboro Blue Granite or simply Winnsboro Blue, a light-blue or gray-colored stone was quarried in Fairfield County between 1883 and 1946. A 1893 publication described the rock as “the silk of the trade.” It was used in buildings from Columbia to Philadelphia, including the South Carolina Statehouse. In 1969 Winnsboro Blue Granite was designated the South Carolina State Stone.
We will see some Winnsboro Blue on our walking tour that will begin in the center of town under a clock tower whose main components are not local at all but in fact come from across the sea...
100 Congress Street at Washington Street
In 1785, the General Assembly of South Carolina authorized the establishment of a public market at this spot. The market was a square, wooden building, painted yellow, and was topped with a belfry. In the 1820s Robert Cathcart bought the building and also donated to the town his old duck pond and a small piece of land in the middle of Washington Street as part of the deal. Here was constructed a narrow building modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The works for the town clock were ordered from Alsace, France and the town promotes it as the longest-running clock in America. The town bell was also cast in France and did good service until 1895; during a fire that year two young men were ringing it so vigorously that it cracked and was sent to Philadelphia to J. McShane for repairs. When after some delay it was returned and sounded for the first time, the tone was so different from the old tone that doubt was expressed immediately as to its being the original bell. The first floor is now used as meeting space for the town’s various organizations and as a voting location. The second floor of the Town Clock is home to the Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce.
WALK EAST ON WASHINGTON STREET.
114 East Washington Street
This magnificent building that was originally constructed in 1833 and remodeled in 1873. The downstairs formerly housed the railway passenger station, while the upstairs had an auditorium for concerts and theatrical presentations. An important occupant of Thespian Hall was the News & Herald newspaper. For many years, the Hall’s lower floor was the home of the “News & Herald Tavern,” a restaurant known for unique entertainments, such as regular sessions of story telling.
northwest corner of Washington Street and Zion Street
This Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church was incorporated in 1823. The old cemetery, located at comer of Fairfield and Vanderhorst streets, is the traditional site of first church building; the second, located across Fairfield Street, was dedicated in 1873. This present church dates to 1903.
201 East Washington Street at Zion Street
Educator, humanitarian, and religious leader James Henry Carlisle was born in this house on May 24, 1825. He received his education at Mount Zion Institute and South Carolina College. A delegate in 1860 to the Secession Convention and a legislator in 1864, his greatest service was as the third President of Wofford College from 1875 to 1902, where he had taught since 1853. He died October 21, 1909.
TURN LEFT ON ZION STREET.
102 North Zion Street
This two-and-one-half story house from the 1840s is an example of what has been referred to as “mosquito cottage architecture.” It features thick masonry walls on the ground floor with a wide veranda extending the length of the front, covered by an overhanging gable.
Songbird Manor Bed & Breakfast
116 North Zion Street
This stately 1912 Arts-and-Crafts style home was built by local businessman Marcus W. Doty. It is a showplace of fine craftsmanship from the imported pressed brick exterior and sweeping verandah with detailed ceiling to the elegant molded plaster ceilings in main rooms, extensive oak wainscoting, moldings and staircase, eight-foot chestnut pocket doors and mahogany inlays. The stone foundations are of Winnsboro blue granite. This was the first home in Fairfield County to boast an indoor bathroom. Restored in the mid-1990s to serve as a guest house, it has remained so ever since.
127 North Zion Street
The original owner and builder of this house is unknown but it reigns as one of the most famous structures in Winnsboro because it is accepted that this is the house in which General Lord Cornwallis resided during the British occupation in the Revolutionary War. The original portion of the house was built on the ground level and was two stories high. A wing and the third floor were later additions. This older portion of the house is enclosed with massive masonry walls and partitions that are coated with a hard plaster. The timber used in the framing is all oversized, and it is joined with mortises and pegs. The few nails used in its construction are hand-made. Captain John Buchanan, a distinguished soldier of the Revolution and a leading citizen of Fairfield, later resided here. He was the first regular American officer who received the Marquis de Lafayette at Georgetown. Captain John Buchanan owned much property in the town and throughout the county. Among his holdings was a tavern that was located on Congress Street almost directly behind this house.
Mt. Zion Institute
Zion Street and Hudson Street and Walnut street and Bratton Street
Mt. Zion Institute occupied a three-acre site a block off Congress Street in downtown Winnsboro on lands donated after the formation of Mt. Zion College in 1777. General Cornwallis’s British troops camped on the land in the winter of 1780. It shares the distinction, with the College of William and Mary in Virginia, of being one of only two remaining campuses in the U. S. that were encampment sites for opposing armies during the American Revolution and the War Between the States. The last buildings went up in 1936 giving the campus an elementary school building, cafeteria, auditorium, gymnasium, high school building, and a residence known as the teacherage. The elementary school building, built in 1922, burned in 1981, but the remaining buildings were in use until 1991 when the school closed. Now owned by the city the building’s future remains uncertain; a small monument park at the corner of Hudson and Mt. Zion streets contain a monument to Fairfield County’s Confederate dead and a stone marker remembering the time the British stayed here.
TURN LEFT ON COLLEGE STREET. TURN RIGHT ON CONGRESS STREET.
Winnsboro Town Hall
207 North Congress Street
The impressive three-story house was built by David Campbell and purchased in 1856 by the Reverend Josiah Obear, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church. Obear opened a school for girls in the house and continued to operate the school during the Civil War. Obear also sheltered many refugees during the last months of the war. Union troops broke into the house but encountered a child inside with scarlet fever and beat a hasty retreat. Today, behind the six square fluted Doric columns the town government resides.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO COLLEGE STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
First United Methodist Church
109 West College Street
The First United Methodist Church was established in 1808 under the leadership of the James Jenkins, an early circuit-riding minister, and John Buchanan, a captain in the Revolution. Pioneer American Methodist bishop Francis Asbury visited here from 1809 to 1814. This building, completed in 1908, is the congregation’s third structure; two earlier ones were located about two blocks to the southeast.
St. Paul Baptist Church
207North Garden Street at College Street
This African-American church was organized in 1873 by Simon McIntosh, Henry Golden, Lily Yarborough, Frances Kelly, Lizzie Hart, and others. The first sanctuary was built in 1876; the present sanctuary was built in 1893.
TURN LEFT ON GARDEN STREET.
St. John’s Episcopal Church
301 West Liberty Street at Garden Street
St. John’s was organized in 1839 as a mission church and two years later Josiah Obear arrived from Vermont to be the first rector. The following year the congregation erected a small frame church on Fairfield Street at the site of the present church cemetery. It was the third Episcopal Church to be built north of Columbia and would be burned by Union Troops on February 21, 1865. A second church, Gothic in style, was ready by 1869 and it too was destined to be destroyed by fire in 1888. The cornerstone of the present Gothic style brick church, designed by architect R. S. Schyler, was laid that year and the first services held on March 20, 1889.
TURN LEFT ON LIBERTY STREET. TURN RIGHT ON CONGRESS STREET. WALK DOWN THE WEST SIDE OF THE STREET.
Fairfield County Museum
231 South Congress Street
This three-story brick townhouse, a highly unusual example of Federal architecture in central South Carolina, was built about 1830 by Richard Cathcart. The front foundation wall is cut granite; the others are rubbed granite, veneered with locally fired bricks laid in Flemish bond. The walls are eighteen inches thick to the third floor and fourteen inches thick from that point to the roof. In 1848, then well-known educator Catherine Ladd and her artist husband purchased the house and set up a boarding school for the education of young ladies. The Winnsboro Female Institute closed with the coming of the Civil War; Ladd converted her efforts to the formation of the Soldiers’ Aid Association, putting aside her pen and taking up a needle. She is known to have contributed to the designing of the Confederate flag. In 1862, the property was sold to Philip E. Porcher, and was again sold in 1874 to Priscilla Ketchin. Subsequently, the building became rental property, a public school, a hotel and a boarding house. It emerged again as an educational establishment in 1976 when it was restored and converted to the Fairfield County Museum.
CROSS THE STREET TO THE EAST SIDE AND BEGIN TO WALK NORTH ON CONGRESS STREET.
Pine Tree Playhouse
230 South Congress Street
The Pine Tree Players have been presenting community theater in Winnsboro since producing Little Scandal from January 18-20, 1973.
Fairfield County Courthouse
101 South Congress Street
Fairfield County’s Court House was built in 1822 by William McCreight under the supervision of Robert Mills, constructed with English ballast brick brought to Charleston. It was remodeled in 1939, retaining the Mills design but adding two rear wings and the flying stairways.
TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
Sion Presbyterian Church
116 West Washington Street
The Winnsboro area of Fairfield County has been served by a Presbyterian congregation since before 1785. Mount Sion was incorporated by the legislature in 1787. The Neoclassical brick church features rounded arch windows and a quartet of fluted Ionic columns.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO CONGRESS STREET AND TURN LEFT.
127 North Congress Street
The Herald Independent masthead goes back only to 1982 but the newspaper can trace its heritage back into the 1800s. Not all the way back to 1844 when the Fairfield And Chester Advertiser became the first newspaper published in Fairfield County. It was only a weekly and didn’t see a second year. A direct descendent appeared in 1849 with the coming of the Fairfield Herald. After suspension during the Civil War, it re-emerged as The News: Tri-Weekly and the Fairfield Herald, published by the same staff in the same office. A formal merger resulted in the News & Herald in 1876 and the paper would serve Winnsboro for 106 years. By comparison, the ink was scarcely dry on the Fairfield Independent, a weekly founded in 1979, when it merged into today’s Herald Independent. For that reason many locals simply ignore the name change and still call the newspaper News & Herald almost 30 years after the name change.
TURN AND WALK BACK DOWN CONGRESS STREET TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT CONGRESS AND WASHINGTON STREETS.