These days, the midtown section of Washington/Broad Street is mostly known as the location of banks, convenience and discount stores, professional offices and Tuomey Healthcare System. Towns tend to grow outward, and eventually, the core of the community turns into something other than a place for families.
At one time, though, and not so long ago, Broad Street was one of Sumter’s finest addresses. Long-time residents have fond memories of the large and elegant old Wilson home (now demolished), which served for years as the Elk’s Lodge. Elmore-Hill-McCreight Funeral Home & Crematorium was once the Rowland family home. The houses along “Antique Row” at Broad and Chestnut Streets undoubtedly hold memories of the love and laughter of families who grew up there. The existence of these buildings is proof that prior to WWII, Sumter was already much more than a simple farm community.
One of these homes still stands as a sort of monument to the grandeur of Sumter’s past—the Sumter County Museum at 122 North Washington Street. The original home on this site was built around 1848 by Andrew Jackson Moses, and has also served
as both a school and a museum. The present structure was built in 1916 by the Phelps family, but has been known since the 1920’s as the Williams-Brice House. Mr. O.L. Williams founded the Williams Furniture Company, once one of the largest manufacturers in the state, and passed the house on to his daughter Martha, who lived there with her husband, Thomas Brice.
In the 1970’s, the family donated the home to the Sumter County Historical Commission, who opened it to the public. Today, the Museum serves approximately 12,000 visitors per year and hosts several annual events such as the Oyster Roast and Carolina Backcountry Days. Originally a “house and garden museum,” it now includes permanent and revolving exhibits, the Mayor Bubba archives, a reception hall, transportation and agricultural exhibits, and the Carolina Backcountry, a reconstructed village representing life in Sumter District circa 1800.
A visitor approaching the museum from the front will notice the stately cast-iron lions
flanking the main entrance. These lions have stood (well, lain) guard for more than a century, and can be seen in photos dating back to 1889, before the present structure was built. They moved out with the Phelps family in 1922, but returned home 50 years later when the Williams-Brice estate donated the house to the community. (And personally, I cannot help noting their resemblance to the Mood family lions that guarded the home of my friend, the late Virginia Jones Mood, and now rest at the Haynsworth Street entrance of Patriot Hall. Only the museum lions aren’t so orange!)
Although the many children who have lived in the home may have called them many things over the years, the lions are presently nameless. The Museum is holding a “Name the Lions” contest, with the winner receiving a lifetime membership and recognition in the museum’s newletter and letterhead. The “how to” is simple—submit an entry stating what the lions should be called, and why! All answers should be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mailed to Post Office Box 1456, Sumter, SC 29151 (no telephone entries, please). A short, but informative, quiz is available along with entry information.
If you have never made the lions’ acquaintance, you’ve got a fun and educational family trip in store. The museum is open each week from Thursday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children ages 6 to 17. Explore the Sumter County Museum, a treasured slice of Sumter history, and take this opportunity to leave your own stamp for future generations!
For more information, please call the Museum at (803) 775-0908 or visit online at http://www.sumtercountymuseum.org.