The 2011 Poinsettia Festival has ended its annual community-wide Christmas celebration, and Sumter was action-packed every evening through December 18. Lights, trees, song and story and dance…what a splendid way to bring in the Christmas holidays! Now it’s time to finish the last-minute shopping and make final preparations for Christmas this Sunday.
But December 18 did not mark the end of all holiday celebrations. Yesterday, December 20, was the first night of Hannukah, the eight-day Festival of Lights. This reminds me of an extremely important slice of Sumter history—the contribution of Sumter’s Jewish community to our growth and development through the centuries. A substantial Sephardic population began arriving here circa 1815-20, and their influence is still felt very strongly today. Names such as Moses, Harby, Moise, Levi and others appear today as street names, buildings and businesses, reflecting the accomplishments of these families. These include the Sumter County Museum, built by the Moses and Phelps families, and the Sumter County Courthouse, which was built in 1907 on property formerly belonging to prosperous merchant A.A. Solomons.
Temple Sinai, located at Church and Hampton Streets, was completed over the years from 1910 to 1917. Built in the Moorish Revival style with beautiful stained-glass windows, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. With a declining membership, the congregation has begun to contemplate possible closure in the near future, and has donated its extensive collection to the College of Charleston Jewish Heritage Collection to ensure its preservation. A historical marker was added in 2009.
As family and friends of all faiths gather to celebrate the season, we at the Swan Lake Visitors Center would like to take this opportunity to wish you a wonderful holiday season. We will be closed from December 23-26, and will re-open on December 27, 2011. In the meantime, the Fantasy of Lights at Swan Lake will continue nightly through December 31.
Merry Christmas from the Sumter tourism staff, and best wishes for a bright new year!