Here at Sumter’s tourism office, we handle a variety of inquiries from the public. Some are routine (“When do the irises bloom?” “Is the Heath Pavilion available for this date?”), but every now and again, we get one that requires a bit of research. That happened this week, when we got an e-mail through the City’s Service Request Module regarding one of the area’s historic churches.
Living in Sumter, it’s easy to look right past the many historical markers that dot the landscape throughout the city and county. After all, it’s our job to know why they are there. But for visitors, these markers can be an unexpected source of Sumter’s fascinating history.
I was once out photographing churches with a friend, and we came to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church near Pinewood. He wasn’t from here, and had married a girl descended from two of Sumter’s oldest families. Now, we Southerners have a reputation for loving tea and genealogy, but it was a great moment to see him reach out and touch the historical marker in front of that beautiful old church. “Six Governors of South Carolina?” He looked at me and said, “And my sons are their descendants. Wow.” Suddenly, those family stories were real.
That was the nature of the question fielded by one of my co-workers. The writer was descended from the Gayle family (founders of the City of Sumter), and had a question regarding whether or not a certain property was donated by her family or that of General Thomas Sumter. It’s one of the things that make Sumter truly remarkable—these old names are not inert print in the history books; they are families who live among us and take a lot of pride in the accomplishments of their forebears. It’s living history.
According to the state’s official tourism site at www.discoversouthcarolina.com, “There are hundreds of roadside historical markers in South Carolina that provide interesting and important information about places, people and events in our state.” Among Sumter County’s site markers, some are particularly noteworthy. These include:
- Early Charleston Road (SC 261, which joined Camden to Charleston and played a crucial role in the development of our state)
- Colonel David DuBose Gaillard (Engineer of the Panama Canal)
- LeNoir Store (A general store founded in 1808 near the town of Horatio, where to this day you can enjoy penny candy, a soda and learn some local history from members of the LeNoir family)
- Potter’s Raid (The campsite of General Edward E. Potter, whose mission was to destroy Sumter County’s railroads in the last days of the Civil War)
There are many others, each one presenting a unique slice of local history. For more information, please visit the SC Department of Archives and History. Or, give us a call at the Swan Lake Visitor’s Center (436-2640 or toll-free at 800-688-4748). If we’ve got the answers, we’ll give them to you. If we don’t, we’ll be glad to help you find them…after all, it helps us, too!
Photo: David Taylor. From www.waymarking.com.