Everything Old Is…Exactly What You Want to See!

If I may say so, I don’t think I’d want to live anyplace else.  Among its other charms, Sumter’s downtown historic district features a variety of building designs, from small Arts & Crafts bungalows to the great, soaring Queen Anne style, cozy Cape Cods, exotic Mission Revivals, grand Tudor Revivals and others.  This neighborhood, known to many as Hampton Park, dates back to the early nineteenth century, with the oldest documented home having been built circa 1811.  As Sumter began to prosper in the 1840s, more grand homes were built, and many of those still standing are just as beautiful today. 

The area surrounding Memorial Park is interesting not only for its buildings, but its historic connections.  Some of Sumter’s leading citizens have roots here, including H.C. Bland (founder of Swan Lake Iris Gardens).  When Thomas and Martha Brice decided to downsize from what is now the Sumter County Museum, they built a wonderful home on Haynsworth Street—a more “manageable” bungalow of about 3,500 square feet (and if that still sounds big, bear in mind that the main house at the Museum is more than twice that size).  The Dr. Archie China house on Church Street, scene of a scandalous shooting in 1924, was the subject of a 1941 novel, Small Town Murder by Beatrice Jefferson.  Hampton Park is full of amazing places and fascinating stories. 

Aside from history, one of the best things about an old home is the front porch.  In the days before air conditioning, porches were gathering places for family and friends, and play spaces for kids on rainy days.  Often holding decades of fond memories, Sumter’s porches are special—enough so that the city once produced a “Porches of Sumter” poster highlighting the most beautiful and interesting.  One of those porches belongs to the house at 202 North Salem Avenue, built around 1900.

This particular porch warrants a mention because it’s one of ten being featured during the “Porches of Sumter” event on October 4, 2012.  Presented by Hurricane Builders and hosted by the Sumter Chamber of Commerce, the evening highlights ten gracious old homes:  535 West Hampton, 24 Park Avenue, 28 Park Avenue, 316 West Calhoun, 325 West Calhoun, 330 West Calhoun, 333 West Calhoun, 115 North Salem, 122 North Salem, and 202 North Salem.

The walking tour features refreshments at each home, including wine and soft drinks.  On the menu are a number of Southern specialties—she-crab soup, cheese wafers, Carolina caviar, shrimp Creole, chicken bog, shrimp and grits, and even a pig pickin’.  The event lasts from 6 to 9 p.m.  Tickets are $25 in advance (available from the Chamber of Commerce or organization board members) or $30 at the event.  For more info, please call (803) 775-1231.  Dessert will be served at the Memorial Park fountain.

Like so many other places in the historic district, Memorial Park has an interesting story of its own.   Built in 1920 and designed by distinguished landscape architect Julia Lester Dillon, it is dedicated to the memory of the Sumter citizens who lost their lives during the Great War (as World War I was called at the time).  But prior to that, it was the grounds of another historic home belonging to Mexican War veteran, Colonel James D. Blanding.  Built sometime prior to 1860, the residence sat on a beautiful lot—so beautiful that the City of Sumter offered to purchase it in 1919 for the new park.  But rather than demolish the gracious home, the owners harnessed it to a team of mules and moved it further down the block, where for many years it has been the home of the Ansley Yates family.

Speaking of Memorial Park, you’ll want to head back there on October 13, 2012 for the annual Art in the Park celebration.  From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., local artists will be selling paintings, a selection of handcrafted pottery and sculpture, jewelry, woodwork, forged iron, hand knits and more.  Along with the music of Kit and Darren Polutta, the featured artists will include:  Jackie Stasney, Leslie Belflower, Patz and Mike Fowle , Melinda Odom, Mackenzie Sholtz, Jen Martin and Heidi Adler, Elizabeth Crawford, Melanie Herrington, Kim Schneider, Randy Heywood, Rose Metz, Dennis Snell, Randall Castleberry, Rhonda Simons, Mike Tucker, Robin Stevens and Laura Cardello. 

For more info on Art in the Park, contact Laura Cardello at ljcardello@yahoo.com.  Admission to this family-friendly event is free.

An evening on gracious Southern porches, an afternoon in one of Sumter’s prettiest parks, or both—the choice is yours!  Here’s hoping that the weather is perfect!

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