City Directories and History: The Kershaw County Courthouse / Masonic Lodge – “An elegant court house is now building here, which will be superior to the design of any in the state…” So wrote Architect Robert Mills of the building he designed in 1825. The original structure had six Ionic columns, but changes made in 1847 replaced the Ionic columns with four Doric columns with ornamental entablatures in the Greek Revival form. The steps and portico were also added at the time. Under the stairs, the original Baron de Kalb tombstone has been permanently installed by the Hobkirk’s Hill Chapter of the DAR. The third courthouse built on this site, the Mills courthouse was in use until 1906. Today it is owned by the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, and is a popular venue for business functions, weddings and receptions. [Courtesy of the Camden Tour Book]
IMAGE GALLERY via photographer Bill Segars – 2004
The former Kershaw County Courthouse is among the most significant historic buildings in Camden. It was designed in 1825 by the nationally-prominent architect Robert Mills on the site of the original frame court house that served Camden District. The Camden District encompassed what is today; York, Chester, Fairfield, Richland, Lancaster , Sumter, Clarendon and Kershaw counties. Mills was a gifted and talented architect who claimed to be the first native born American to train specifically for a career in architecture. In 1808 after apprenticing with Benjamin Latrobe in Washington, D.C., Mills moved to Philadelphia where he designed several important buildings, In 1819 he returned to his native South Carolina and over the next decade designed canals, courthouses, jails, hospitals, and office buildings. He wrote a number of influential treatises on internal improvements and produced an excellent atlas of the state. In 1830 he returned to Washington, D.C., and obtained a post in the federal government as head architect. He was involved in
virtually every major project in the nation’s Capitol throughout the 1830s and 1840s. He designed what a number of national landmarks, including the Treasury Building and the Washington Monument, and supervised the construction of the Smithsonian Institution.
Mill’s Kershaw County Courthouse was modified in 1847 when the original six Ionic columns were replaced by four Doric columns. The central steps and second story balcony were added at the same time. At the front of the courthouse under the staircase stands the original tombstone of Baron de Kalb. Additional information: Kirkland and Kennedy’s Historic Camden states; “Many will remember how, in the years following the war, when dilapidation had overtaken old Camden, the cows, after ruminating all day upon the pastures of Magazine Hill, would take lodging every night in the basement hall of the Courthouse. ” The courthouse continued to serve as offices for the county government until 1906 when a new courthouse was constructed on north Broad Street. The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution took over the old courthouse and used it as a meeting hall into the 1 930s. In 1936 the building was dedicated as the Kershaw Lodge F29 AFM and continues to serve as a Masonic Lodge today. [Camden Archives and Museum] The building is reported to have cost some $8,798. when originally constructed. (BS)
The Historic America Building Survey project studied this building extensively and the drawings and some of the images are from their work while in Camden, S.C.
Architecturally and militarily significant, Camden was a center of activity in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and its architecture reflects the two centuries of its growth. The city was named in honor of Lord Camden, British champion of colonial rights. In 1774 wide streets were laid off in a grid pattern. The town expanded northward as shown in a 1798 plat. The plat set aside six parks which formed the basis for the city’s present 178 acres of beautiful parkland. Most of the original town was destroyed by the fire of 1813. This accelerated growth northward to the Kirkwood area, north of Chesnut Street. Originally, the houses in this area were summer cottages, but by 1840 Kirkwood was a year-round residential area of handsome mansions and elaborate gardens. Many of the mansions were built around the cottages, which still survive at their core. Contributing properties are mostly residential but also include public buildings, a church, and a cemetery. Camden’s architecture is classically inspired and includes examples of Federal and Classical Revival, in addition to cottage-type, Georgian, Charleston-type with modifications, and mansion-type houses. Several of the city’s buildings were designed by noted architect Robert Mills. Listed in the National Register May 6, 1971. Courtesy of the SC Dept. of Archives and History
“Kershaw Lodge no. 29, Ancient Free Masons, was organized in 1811 and was one of the state’s first Masonic orders, wherein members advanced step-by-step through learning and service. Other organizations were less structured. The DeLalb Lyceum, for example, presented many lectures of a scholarly nature. Members of the Wateree Agricultural Society listened to scientific talks and conducted experiments useful in their own planting operations. The Flat Rock Literary Society enjoyed readings and discussions and may have been associated with the Library Society of the Flat Rock Baptist Church. In the same area the Flat Rock and Beaver Creek Temperance Society focused their information sharing on social issues and likely related political and religious ones. It is not clear whether this society was separate from or evolved into the Total Abstinence Society of Beaver Creek and Flat Rock as perhaps the result of continued focus. The Washington Temperance Society, which organized in Camden, undertook a controversial move to admit women as well as men as participating members in 1844.” (Information courtesy of A History of Kershaw County, S.C. by Joan A. Inabinet and L. Glenn Inabinet, 2001 – The Un. of S.C. Press)
View a map showing the boundaries of the Camden Historic District.
View the complete text of the nomination form for this National Register property to read about numerous structures in Camden, S.C.
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IMAGE GALLERY – Courtesy of the Monarch Collection, Camden A&M
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