Sunday, March 25, 2018

The “Birthplace and Deathbed of the Confederacy," Abbeville SC

Abbeville was settled by French Huguenot settlers in 1758, and together with the county was named for the French town of the same name. Officially incorporated on December 20, 1832, it was the city’s role in the Civil War that has earned it the nickname of “Birthplace and Deathbed of the Confederacy.” The meeting that prompted the state's secession from the Union took place on Nov. 22, 1860 on Secession Hill, and then five years later Jefferson Davis and his cabinet decided to dissolve the Confederacy at the Burt-Stark Mansion. The noteworthy historic district featuring these locations as well as dozens of other historic sites is just a little over an hour from Greenville and the Upstate.

The very center of Abbeville is the Court Square, quaint historic storefronts lining the greenspace that contains the monument that honors those who served in the Civil War. Beginning with the death of J. Allen on Sullivan’s Island in 1861, almost 350 Abbeville residents would lose their lives in the Civil War, close to ½ the male population of the district at this time. The monument is a replacement that was erected in 1996, 90 years after the Daughters of the Confederacy first placed a monument there. The original was replaced after the Christmas tree surrounding the marker burned in 1991, flaking off large sections of stone.

Across the street is a marker that symbolizes the remembrance of the lynching of Anthony Crawford. On October 21, 1916, a white mob lynched a black leader for refusing to sell his cottonseed to a white merchant for a lower price. The marker is located near the Abbeville County Courthouse, the 1908 Beaux Arts building which is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Facing the square directly next to the court house is the Abbeville Opera House, whose doors first opened on October 10, 1908. The ‘Official Rural Drama State Theatre of South Carolina’ is listed on the  National Register of Historic Places, and is the only "Hemphouse" remaining in South Carolina, the 7,800 ft² stage using the same rope-pulled rigging system as when it was originally built.

The actual spot where the secession speeches were made is a little to the east of the square, near the intersection of Branch Street and Secession Avenue. The location is marked by a stone, historical markers, and the grave of an unknown Confederate soldier.

About ¼ mile northeast from Court Square is the Burt-Stark Mansion, the Greek Revival style home that is now property of the Abbeville County Historic Preservation Commission. It was in this stately mansion that Confederate President Jefferson Davis held the last council of the war of the Confederacy on May 2nd 1865. Fleeing from Richmond with the Confederacy in shambles, Davis was convinced by his generals and cabinet that Southern resources were completely exhausted and that any attempt to continue the campaign would be futile. Davis officially acknowledged the dissolution of the Confederate government.

Another site listed on the National Register of Historic Places is the Trinity Episcopal Church, the French Gothic church built in 1860. The pink hue is due to the locally made bricks (and native clay) which are beneath the exterior layer of cement, and the original bell still hangs in the tower to this day. The historic churchyard beyond contains the graves of several Confederate soldiers and one Union soldier.

McGowan-Barksdale-Bundy House

If you are touring Abbeville with children, make sure to schedule a stop at the park behind the McGowan-Barksdale-Bundy House, headquarters of the Abbeville County Historical Society. The grounds contain three servants’ cabins, two of which date back to 1857; however it is Caboose No. 5759 that draws their attention, built in August 1963 and a testament of Abbeville at a rail-crossroads. The caboose traveled through town on its way to Richmond, Atlanta, Miami, Washington DC, Baltimore and Cincinnati, and as far as Chicago IL, St. Louis MO & New Orleans LA.

Finally, film buffs should plan to drive down Magazine Street. There they'll find the white Victorian which Julia Roberts moved into in the movie Sleeping With the Enemy

404 Magazine Street, Abbeville

The area around Abbeville is home to a number of state parks, as well as the Long Cane Ranger District of Sumter National Forest. Located near the Savannah River Basin, nearby Lake Secession is owned and operated by the City of Abbeville. Abbeville is also part of the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor due to its rich heritage of textiles; the Heritage Corridor stretches from the coast near Charleston to the mountains of Oconee County. It is this combination of the historic with natural that makes Abbeville a great weekend destination from the Upstate.

Gothic Revival style servants cabin
Livery stable built in 1870s after original destroyed in fire

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