Historic Ridgeway, South Carolina
Ridgeway takes its name from the ridge which bisects this lower area of Fairfield County between the Broad and Wateree Rivers. When the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad was completed in 1850, the new railroad followed the ridge north of Columbia towards Winnsboro. Ridgeway, at 625 feet above sea level, is the highest point on the Southern Railway between Augusta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina.
The earliest settlers of the Ridgeway area of lower Fairfield District appear to have been Scots-Irish Presbyterians in about 1790s. The Aimwell Church was built about 1790. Over the years, many churches have been built, burned, and rebuilt to serve as the center of life in the small community. Some of the first settlers had come from Scotland and Ireland by way of Virginia and North Carolina, whereas others had come directly to South Carolina by way of Charleston from Ireland during the potato famine of the late 18th century.
English and French Huguenots migrated from the Charleston District in the 1820’s seeking a more healthful climate in the upcountry. The Palmer (pronounced PAL-mer) and Thomas families became very influential landowners in the area. Local streets and shops reflect this influence. The widow of Edward Palmer donated land on which St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church was built in 1854. Samuel Peyre Thomas came to Ridgeway in 1825 and, after graduating from Harvard, wrote, “…upon coming of age a few months after returning home from college, I found myself in possession of 10 Negros and about two thousand dollars. With this small property, I removed to Fairfield District and purchased a small farm and have ever since been engaged in the production of cotton.”
About 1873, David Ruff built Ruff Chapel for the Methodists. Ruff Chapel stands today in its original form. It has no electricity or water. It was used as a meeting house and was shared with churches of other denominations.
The first telegraph line was run in 1854 and 1855, the wires being stretched from tree to tree. However, Ridgeway did not have a telegraph office until the latter part of the War, when the Confederate government established better provisions for rapid communications. And the fact that Ridgeway had a telegraph office accounts for it’s “greatest and darkest days in history.”
General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, commanding general of the Military Division of the West, Confederate States of America, established his headquarters at Ridgeway on Friday, February 17, 1865, in the Century House, just across the street from the telegraph office. General Beauregard had evacuated Columbia that morning in advance of General Sherman’s Union Army approaching the capital city across the Broad River. General Beauregard maintained his headquarters at Ridgeway until Sunday, February 19, when it was ascertained that Sherman would advance north rather than toward Charleston or Wilmington through Camden.
The Century House (c. 1854) was once the home of the Coleman family, served as the Confederate Headquarters during the Civil War, housed guests as a hotel and later was home to the Ridgeway Garden Club. The building was renovated in 2007 and is now the location of the Town Hall. It also serves as the official site for the Arts on the Ridge event held every spring to celebrate the talents of local artists.
Plantations and large homes surround Ridgeway, indicative of the importance of farming to the economic prosperity of the area, particularly cotton farming. The former cotton warehouse on the corner of Dogwood and Church Street has been totally renovated to house R. H. Lee Auctioneers. The area across the railroad tracks behind the stores was an area used for the cotton market. This is now the site of the annual Pig on the Ridge BBQ cook-off each November. Many of the houses and business on Palmer St and in downtown Ridgeway were built in the early 1900s.
The Thomas Store (c 1880) was renovated in early 2000s and now is home to Laura’s Tea Room (upstairs) and Thomas Store (on the first floor) a coffee shop & deli and a wonderful gift shop. Almost next door is Over the Top Emporium, offering a great selection of woman’s hats and accessories. Visit Deanne’s Creations, offering hand made crocheted items. Just up the street, Ruff Hardware occupies it’s original location and is a treasure trove of old, unusual and hard-to-find hardware.
Across the street is the World’s Smallest Police Station. Imagine an old wooden desk, small file cabinet, a black rotary phone and a small wood stove to keep warm on those cold wintry nights in this historic building. But before the world’s smallest police station became a station in 1940, it was the town well. The area behind the police station was known as the yard. It’s called this because it was used as a staging area for cotton farmers brining their cotton into town to be loaded on the train for shipment. Before farmers would leave town, they would pull their wagons up to the well to water their mule and oxen. Some residents can remember when cotton farmers were lined up from the cotton gin, located in the building behind Ruff Hardware, south on Palmer Street and over the railroad bridge.
In 1940, as part of the old WPA project, the well was covered up and the “World’s Smallest Police Station” was born and served several officers until 1990, when the current police station opened up. The “new” station was formerly the Town’s garage and housed a tractor and equipment for Ridgeway’s fire station, including one fire truck. After remodeling and renovations, you can see that the Police Department has doubled it’s size. The former police station is now used for a visitor center.
The old police station has had its share of the spotlight in the last several years. You might have seen it in the 1989 film starring Stockard Channing, Sean Ashton, Tim Quill, and Daphne Zuniga. “Staying Together’” was filmed in Ridgeway.
On June 25, 1996, Ridgeway was host to the world as the Centennial Olympic Torch Relay made an official rest stop in front of the World’s Smallest Police Station. Under a sunny Carolina blue sky with temperatures hovering near 95 degrees at 10:15 in the morning and with nearly 4000 people population of nearly 400), Joel Griffith of Lugoff, South Carolina carried the torch on Palmer Street as the torch headed to Atlanta and the 1996 summer Olympic games. Torch Relay officials presented Mayor Laura Thomas with a certificate commemorating Ridgeway’s participating in the once in a lifetime event. This historic day was captured live on WIS-TV and WNOK radio out of Columbia. WIS reporter, Tom Johnson, has been to Ridgeway twice to do a special feature called “The Carolina Traveler” featuring the “World’s Smallest Police Station.”
Just Around the Corner is located at 128 S Palmer St – a small separate building just behind the old town hall. They carry select ladies apparel and children’s equestrian wear on consignment. Ruff Furniture offers a great selection of fine furniture at reasonable prices. The Cotton Yard Market now houses a consignment market with dealers’ stalls offering antiques and collectibles. Between the Cotton Yard and First Citizens is Brown Homes & Land 106 S Palmer St. If you need an ATM, there’s one located in the drive-up at First Citizens.
Ridgeway is also home to Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, one of two famous women from Ridgeway, South Carolina. Mamie Johnson played ball for the Indianapolis Clowns as one of only three African American women who debuted in the Negro League. A street is named in her honor between South Dogwood Avenue and South Coleman Streets.
Don’t miss Arts on the Ridge – 1st Weekend in May . Arts come alive in all forms – something for everyone!!
Pig on the Ridge – 1st Weekend in November
Best BBQ Cook Off in the Southeast held in Downtown Ridgeway
For more information about Ridgeway visit www.ridgewaysc.org.