Historic winnsboro, South Carolina

The town of Winnsboro, county seat of Fairfield County, had its beginnings in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. When in 1761 the Cherokee War was brought to a close, the upcountry was open for settlement, and many more whites came into Fairfield. In addition to the French Huguenots and Irish from the coastal country, there came Germans, Swiss, and Scotch-Irish from Virginia and the mountains of Pennsylvania. In the 1770′s Winnsboro had its first notable progressions toward the establishment of a town. Colonel Richard Winn, from Virginia, had settled here. Richard, as a deputy surveyor, had purchased lands in the area as early as 1771. By the time of the Revolutionary War, the Winn surname was so thoroughly associated with the place that “the Borough” adopted it.

The full dramatic impact of the Revolution fell upon Winnsboro in1780. The British Army arrived on October 29th, 1780, and were to remain for the rest of the year. The encampment is said to have been on or near the present site of Mt. Zion Institute. The Cornwallis House is located on North Zion Street, a short distance from Mt. Zion. Apart from the heavy drain of food and supplies for British use, little damage was done to the town. British forces left Winnsboro early in January 1781. The Cornwallis House is now a private residence whose owner blends fine teas which are available on line.

The end of the Revolution began a period of growth and reconstruction in Winnsboro. The town of Winnsboro had its first plat officially recognized by an act of the General Assembly on March 8, 1785. The property where the town stood belonged to John and Richard Winn and John Vanderhorst. This first plat included fourteen blocks or squares. Within two years, in 1787, the town had prospered so much that on March 27th an act in the General Assembly recognized the new town plat, which now included 26 blocks with 345 lots of various sizes. The incorporation of Winnsboro was enacted by the General Assembly in December 1832. Fairfield County’s courthouse was built in 1823, designed by Robert Mills, the famous architect of the Washington Monument. The following year saw the plans begun for the market house in the middle of Washington Street as deemed “most convenient to the inhabitants of the said town, provided, the said market house shall not be of greater width than thirty feet,” thus leaving an additional thirty feet on either side in the 90-foot-wide Washington Street. This is the location of the Town Clock.
John Winn, also served in the Revolution, but one of his most significant achievements was first presidency of the famous Mt. Zion Society, an institution of learning chartered in 1777 “for the education and instructing of youth.” The Mt. Zion Society met, reorganized, incorporated the school as a college in 1783, and graduated its first class four years later. During the Civil War, classes were suspended and the college was used as a military hospital. Later the success of the school brought about many enlargements to the building before its accidental destruction by fire in 1867. Although the Mt. Zion Institute later changed from a college to a high school, it continued to educate men who later became military officers and leaders in every conflict up to the World War II.

The outbreak of the Civil War brought to Winnsboro citizens the pains of apprehension. To be sure, there were still in many minds the memories of wars since the Revolution and the Cornwallis’ occupation. Winnsboro men had served in the War of 1812, the Seminole War, and the Mexican War, but the Civil War promised to be graver than any since the Revolution. By the census of 1860 Fairfield County had 1,578 white males between the ages of fifteen and sixty, but records show that Fairfield furnished nearly 2,000 men to the Confederacy.

Though not a site of a military action during the war, the remaining citizens of the town received word on February 20, 1865, that Sherman’s army was moving north from Columbia toward Winnsboro. These “Bummers” came early in the morning of the 21st, immediately turning to pillaging and burning of the town. In the burning itself, between twenty and thirty buildings were destroyed, including homes, stores, and public edifices. The Federal Army arrived in Winnsboro at 10 A.M., Friday the 21st and every effort was made to arrest the flames. The pillaging was another matter, as much damage had already been done. Troops stayed on duty in Winnsboro on February 22nd, until all the troops of the Corps passed through town. The march continued, the railway being destroyed just as it had been between Columbia and Winnsboro.

Primarily an agricultural area prior to the Civil War, Winnsboro also saw construction of summer homes for wealthy seeking relief from the humidity of Charleston and the low country. Many of these homes, dating from the early 1800s have been renovated over the years and are still serving as residences. (See Tour of Historic Winnsboro). The shops on Congress Street were rebuilt in the early 1900s including government buildings and banks around the Courthouse and Town Clock. The Town Clock has served as the office of the Chamber of Commerce since 1947. The Courthouse continues to house county offices as well as the main courtroom for civil and criminal trials.

In 1898, the Fairfield Cotton Mill was organized. It was the first industry to make it’s home in Fairfield County. Around the mill arose a community, later called Winnsboro Mills. The plant, which was operated as a cotton mill until it was purchased by US Tire & Rubber in 1917, when it was used to manufacture tire cord and textiles for tire manufacture. After several subsequent owners, the plant now manufactures tire cord for Michelin North America.

Congress Street (Business US Hwy 321) is the main downtown business location. All stores are locally owned and operated. The Fairfield Country Club at 601 S Congress Street was originally the Fairfield Inn (c.1861). It is now part of the country club with a private 9-hole golf course. It is currently undergoing major renovation.

Coming into downtown Winnsboro, drop in at Melting Moments which is operated by Shayla Rhodes, offering an interesting selection of women’s jewelry and accessories. Her shop is located at 223 ½ S Congress St.  A little further south on Congress is the Fairfield County Museum at 231 S Congress St and across the street is Pine Tree Players, the local community theater.

In the next block north drop ABBA’s Sweet Treats and Gift Boutique at 145 S Congress. One part of the shop has bins of hard candy to mix and match.  They also have a soda fountain where you can get an old fashion soda, sundae or ice cream.  The other side of the shop has interesting gifts for all occassions.  Continuing north, stop by Summer Day Gifts at 143 S Congress St. They offer a wide selection of gifts, women’s jewelry, purses, unique decorative pieces, including ingraving in the store. The 145 Club, at 145 S Congress St is a private club offering some of the best in jazz, blues and other forms of musical entertainment to be found in the area.  Next door is the Cornwallis House Tea Company.  This delightful shop not only offers their own blended teas, but scrumptous lunch. The shop is owned by Jenny Praser and daughter Christain Fair, who also own the Cornwallis House and have been selling their teas online.

Across the street is the Cornerstone Thrift shop at 200 S Congress has a wide variety of used items, from clothing, to furniture, books and decorative items. It’s well worth the time to check it out.

North of the Town Clock at 119 N Congress St is J&J Interiors, with great ideas for interior design. Across the street is Northside Pet Shack, who sells exotic birds, cute puppies.

Take a short drive from downtown to the Bypass (US 321 Bypass) at 1450 Newberry Road you will find the Painted Picket. This delightful shop carries works of three artists featuring painted furniture, floorcloths, artwork, whimsical & fun items. Owner Christie Buchanan is a multi talented artist.

Also on the bypass are Walmart, Cato, Goody’s Department store, CVS, grocery stores, gas stations and fast food restaurants.

For more information about Winnsboro visit www.townofwinnsboro.com.