Giving Sumter County history a facelift, restoration

Group to improve park honoring Gen. Sumter

BY ADRIENNE SARVIS
adrienne@theitem.com
Posted 3/8/18

After years of a society's campaigning, Thomas Sumter Memorial Park, named in honor of the "Gamecock General" and Sumter County's namesake, will receive some much-needed improvements during the next few months.

Located in Stateburg - Sumter's …

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Giving Sumter County history a facelift, restoration

Group to improve park honoring Gen. Sumter

Sumter Historical Society has plans to restore the park in Stateburg where Gen. Thomas Sumter, Sumter County's namesake, and members of his family are buried. The group wants to repair the mausoleum, remove trees and lay a path to the Thomas Sumter monument.
Sumter Historical Society has plans to restore the park in Stateburg where Gen. Thomas Sumter, Sumter County's namesake, and members of his family are buried. The group wants to repair the mausoleum, remove trees and lay a path to the Thomas Sumter monument.
BRUCE MILLS / THE SUMTER ITEM
Posted

After years of a society's campaigning, Thomas Sumter Memorial Park, named in honor of the "Gamecock General" and Sumter County's namesake, will receive some much-needed improvements during the next few months.

Located in Stateburg - Sumter's home - the park serves as the grave site for the Revolutionary War general's family as well as a local historical landmark.

Through the years, the park has fallen prey to time, which has allowed greenery at the site to become overgrown and the mausoleum built in honor of Sumter's daughter-in-law to deteriorate.

Now, Sumter Historical Society - a group interested in preserving local history - has plans to beautify the park so visitors' attention is given to Gen. Sumter.

"He was an unbelievable person," said Jack Fudger, president of the historical society.

He said Gen. Sumter put his life and livelihood on the line to help start the country.

Restoration plans will include repairing damaged portions of the mausoleum, removing a few trees, laying a path to the Thomas Sumter monument and putting a farm-style fence with crossing boards around the site.

Before any work can begin, the South Carolina Historic Preservation Office - which oversees the care of historical sites in the state - requires the local group scan the ground of the park to locate all of the bodies on the property.

There are about 18 graves at the memorial site, Fudger said.

Though it is one more step, the historical society thinks it is well worth it.

Gen. Sumter isn't just influential in Sumter County, but also in the nation, said Ray Thompson, vice president of the historical society, meaning people from all over visit the park, so it needs to be in better shape.

While visiting the park recently, Fudger met people from other states who were traveling through the area. He also saw flowers and American flags laid across the graves, proving that people are interested in staying in touch with local history.

Though Thomas Sumter has a history that garners some criticisms, Tom O'Hare, a historical society board member and history teacher at Wilson Hall, said people should remember his contributions to the county, state and country.

"He was a complex man to understand," he said. "There's so much that people do not know about him."

O'Hare said the more people learn about Thomas Sumter, the more they can be proud of Sumter County.

"He was a true patriot," he said. "He believed his personal liberties were worth defending."

Working with Mike Carraher, education director for the historical society, O'Hare is teaching a few of Sumter's high school students about Thomas Sumter so they can, in turn, serve as tour guides at the park.

The historical society also plans to have a ceremony at the park in May where students will be available to provide information about the general, O'Hare said.

Fudger and Thompson also credited Jack Howle, past president of the historical society; Sumter County Administrator Gary Mixon; Sen. Thomas McElveen III, D-Sumter; and State Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, as a few of the people who assisted in making the improvement project possible.

The county wants to help do something special in honor of Sumter's namesake, Mixon said.

"That's what we're about," Fudger said, "keeping the heritage of Sumter County alive."

Thomas Sumter, a native of Virginia, moved to South Carolina in the 1760s and made a home for himself in Stateburg, about 13 miles northwest of downtown Sumter.

He earned the nickname "Gamecock General" for his fierce fighting tactics during the Revolutionary War while serving in the Second Regiment of the Continental Army in South Carolina.

After the war, Sumter was elected to the South Carolina General Assembly and the state Senate.

He died on June 1, 1832, at his home in Stateburg and is credited as being the last surviving general of the American Revolution.

For Gen. Sumter's efforts during the war and after, the state General Assembly provided money to have a monument honoring Sumter put on the park grounds in 1907.

Even a century after his death, Sumter's fighting spirit still inspires South Carolinians today, especially those who attend schools or support teams with the fighting gamecock mascot.