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Reflections by Sammy Way: Sumter's hotels reflect community's rapid growth

Sumter Item archivist and historian
Posted 4/18/20

Reflections remembers the construction of numerous hotels in downtown Sumter. These buildings were very important to growth of the Sumter community as it moved into the 19th century. With the arrival of trains in the 1850s and the ensuing influx of …

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Reflections by Sammy Way: Sumter's hotels reflect community's rapid growth


Reflections remembers the construction of numerous hotels in downtown Sumter. These buildings were very important to growth of the Sumter community as it moved into the 19th century. With the arrival of trains in the 1850s and the ensuing influx of "drummers," businessmen and settlers, Sumter needed a large amount of temporary living space. The building of hotels proved to be an essential ingredient in the development of the Sumter community.

This article used data from The Sumter Item archives and information obtained from the writings of Dr. Anne King Gregorie and Miss Cassie Nicholes.

The term hotel originates from the Latin word "hoste," "meaning person or thing that provides something for a guest, usually lodging, and sometimes food." The earliest hotels appear to have been resting places for transients, and the quality of these lodging facilities and accommodations appears to have been minimal at best. The Middle Ages saw hotels offering both a place of rest and in many cases becoming the temporary home of increasing numbers of travelers.

During the early 1800s, Americans accelerated the movement westward, and this led to a rapid growth in the number of hotels being constructed. People were traveling by stagecoach, railway and by ships, and the wayside taverns failed to meet the needs of these new travelers. Hotels were straining to keep up with the flow of human traffic as the gold rush of the mid-1800s brought unprecedented growth in the number of customers.

With the invention of elevators and the usage of new innovations in structural designs, hotels were able to build taller facilities and relieve many hardships for those guests who were heretofore unable to move to the upper floors. Hotels continued to add creative ideas to enhance service including floor clerks, electronic call buttons, speaking tubes, electric lights and telephones.

Hotels were constantly on the lookout for ways to better serve their customers. Keyholes, private baths, ice water, electric light switches and the delivery of a free morning newspaper were some of the ways they attempted to meet the needs of the business traveler.

Travel in Sumter during the early days of its existence was slow and laborious. The primary reason was the deplorable conditions of the roads that led in and out of the community. Because of the difficulties associated with travel, numerous hospitality houses sprang up along the most often used routes. These new stopping places were at first called "taverns," the earliest of which was owned by Sherwood James, one of the first settlers in what became known as the "High Hills." His tavern proved to be a popular stopping place for Revolutionary War soldiers and would remain in business until the 1790s.

"The earliest tavern constructed in Sumterville was Scott's Tavern, which remained in business from 1806 to 1811 and was very popular during 'court week' when large numbers of people from outside the community came to attend the sessions of court. Because of the raucous behavior at some of these establishments, the word 'tavern' was seldom used when people discussed the growing number of rooming houses."

"One of the first successful hotels to locate in downtown was Werner Macon's Hotel, located on the corner of Liberty and Main. This business was purchased by James Watson in 1832 and later by D. B. McLaurin in March 1836. In 1841, the Chinas, first Alfred and then John, took control of the property. John China would refit and enlarge the building. He would also add a stable capable of housing 52 horses; however, records indicate that in 1856, the business was in the possession of the sheriff possibly for non-payment of debt."

The building was later purchased by W. K. Bell, who later sold the property to Noah Graham and Son. The Agur T. Morse tavern opened across the street from the Graham property, and this establishment was soon purchased by Archibald R. Ruffin. Mr. Ruffin would leave the tavern business and sold the property to Tyre J. Dinkins, who changed the name of the building to the Windham Hotel. Mr. Dinkins would allow a drum to be beaten each night in the hotel's lobby announcing the end of the town watchman's duties. Later a bell was rung as a substitute for the drum.

"Windham's Hotel was later owned by Fed Myers, who changed the name to the Sumter House and finally the Myers Hotel. In 1862, the Confederate House was featured in several advertisements in the Tri-Weekly Watchman and was owned by Mrs. M. C. Clark. The Curtis House opened for business shortly after the arrival of the railroads in the early 1850s. The large two-story structure was located on South Main Street between Oakland Avenue and Dingle Street and was a popular stopover for many of the visitors who arrived in Sumter."

According to Judge Purdy's recollections, "perhaps one of the most popular stopping places in Sumter was the Jervey House, which was built by E. W. Moise for James E. Jervey, who was called the 'hotel man' of his day. He returned to his home in Charleston after the Civil War and discovered that his family had fled to Manning. He worked in that city for a short time prior to moving to Sumter and opened a hotel in a little brick house near the train depot. He was forced to enlarge his facility due to the volume of business, leading him to construct a large building on Main Street near the downtown business center."

The Jervey House Hotel had the capacity to sleep 23 customers in some of the most modern accommodations available in downtown Sumter. The Monaghan House located on the corner of Caldwell and Main (future site of Kress 5 and dime) was referred to as the "Pick-Wick Hotel" and was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Allnut. Judge Purdy noted that there were only two other places where travelers could be accommodated at this time - Mrs. Brunson's, which was where Courtwright Chevrolet was located, and the Curtis House, which became one of the numerous "boarding houses" created in Sumter after the original owners either died or sold their dwellings. Later other boarding establishments known as the Calhoun House and the Central Hotel would open for business.