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"It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied." - Gibran
Reflections remembers several of the businesses that aided in the development of the Sumter economy and community. The Sumter business community featured a diverse offering of goods and services to the people and grew in size and mercantile offerings commensurate to the amount of shoppers who frequented their establishments.
In order to produce this research, the author made extensive use of the writings of Cassie Nichols. The Sumter Item archives provided numerous photos and articles relevant to the history of these enterprises. Due to the number of stores researched, this article will be presented in two parts.
"The first large merchants in South Carolina were in Charleston, and for many years the inland settlers, including those in Sumter District, sent their produce there and brought back large quantities of foods not grown in the area, clothing, furniture and other commodities. This trade was carried on by wagons, drawn by four horses. Those in the western sector of the District used the old Catawba Trail, which in 1753 became a public road known by several names - 'Broad Road,' 'Great Road,' 'Charleston Road' and later the 'Kings Highway.' Those east of the Black River had no public road until 1762 when one was built in response to a petition. Before that time, the trip was said to have taken four weeks, or more if the river was flooded and swamps were muddy. These wagons, heavily loaded, traveling in 'trains,' crossed the rivers by ferry. Even those on the west, who had good road, sometimes had to wait for the flood waters to subside before the ferry could operate."
"When the wares were brought back from Charleston, they were stored in commissaries and meted out to slaves by the plantation owners and after the Civil War sold to sharecroppers and others who had no means of obtaining the 'stuffs' from the seaport city. Thus country (general) stores came into being and answered the needs of those living in a country community or neighborhood. As towns began to develop, merchants set up small stores from which they drew a livelihood; and, as the population increased, larger mercantile businesses were established."
Department and jewelry stores began doing a lively business, as did drug stores, of which "George P. McKagen was advertising 'Drugs, Medicines, and Chemicals, Fancy Articles. Perfumery, etc.' as early as 1867."
"One type of store that is no longer in demand but did quite a lucrative business in those early years in Sumter County was the livery stable, where horses and mules were bought and sold. These animals were used exclusively in transportation and farming in this area in the 19th century and even into the early part of the 20th."
The music and clothing businesses experienced success in Sumter as its populace was both music-minded and conscious of garments that allowed them to "wear well, look well and that fit perfectly. As far back as 1896, there was at least one 'gift shop' in Sumter, known as 'The Sumter China Hall,' with Freeland and Hogan as proprietors, which offered for sale fine Haviland china and Austrian ware, as well as many other expensive and cheaper items."
"All of these businesses and many others prospered for a time, but most have become a part of the past history of Sumter."
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