On Jefferies Boulevard in Walterboro, South Carolina there used to stand a house that was once owned by Robert Barnwell Rhett. It’s unfortunate that despite efforts to acquire the property by the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society this house was ultimately torn down. All that is left now is the memory, a few photographs, and some information about what occurred in the home. It’s a testament to how important it is to save our local landmarks as important historical events have occurred all around us. It is a shame to lose the opportunity to touch a piece of history.
The house, which became known locally as The Nullification House, was occupied by Rhett when he traveled from his plantation into Walterboro to practice law. Rhett was a planter and a passionate supporter of South Carolina and states’ rights. He went on to become a representative in the state legislature, but his most important claim to fame historically is his delivery of what was called the “Colleton Manifesto” a speech supporting nullification of the protective Tariff of 1828.
Rhett became known as the “Father of Nullification.” Other people had developed the idea of Nullification as a legal theory that stipulated that a state had the sovereignty to nullify or ignore federal laws if they did not agree with them. Once the state had nullified a law if there was no successful retraction of the law at the federal level then the theory stipulates that the state has the right to secede from the union. Rhett believed wholeheartedly that the Tariff of 1828 was harmful to his constituents and neighbors in South Carolina as he felt that the Tariff was designed without consideration to how the economy worked in the South because there weren’t any industrialists or manufacturers of note in South Carolina in this time period.
The Nullification House is where he wrote and prepared for his infamous fiery speech delivered at the Colleton County Courthouse and was attended by several notable South Carolinians of the time including James Hamilton, Jr. and Robert J. Turnbull, proving how important that he was to state politics. Rhett was the first to come forward boldly and publicly in support of nullification as a way to protest what he felt was an unfair and undesirable federal law or mandate. Rhett was able to stir up a lot of sympathy and support for nullification among South Carolinians and he eventually became very active in federal politics and moved away from Walterboro and the Nullification House became his family’s summer retreat.
In 1863 Rhett disposed of his home in Walterboro and moved to Alabama and then ultimately ended up in Louisiana where he lived for the rest of his life. There is little known about the inhabitants of the house during and directly after the Civil War. It appears to have been owned and occupied by a family named Bissell who sold it to Caleb Saules who then leased it to Professor Benjamin Stuart, the headmaster of the Walterborough Academy. Professor Stuart lived there with his daughter, Claudia Stuart, who revitalized and became the librarian of the Walterboro Library Society.
It is unfortunate then that we have lost this piece of history. Had it been able to fall into the hands of a historical society it could have been preserved and used as a tool to educate our students and visitors about the historical events that have occurred here in Colleton County. Sometimes, it’s hard for people to believe that our small town was host to some nationally important events and The Nullification House was standing as proof of our importance in South Carolina and National history.
Written By: A. Karel Horn
November 17, 2014
Catherine de Treville, “The Nullification House,” The Press and Standard (Walterboro, SC), February 6, 1975
Prominently at the corner of Hampton Street and Jefferies Boulevard stands an impressive white building. The eye-catching statue and soaring columns give it an air of splendor and majesty. This is the Colleton County Courthouse, the seat of justice in Colleton County and a reminder of our history. This building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a stately reminder of the history of Colleton County.
The main part of the Courthouse was built in 1822 when the county seat moved from Jacksonboro to Walterboro. It is a Greek Revival style building boasting four beautiful doric columns and two curved staircases. The exterior appears to be stone but is actually stuccoed brick meant to emulate the appearance of stone.1 The building was designed by William Jay and the front portico was designed by architect Robert Mills.
In June of 1828 Robert Barnwell Rhett planter, lawyer, state’s representative, and ardent supporter of states’ rights and state sovereignty delivered his fiery speech in favor of Nullification, specifically the nullification of the Tariff of 1828 which was known in the South as “The Tariff of Abominations.”2 Rhett lived in Walterboro while he was practicing law and the home that he owned in town became known as The Nullification House, which has unfortunately been demolished. This historic speech firmly places the Courthouse at the center of what would become an important precursor to the Civil War. Rhett delivered his speech standing on the steps of the Colleton County Courthouse to a huge crowd which included many prominent South Carolinians of the period.3 It was the first public meeting of its kind and sparked a division in our national government.
The Courthouse has undergone many renovations and additions. In 1843-1844 it underwent extensive renovations. In 1916 it was enlarged and in 1939 two wings were added to the already impressive building.4 In 1971 it was entered into the National Register of Historic Places and it received its historic marker in 2001. In the front lawn of the Courthouse stands a memorial to Southern Soldiers and Women of Colleton County.5 In addition a monument to honor the men and women who serve as officers in Colleton County as police and law enforcement officers has been added to the front lawn.
Written by: A. Karel Horn
November 17, 2014
1T Marcinko, “Cultural Resources: Sites of Public Interest,” National and Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, October 14, 2014. http://www.nerrs.noaa.gov/doc/siteprofile/acebasin/html/cultural/cultres/crstfile.htm
2Catherine de Treville, “The Nullification House,” The Press and Standard (Walterboro, SC), February 6, 1975
3T Marcinko, “Cultural Resources: Sites of Public Interest,” National and Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, October 14, 2014. http://www.nerrs.noaa.gov/doc/siteprofile/acebasin/html/cultural/cultres/crstfile.htm
5“Colleton County Courthouse,” sciway.net, October 14, 2014. http://www.sciway.net/sc-photos/colleton-county/colleton-county-courthouse.html
Anderson Airfield is a rural airfield now, but once it was an important Army Airfield during WWII. When it was first built there were three unpaved landing strips and a mere 60 acres that had been leased by the Town of Walterboro from C.C. Anderson for the use as an airfield in the late 1920s.1 While it took a few years to get up and running Walterboro was able to purchase the land outright by 1937 at which time the airfield had been in operation for four years.2
There were conflicts arising in Europe by this time and by 1939 World War II had begun. This is likely the reason that the local, state, and federal government began working together in order to expand and modernize the airfield by paving the landing strips and enlarging the hangar in 19413 By 1942 however, the US Army Air Force had purchased 3712 acres of land from the area surrounding the airfield and leased the airfield from the town.4 The airfield became a sub-base of the Columbia Army Airfield and belonged to a vast network of air training facilities that had to be started due to World War II.5 It was at this time that the Anderson Airfield was recommissioned as the Walterboro Army Airfield.6
When the construction was finished on the Walterboro Army Airfield the base was used as a training facility for B-25 Bombers. It came under the control of General Doolittle and several of his “Raiders” became instructors at the facility after they returned from their successful mission in Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor.7 Not only was it a training facility for fighter and bomber pilots but was also home to the largest camouflage school in the US and was the site of a German POW camp.8
Walterboro Army Airfield was an important training facility for pilots during World War II and even hosted the renowned Tuskegee Airmen between 1944 and 1945.9 The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots in the US and gained their nickname because they initially trained at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.10 However, they became seasoned and highly trained pilots right here in Walterboro.11 According to Charles Dryden, a member of the 332nd Fighter Squadron, “So many men came to Walterboro as junior pilots and left about four months later to go overseas as well-trained fighter pilots.”12
Over five hundred of these African-American Tuskegee Airman received their advanced training at the Walterboro Army Airfield. The Army Airfield was segregated as was the norm at the time. This did provide some additional tensions since the German POWs were able to use the same facilities as the white pilots and officers, despite their prisoner status.13
The exceptional pilots of the 332nd Squadron and many others were trained at the Walterboro Army Airfield and despite the fact that there were racial tensions and skepticism on the part of some people, the Tuskegee Airmen conducted themselves wonderfully during the war effort. The 332nd Squadron, flying P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs, “had one of the toughest missions of the war: escorting bombers over the skies of Germany and protecting them from Luftwaffe fighters.”14 They made such a name for themselves and did such an excellent job in their missions that the bomber pilots began to ask for them specifically to escort the bomber aircraft.15
Overcoming obstacles, skepticism, and outright discrimination the Tuskegee Airmen became an important squadron in American Military history. While they certainly may have gotten their specialized advanced training at any other facility it is a point of pride in Colleton County that these trailblazing pilots trained here in Walterboro. The Walterboro Army Airfield closed in 1945 and the airfield returned to its previous use as a local public airfield and is still in use today. Visitors can see a monument honoring the Tuskegee Airmen and other sites that were important during the time that the airfield hosted the US Army during World War II.
Written by: A. Karel Horn
November 18, 2014
If you’re driving down Hendersonville highway to or from Yemassee you might notice a small green sign proclaiming “Catholic Hill.” St. James the Greater Church was originally built in the area known as Thompson’s Crossroads in December of 1832. Sometimes there is a tendency in modern times to believe that African-American Catholics have come into this denomination in recently, but in fact the very existence of this fascinating church right here in Colleton County proves that Catholicism in the African-American community can trace its roots back much further.1
When the area of Thompson’s Crossroads was settled by Irish immigrants they practiced Catholicism and so did their slaves. A church was built at Catholic Hill in 1832 to service the spiritual needs of these immigrants and their slaves. This church lasted a little more than twenty years and burned down in 1856. Because the country was in turmoil over tension between the North and South just before the Civil War the church was not rebuilt.2
After the Civil War the Irish Immigrants scattered from the area but many of the freed slaves remained on the land that they considered home. Thanks to the zeal and fervor of former slave Vincent de Paul Davis the freed slaves continued to practice Catholicism even without a church or regular priest. According to the baptismal registry from this time period de Paul Davis acted as sponsor for many babies in the community so that they could be baptized in distant churches.3 De Paul Davis’ lay leadership was a driving force behind the community’s continued practice of Catholicism which was uninvestigated by the Catholic diocese for nearly thirty years.4
The community of black Catholics was “rediscovered” in 1892 by Father Daniel Berberich. Father Berberich was a priest in Charleston traveling in the Walterboro area and when he heard about this group of black Catholics became determined to find them and bring them back into the fold of the Catholic Church.5 Once he located this community, Father Berberich made it his mission to serve the spiritual needs of this small community of Catholics and traveled to celebrate Mass at Thompson’s Crossroads twice per month. Father Berberich also initiated the building of a church and parochial school in what had become known as “Catholic Hill.”6
In the past years though the St. James the Greater Church and School are still standing and used by the modern congregation for church services and fellowship. As part of the preservation project St. James the Greater is retained the heart-pine wood from the floor of the school to create an altar, ambo, and baptismal font from the reclaimed wood.7 The school building has been remodeled to act as a fellowship hall for the congregation and is still part of the spiritual home for local congregants. The diverse community of congregants attends Mass each week and is involved in the maintenance of a spiritually and historically significant landmark.
Written by: A. Karel Horn
November 18, 2014
For more information read Uncovering Catholic Hill by Christie Slocum. Found with The Colletonian.
1Cyprian Davis, “Built of Living Stones.” http://www.uscatholic.org, July, 2008, September 1, 2014. http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2008/07/built-living-stones
2Natalie C. Hauff, “Congregation of Historic Catholic Church Near Walterboro Shaken by Theft of Precious Cargo,” The Post and Courier, July 7, 2013, September 1, 2014. http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20130707/PC16/130709586
3The churches that the people of the community traveled to are unknown or unspecified. It is plausible to speculate that Vincent de Paul Davis, as a store owner and entrepreneur, was the one to transport these families and their babies for baptism to either Charleston or Beaufort, South Carolina.
4Cyprian Davis, “Built of Living Stones.” http://www.uscatholic.org, July, 2008, September 1, 2014. http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2008/07/built-living-stones
5Natalie C. Hauff, “Congregation of Historic Catholic Church Near Walterboro Shaken by Theft of Precious Cargo,” The Post and Courier, July 7, 2013, September 1, 2014. http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20130707/PC16/130709586
6Cyprian Davis, “Built of Living Stones.” http://www.uscatholic.org, July, 2008, September 1, 2014. http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2008/07/built-living-stones
7Natalie C. Hauff, “Congregation of Historic Catholic Church Near Walterboro Shaken by Theft of Precious Cargo,” The Post and Courier, July 7, 2013, September 1, 2014. http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20130707/PC16/130709586
The Walterborough Library Society Building is the oldest public building in Walterboro. This little building holds a strong legacy and is definitely worth getting a closer look. This small building is known as the Little Library and was the original home of what eventually became the entire library system in Colleton County. The Little Library is owned by the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society so it continues its tradition of being a place of culture and learning.
In 1820, a group of young men and their families from the Walterboro area were living in Walterboro after being educated in Europe. The lack of reading materials was something that they began to take particular notice of. These enterprising Colleton County residents decided to found the Walterborough Library Society. The Walterborough Library Society amassed an impressive leather bound book collection that was imprinted with the name of the Society in gold on the spines. There were many rules for membership and the members set up strict loan periods and quite a steep fine system for items that were returned late. A member could check out a folio (a large book, approximately the size of our modern coffee-table books) for six weeks, a quarto volume (a book with pages folded in two) for four weeks, an octavo (a book with pages folded in four) for two weeks, and duodecimos (a single sheet from a printing press folded into twelve leaves) could be checked out for two weeks.1
The Little Library is a stunning example of the Federal Style. In her speech at the dedication of the small park that houses the Little Library, Mrs. Laura Lynn Hughes gave the following description of the style of the building: “They used the very best timbers for the beaded clapboards and louvered shutters with colonial hardware…the doorway was emphasized with a fanlight and sidelights and they installed three beautiful Palladian windows.”2 In addition Mrs. Hughes noted that somewhere along the way the Little Library acquired a tin roof, but it was likely not until the early 1900s when it was used as a city hall. Originally it would have had shaker shingles on the roof.3
When the town of Walterboro incorporated in 1826 Archibald Campbell, the surveyor, used the Little Library as his center point and the boundaries of the town were set at three quarters of a mile in each direction from the Little Library.4 In 1845 Richard Bedon donated land in front of his home for a park and the Little Library was moved to its current location. When it was first moved to its current location the Little Library faced Wichman Street but now it has been turned to face Fishburne Street.5
The Walterboro Library Society disbanded in 1836 and its many volumes were split up between its members and the Society donated the building to the town. In 1888 a local schoolteacher by the name of Claudia Stuart reopened the library. When the Library was reorganized many of the original volumes were returned in good condition.6 It had a short-lived run and eventually shut down again. It wasn’t until 1920, a century after its incorporation, that the Walterborough Library Society became a functioning entity again, though this time it was the ladies of the Walterboro Book Club who reorganized and revitalized the Library Society.7 Some fifteen years later the Colleton County Library was established separate from the Walterborough Library Society. They were combined into one library in 1957.8 The collection of books that was housed by the Little Library was moved to the new library facility the Colleton County Memorial Library.9
The vacant building was then occupied by the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society and continues to be owned by the Society to this day. In 1957 The Little Library was turned 90 degrees to face the park.10 In 1976 the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society received a generous grant that allowed them to complete some necessary repairs and restoration to the building, though quite amazingly it is largely unaltered from its original state.11
This charming little building in the center of the Historic District of Walterboro still stands as a testament to Walterboro’s history and the legacy of education and culture that was prized in the Walterboro area. In the past few years the building has had many necessary repairs to the roof and the deteriorating wood as well as exterior painting thanks to combined efforts of the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society, The City of Walterboro, and other trusts. In 2013, thanks to a generous grant from the Colonel Joseph Glover Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, important repairs to the floor and interior painting were completed to maintain the integrity of the building. The Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society continues to own and maintain the property that is being developed into an Archive and Reading room for the local community. You can view the inside of the Little Library by appointment however all are welcome to visit the park and view the exterior of the building at any time.
Written by A. Karel Horn
November 20, 2014
1Estellene P. Walker, “Colleton County Memorial Library,” University of South Carolina, School of Library Science, September 1, 2014. http://www.libsci.sc.edu/histories/vts/epw21.html
2Laura Lynn Hughes, “Collection of Laura Lynn Hughes,” Collection of Papers and Documents detailing the History and Preservation of Colleton County, Colleton County Historical Society, n.d.
6Estellene P. Walker, “Colleton County Memorial Library,” University of South Carolina, School of Library Science, September 1, 2014. http://www.libsci.sc.edu/histories/vts/epw21.html
10Laura Lynn Hughes, “Collection of Laura Lynn Hughes,” Collection of Papers and Documents detailing the History and Preservation of Colleton County, Colleton County Historical Society, n.d.