(Sumter County; 2020 pop. 39,439). When the South Carolina legislature created Sumter District in 1800, they also established the crossroads village of Sumterville as the courthouse seat. Named after the area’s most prominent resident, the Revolutionary War general and United States senator Thomas Sumter, Sumterville’s growth was painfully slowly during its early years. Justices held trials in John Gayle’s plantation home until the district erected the first courthouse and jail in 1806. The settlement was still quite small by 1812, with just one store, a tavern, and a few homes.
In the 1820s Sumterville enjoyed a growth spurt that saw the erection of several new buildings, including a courthouse designed by Robert Mills. The town was incorporated in 1845. Five years later Sumterville had ninety homes and a population of 840, including 330 African Americans. Following the arrival of the railroad, town leaders shortened the name to Sumter in 1855. During the Civil War citizens set up hospitals throughout the city for Confederate wounded. Due to the railroad and Sumter’s central location, the Confederate army turned Sumter into a distribution center for military supplies. This led to Union general Edward E. Potter’s raid through Sumter District in April 1865, during which he set up headquarters in Sumter.
Sumter swiftly recovered from the depredations of war, again due in large part to the railroads. The city built the Sumter Opera House in 1872, which quickly became both Town Hall and a cultural center. In the 1880s the city was a busy cotton market and shipping center. At the turn of the twentieth century Sumter was a major cotton and tobacco market and home to several industries, including a textile mill and an ice-manufacturing company. In 1912 the city became the first in the country to use the council-manager form of municipal government, which consisted of four elected officials (a mayor and three councillors) and a professional city manager chosen by the council. By 2001 the city retained the same model but had enlarged the council from three to six members.
As was the case in many rural towns in the second half of the twentieth century, Sumter’s downtown experienced a period of decline. For four decades citizens attempted to revitalize Sumter’s historic Main Street area. Efforts proved ineffective until the creation of the Downtown Sumter Revitalization Committee in 1997, which appointed a downtown manager, sponsored a performing-arts program, and improved parking, landscaping, and building facades. The efforts of Downtown Sumter, the city government, and residents contributed to Sumter’s strong economic and cultural base. Other institutions contributing to the city’s revitalization include the Sumter County Museum, Patriot Hall, and the Sumter Gallery of Art.
Gregorie, Anne King. History of Sumter County, South Carolina. Sumter, S.C.: Sumter County Library Board, 1954.