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“In the Heart of the Pines: Camden During the Hotel Era, 1882-1941” opens on July 7, 2014

Katherine H. Richardson

Posted: June 19, 2014 1:44 p.m.
Updated: June 20, 2014 5:00 a.m.

It all really began with the Haile Gold Mine. The Eldredge family of New York – the Hobkirk Inn Eldredges – purchased the mine in 1880. The family owned gold mines in California, Virginia, and Mexico. Son, Frank W. Eldredge, was installed here as manager of the Haile mine. Frank’s son, Inman, wrote that the living quarters at the mine "were a bit crude," so when his mother was expecting in 1882 his father bought Pine Flat from Mrs. William Shannon.

The Eldredges had visiting mine engineers and prospective investors staying with them at Pine Flat since they bought the house in February of 1883 – though they must have been living there prior to the sale. In 1882, Eldredge advertised "The Hobkirk Inn" in a flyer. He wrote, "Established in 1882 – Under Northern Management." The rooms rented for $17.50 to $28.00 per week and special rates could be had for the "entire season" – the winter months. Capt. F.W. Eldredge’s obituary in 1912 describes him as "the pioneer tourist hotel manager" in Camden.

Occasional Northern visitors had been wintering in Camden since at least 1875-6, when Dr. William Parker of New York wrote of Camden’s salubrious winters and fine people. The Hotel Era, though, opened a floodgate of Northern visitors and did much to help Camden recover economically after the Civil War. After the Hobkirk and its capacity for 125 guests, came the Lausanne/Uphton Court or the Court Inn, as it would later be called. After added guest wings were built the Inn could accommodate 200 guests. Then came the massive Kirkwood Inn, built around the old John Cantey House and opened to guests in 1903 by the Camden Land Improvement Company. It contained 164 bedrooms and 110 bathrooms and could accommodate 350 guests. Actually purposed to serve travelers on Highway 1, the Commercial Hotel and the Camden Hotel on DeKalb Street also housed many winter visitors.

There were smaller guest homes and inns in Camden during this era, as well. Timrod Hall is an example of one, which stood at 1811 Mill Street and operated as an inn from 1916 to 1919. It could house 40 guests. On Broad Street the Ivy Lodge Inn, Bernard Baruch’s birthplace, welcomed guests, as did the Baum family next door. Several other smaller inns operated around the downtown area. Northern visitors increasingly sought to buy their own houses in Camden and other private homes took in guests during "the season."

One element cemented the success of Camden as a winter resort – the Seaboard Railroad and the Northwestern Railroads established lines through Camden. The Seaboard Air Line Railway ran through Camden by 1899, providing Camden with access to trains running from the North to Florida. The Northwestern line was an extension of the Atlantic Coast Line which ran from Charleston to Sumter and up to Camden. Also, the Southern Railway, constructed prior to the turn of the century ran through Camden, providing access from Marion, N.C. to Charleston. In the era before cars and passable roads, these transportation routes were major assets for Camden.

As the guest accommodations developed in Camden, so did the formal organization of many country sports which Southerners had always enjoyed - hunting, fishing on the Wateree River and in private ponds, and horseback excursions into the countryside complete with picnic lunches. The Camden Jockey Club reorganized in 1874. New to the equestrian sports here was polo, organized between 1989 and 1900 by Frank W. Eldredge and Rogers L. Barstow, both Northerners who helped invent the Hotel Era sporting scene in Camden. The Camden Hunt organized in 1926 in the aftermath of successful drag hunts during the early Hotel Era. Ernest Woodward and Harry Kirkover built the Springdale Race Course from 1928 to 1930. In 1930 they ran the first Carolina Cup races on the new course. With this flurry of equestrian activities, horse boarding and training became a local industry by 1928, when the first training center was established at the race course.

The team of Eldredge and Barstow brought golf to Camden’s sporting life starting in 1897. Eldredge built a course behind the Hobkirk Inn in that year which expanded to property across Broad Street in front of what would later be the Kirkwood Inn. The Sarsfield Golf Course was built near the later Court Inn in 1909-10. By 1904, the Kirkwood Golf Club had formed and laid out a course near what would later be the Kirkwood Hotel, part of the present-day golf course. Around 1920, this was expanded to the 18 hole course to the west and north of the Kirkwood Hotel, between it and Springdale Race Course. This land constitutes the golf course we know today.

If sports were not your cup of tea, there was plenty of entertainment downtown. In 1885 the city built a new opera house on the corner of Broad and Rutledge at the site of the present-day clock tower. In addition to housing city offices, it contained a 360 seat theater with a 40 by 20 foot stage, four dressing rooms and beautiful stage scenery drops and stage curtain. Prominent shows of the day were brought to town – plays, comedy, and musicals. In 1915, the Little family built the Majestic Theater on the Little livery property on DeKalb Street. It was built as a moving picture theater with the most modern projection room and even a "cool air ventilating system." Shopping was a fine activity downtown, as upscale clothing stores advertised sophisticated merchandise for both men and women. Tearooms and gift shops also attracted shoppers.

The grand Hotel Era was in effect ended by World War II and the advent of airplane travel, widespread ownership of automobiles, and improved roads. The war changed the way we did everything in the United States. Travel and leisure were less a priority than the war effort. The Kirkwood Hotel was made the public relations headquarters for the 1st Army.

The hotel closed in 1944 and was razed in 1944. The Court Inn held on until a major fire in 1963 shut its doors. It was razed in 1964. The Hobkirk Inn had long since reverted to a private residence.

The developments which led us into the Hotel Era were serendipitous events – like the constant visitors at the Haile Gold Mine prompting Frank Eldredge to open the Hobkirk Inn. The combination of these seemingly unrelated developments led to the unique atmosphere in Camden for winter tourists. Add in some farsighted and energetic individuals like Frank Eldredge and Rogers Barstow, among many others, and Camden found itself in a magical time, a golden era, for fifty years of its history. The sporting and entertaining traditions of the Hotel Era, as well as our refined Southern lifestyle and history, still define Camden’s image today.

The exhibit will run from July 7, 2014 through January 9, 2015. The Camden Archives and Museum is located at 1314 Broad Street, Camden. For more information call 803-425-6050. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

(Katherine H. Richardson, director of the Camden Archives and Museum, is a contributing columnist to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C.)

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