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Column: The history of Monument Square

Posted: April 19, 2018 3:12 p.m.
Updated: April 20, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Monument Square developed as a part of the 1798 “extended plan” of the town of Camden which is credited to Col. Joseph Kershaw.  It was planned as a central public square at the intersection of Broad and Laurens streets. The square is located on a broad plane north of DeKalb Street in a part of town known as Log Town. Before the Revolutionary War, there was a settlement of seven buildings, presumably houses, with associated garden plots situated along Broad Street there.

In 1768, when Joseph Kershaw acquired the 250 acres upon which he designed the “extended plan” of Camden he called the whole new upper section “Log Town.” During the Revolutionary War in 1780, Gen. Gates had his Patriot troops establish their camp at Log Town before falling back to Col. Rugeley’s plantation 13 miles north of Camden. The structures were still standing when Gen. Greene encamped there in 1781, before the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill.  Apparently the British burned the little settlement shortly afterward, for an April 25, 1781, map of the battle at Hobkirk’s Hill denotes the settlement as “Destroyd.”

The extended plan of Camden was recorded with the state in 1798, and this section of town became a popular location to build residences. According to new research by the Archives staff, the Reynolds House was likely built right after the Revolutionary War. Another early dwelling from that period is Aberdeen, dating to shortly after 1805. The McCants House was built circa 1813 and the Greenleaf Villa dates to 1815.

Later, in the mid-19th century, the public square became the logical choice for placement of public monuments. This is when the name “Monument Square” must have become attached to this open green space. The first to be erected here was a memorial for Lt. Col. James Polk Dickinson (1816-1847). Born in Camden, he studied law and served in the State Legislature from 1842-1848.  Contemporary accounts described him as “proud, high spirited, and restive under control.” He was also known for his “prodigal generosity and extravagance.”

Dickinson’s passion and enthusiasm for military glory led him to serve with the Kershaw volunteers in the Seminole Indian Wars in Florida in 1836 and to organize the DeKalb Rifle Guards in 1840. In 1846, his Kershaw County regiment was the first to volunteer to fight in the war with Mexico (1846-1848). His appeal for volunteers given at the DeKalb Monument included the words, “I want a place in the picture near the flashing of the guns!” Dickinson was elected second-in command of the Palmetto Regiment and fought in several engagements until wounded in the Battle of Churubusco.

Jim Lang, Dickinson’s African-American body-servant who served with him in Mexico, returned the body to Camden for burial in Quaker Cemetery. In 1856, Dickinson’s remains were re-interred on Monument Square and the citizens of Camden erected the marble obelisk in his honor.

The second monument placed in the square was the Confederate Monument. In 1883, the Ladies Memorial Association of Camden unveiled this monument dedicated to Kershaw County’s Confederate War dead. Confederate General John Doby Kennedy of Camden laid the cornerstone with a Masonic trowel once used by Revolutionary War General the Marquis de Lafayette to lay the cornerstone of the Baron DeKalb Monument in 1825. Wade Hampton III, U. S. Senator, former governor of South Carolina, and a general in the Confederate Army, delivered the ovation to a crowd of thousands.

The Ladies Memorial Association grew out of the ladies aid societies prevalent during the Civil War. After the South’s defeat, they came together to “protect and cherish the graves of our Confederate dead.” These women, many of them widows, orphans, or sweethearts of the dead soldiers they honored, placed wreaths upon soldier’s graves every Confederate Memorial Day, cared for their burial places, and raised funds for monuments in their honor. In Camden, the Ladies Memorial Association persevered for more than ten years to collect the funds for this monument.

When first erected, this monument stood in the center of Monument Square. In the 1880s, Monument Square measured 700 feet square and neither Broad nor Laurens Streets extended into the park. In 1910, the park was quartered when both streets were cut through the square and paved, but the monument still stood in the center of the area. In 1950, the city moved the monument to its present location.

In 1915, Camden’s Carnegie Public Library was built on the southeastern quadrant of Monument Park. Now known as the Camden Archives and Museum, the city fathers and the library committee felt that they offered the Carnegie Corporation the most prestigious location for the building in the city. Mrs. Sadie Von Tresckow wrote the corporation’s secretary when he protested the elaborate classical plans Camden proposed for the library design, “The square we propose giving [for the library] is the handsomest one [in] town; 200 feet by 200 feet; in the heart of the town between the High and Grammar schools. Since we are giving such a choice position we felt warranted to make the frontage a little more ornamental…” In a very important way, Camden’s first public library was a monument to learning and they felt entirely justified in using the public square for that purpose, though Joseph Kershaw had wanted the land unencumbered. The city has beautified the grounds surrounding the Archives and Museum and it truly still serves as green space -- with a monument to Camden’s history in the middle of it!

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