DISCOVER LAMAR: A brief history of the Town of Lamar

In 1963, Lamar’s Mayor, Town Council and Police Department posed in front of the newly erected Police Station, at Railroad Avenue on Main Street. The site was selected for its commanding view in four directions. This building was used for less than twenty years when the police gained their own quarters in a new City Hall/Jail/Fire Department complex. PICTURED HERE (left to right): Gary Parnell, Baxter Windham, Wayne King, Pike Reynolds, F.C. Humphries, Greer Harris, Tom W. Hill and Barney E. Hardin. PHOTO COURTESY OF DCHCM

This is the Volunteer Fire Department of Lamar in action shortly after receiving their new fire truck in 1954. PHOTO COURTESY OF DCHCM

This is the interior of the Stokes Grocery Store, taken around 1920. The business was founded in 1899 by Burdine S. Stokes (1878-1921), seen standing on the far left, beside his teenage son, Haywood. PHOTO COURTESY OF DCHCM

E. J. Mims was born in Darlington District, S. C., near the present Lamar (known in his time both as Lisbon and Mims Cross Roads), the son of Captain George and Penelope Reynolds Mims.

He graduated from the South Carolina Medical College in the Class of 1857; shortly thereafter, he opened an office at his home in Lisbon and announced publicly that his charges were “Uniform and reasonable.” Dr. Mims practiced medicine for less than five years, dying at the early age of thirty-two He was appointed the first postmaster of the newly created post office of Lisbon in 1859.

It is interesting to note that almost twenty years after the death of Dr. Mims, his widow, then Mrs. James C. Fields, resorted to court action to collect from several ex-patients for medical services rendered during his lifetime.

On December 9, 1857, Dr. Mims married Sarah Witherspoon; their children were George Heberdine; and Judge Baron, who became a physician.

The town of Lamar had its beginnings, according to the best authorities, after the death of William Reynolds in 1836. His son-in-law Capt. George Mims acquired most of his plantation which lay alongside the old road from Darlington Court House to Newman’s Ferry. Mims expanded his holdings and soon owned much land along the west bank of Newman Swamp.

In the 1850s a new road leading from Newman Swamp Church to Cartersville was opened, creating an intersection (on Captain Mims’s plantation) where it crossed the older road. By 1854 this intersection had been named Mimsville and soon there was a store, school, and doctor’s office at the crossroads. The Captain’s son, E. J. Mims, was the first physician in the emerging village, opening an office there shortly after his graduation from the South Carolina Medical College in 1857. In 1859, the crossroads gained its first post office, with Dr. E. J. Mims as postmaster. The office was called “Lisbon, S. C.” This name was given to the little village as well as to the township which was created in the surrounding area in 1868. The Lisbon Post Office was closed in 1870 forcing inhabitants to travel to Cartersville for their mail.

Despite the loss of the post office, by 1872 the citizens of Lisbon moved for incorporation. They petitioned the legislature and on March 13 of that year the town was granted a charter. After operating as a municipality for less than a decade, temperance forces in the village successfully had the charter repealed.

In 1885 George W. Mims, son of the Captain, tried to have the Lisbon Post Office restored but learned that the name had been given to another location in the state. He then suggested the name Lamar. It was accepted and a new office was opened January 8, 1886. About his choice for a name, Mr. Mims commented, “Senator Lamar of Mississippi was in the full flush of his great fame I was greatly impressed with the good work that he was doing for the South, so when the P. O. Department asked for a short name for the office, I sent in the name Lamar and it was accepted…”

The first industry in Lamar—a mainstay of the village for many years—was the turpentine business. The partnership of Mims & Reynolds put up a turpentine still at the crossroads and went into the naval stores business. Law¬rence Scarborough and Harmon Parnell were two of the very early merchants of the town. The number of people living within a mile of the crossroads increased from about a dozen in 1870 to almost three hundred by 1890.

Lamar joined the rapidly expanding interstate rail network when the rails of the Charleston, Sumter and Northern Railroad were laid through town—connecting Darlington with Sumter. This was a tremendous boost and growth continued. Lamar was now a market and shipping point. Much of the population growth in the 1890s stemmed from rural families moving into town from surrounding countryside. New homes, stores, churches, and schools were added to the town over the next two decades. The coming of a second railroad in 1913, connecting Hartsville with Bishopville and Timmonsville, was a welcome addition to the economy.

In 1923, the town installed a new waterworks system at great expense and issued bonds to repay the debt. The timing could not have been worse: a post-World War I depression was engulfing the land, the boll-weevil was taking over cotton fields, and the 1929 stock market crash was just ahead. Coupons from the bond issue coming due in the early 1930s amidst the Great Depression, nearly forced the town into bankruptcy. The matter was finally resolved by the skillful manipulations of a Darlington attorney.

Shortly after the end of World War II, both railroads removed their lines leading into Lamar. But, undaunted, the town moved ahead during the 1950s at an amazing pace, inspired largely by the annual “Finer Carolina” competitions held during that decade. Successful efforts (though short-lived) to make Lamar a tobacco market led to three warehouses opening in town, a new high school was built, Railroad Avenue was made into a broad boulevard and paved, new street lights were installed, more sidewalks were paved, and a new fire truck (the town’s first) was purchased. The 1960 population had increased 20 percent over the 1950 figures. In the early 1960s, a new brick Masonic Temple was built on Main Street, in addition to a new Post Office and Police Station. The waterworks system was updated in 1967, and during the same year a Country Club was built just outside the town.

Early in 1970 the town was thrust into the world spotlight when national news covered racial violence at the local school attempting to implement the federal desegregation mandate. The perpetrators were later found to be outsiders, neither natives nor residents of Lamar. Subsequently, a private academy was organized near town, but it did not have a very long life. In the fall of 1975, an ultra-modern high school costing almost three-quarters of a million dollars was built. This did much to restore confidence in public education.

Today, Lamar is still a thriving little town. Anchored by a wide straight Main Street, the town is bisected by a grid pattern of cross streets and sidewalks East and West. An easily-accessible Main Street makes the Town of Lamar a very pedestrian-friendly community. Most residents can easily walk to pick up staples at Main Street’s grocery store, visit many retail merchants for necessities, mail a letter at the post office, stop by the bank or dine with friends at the locally-owned restaurants.

Lamar Schools are part of the Darlington County School District, have received top ratings in education and athletics, and have produced several famous NFL athletes.

Lamar now has a Family Care Center in town, accepting patients for general healthcare, tests and screenings, and Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center is approximately 15 minutes away.

Author: Stephan Drew

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