- Special Sections
- Public Notices
In 1983, a young fresh-out-of-law-school upstart walked into the bottom floor of the Lancaster County Courthouse in an official capacity.
Sure, he had been inside the building on many occasions, but this time was different.
His job before a county magistrate that day was to represent a client who was trying to collect what was due him for repairing an automobile. The lawyer walked out that day after winning the case.
“Your first case, you always remember,” the lawyer said, while flashing a smile, straightening his tie and unconsciously fidgeting with the buttons on his suit coat.
Then he laughed and shrugged before continuing his brief story in his typical low-key style.
“Oh, you know how it is, it was back in the day when you’re so young and nervous that you really don’t know what you’re doing.”
Well, somewhere down the line, the lawyer must’ve figured it out.
That attorney – who went on to serve in the S.C. House of Representatives and as the state’s 114th governor – got his own due Sunday afternoon, Jan. 6.
James Hovis “Jim” Hodges is now forever linked to that courthouse.
With a packed house looking on, the Lancaster County Historical Commission officially opened the Lancaster County Courthouse Museum, which includes a portrait of Hodges, who served as South Carolina governor from 1999-2003.
Showing that turnabout is fair play, Hodges presented the museum with a coin from his administration and said more items from his term are on the way.
“The courtroom looks terrific,” he said.
Hodges remarked that “there were football games on,” so he kept his remarks brief.
Hodges recalled how some friends talked him into seeking the late Tom Mangum’s S.C. House seat in 1986. Hodges readily admitted he was reluctant and had little inclination toward politics. At the time, he said most of his political experience was limited to serving as county attorney.
But after his election and 11 years in the state General Assembly, where he served as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and as House Democratic Leader, his improbable career in politics took a turn he never saw coming.
Hodges ran for governor as an underdog, but soundly defeated incumbent Gov. David Beasley, carrying nearly every rural county in the process.
“One of the lessons of politics is when the opportunity comes along, you have to take it. It won’t last very long,” Hodges said.
Former House member Billy Boan, who served as Hodges’ chief of staff, said the former governor has become a role model of public service for others to follow.
The longtime friends now work for McGuire Woods Consulting in Columbia.
Boan said it was only fitting that Hodges’ legacy of public service become part of the county museum. Boan said Hodges still remains firmly committed to making his hometown and state a better place for its citizens as his record of public service shows.
Hodges’ accomplishments in office include adding the Martin Luther King Day holiday to the state calendar, mediating the removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome, beginning construction of the new Cooper River bridge in Charleston and proposing a state education lottery that voters passed.
Boan said Hodges made a difference.
“Historians of the next generation will talk about Jim Hodges the same way they now talk about Andrew Jackson, Dr. J. Marion Sims, Nina Mae McKinney and astronaut Charlie Duke,” Boan said.
The county courthouse museum
Sunday’s portrait unveiling also provided an opportunity to officially open the Lancaster County Courthouse Museum for all to see.
A National Historic Landmark and the first brick building built in the county, the “old courthouse” is now home to a local museum, a visitor’s welcome center and the county historical commission.
Built from 1825 to 28, the Robert Mills-designed building that survived Sherman’s troops, an 1859 fire and an arsonist attack in 2008 has a life of its own to chronicle the county’s rich, vibrant history.
“It was very much needed,” said Betty Broome of Van Wyck, who represents District 1 on the county historical commission.
“Look at all the important things that have happened here,” she said. “We have all these valuable pieces that need a safe place where people can see them.”
Some of the items on display right now include military uniforms, a colonial-era loom, a solid cherry rope bed dating to the 1700s donated by Elizabeth Cobern, Springs Mills’ memorabilia, correspondence from L&C Railway, ledgers belonging to Dr. W.E. Dudley, a camera collection from the late Lavoy Bauknight and the restored 1841 Lancaster Invincibles militia flag.
The flag is believed to be the second-oldest surviving flag in the state, behind the 1776 Regiment flag that flew over Sullivan’s Island.
Virginia Burgess, welcome center specialist for Lancaster County, said the most popular attraction is the magnificent Civil War wall drawings in a downstairs room.
The drawings had been forgotten about until they were uncovered in 1963 during a major renovation. When paint was scraped off the walls to repair the plaster, construction workers discovered the drawings, which date back to the mid-1860s, when military prisoners and inmates were held in the room.
“It’s become my favorite, too,” Burgess said of the room. “A lot of people come in and are shocked that they can look around.”
Hodges said the museum and the courthouse are perfect examples of Lancaster’s resilience to survive tough times.
“It symbolizes so much about our county,” he said. "Lancaster is a unique place of unlimited opportunities.
“The challenging question that has to be answered is how do we celebrate the past, but prepare for our future?” Hodges asked.
From its rise as a “dirt poor” farming town before the courthouse was built, to Lancaster’s place as a one-time global textile hub, he said local residents must now focus on what the future holds.
Lancaster, Hodges said, is on the verge of becoming a college town, due to the explosive growth at the University of South Carolina Lancaster. And the development of the Panhandle, he said, must be embraced.
“I can’t say enough about what an asset this place (the courthouse museum) is going to be for the community,” Hodges said.
Did you know?
Jim Hodges picked up the nickname “Hobo” from his Lancaster High School classmates in the early 1970s. In a 1998 interview with The Lancaster News, childhood friend Jim Richards said back then, Hodges was never considered to be on the cutting edge of fashion.
“You couldn’t say he was the neatest guy in the world,” Richards said. “And he wasn’t a trendsetter either. He wasn’t really interested in fashion. Jimmy dressed like a be-bop guy from the Sixties. He wore blue jeans and top-siders before it was cool to wear blue jeans and top-siders. He was ahead of his time.”
Contact Gregory A. Summers at (803) 283-1156