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History in the making

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Garden clubs give historic courthouse a face-lift

By Nita Brown

The newly restored historic Lancaster Courthouse is getting a face-lift of another kind outside. 

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The Lancaster Council of Garden Clubs (LCGC) is coordinating an ongoing project to plant and maintain a flower garden at the courthouse’s rear entrance, which faces the Catawba Street courtyard. 

This is no ordinary flower garden. The garden will showcase local and state plants, as well as provide a habitat for birds and butterflies. The garden will also include historic components to provide a community learning experience. 

The project was initiated by Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis. 

Willis contacted Peggy Little, incoming president of Lancaster Garden Club, about getting the garden clubs to take it on as a joint community service project.

The Lancaster Council of Garden Clubs is comprised of three clubs – the Green Gardeners, The Leaf and Petal and the Lancaster Garden Club. 

Its members also trim the courthouse each holiday season and provide decorations for the annual Chamber of Commerce banquet.

Chad Catledge of Perception Builders is working with the garden club council to plan and build the site. 

The LCGC is not only donating the plants, but its members are providing labor for garden planting and maintenance. Regina Butz of Ace Hardware and Garden Center helped locate plants and soil additives. 

“It is a thrill for us to have a part in the restoration and refurbishing of the courthouse,” said Harriet Williams, outgoing LCGC president. “Chad (Catledge) has done a marvelous job to help us and we are very appreciative.”

About the garden

The garden is based on the S.C. Wildlife Federation’s Carolina fence garden plan, modified to feature and preserve as much original courthouse history as possible. 

Little said the garden club council, with support and approval from Willis, adopted Jane Massey’s idea of using the original granite steps from the front of the courthouse as retaining walls for the planting beds. 

Massey is a member of the Green Gardeners.

The steep, narrow granite steps were blocked off for almost a decade as a safety hazard. Since the original could not be reused, they were replaced during the remodeling of the historic courthouse. The courthouse was designed by architect Robert Mills and completed in 1828 after three years of construction. 

Those steps are a local landmark for another reason, too. 

According to “Lancaster County South Carolina Tours” by Viola C. Floyd, after Confederate troops surrendered in April 1965, Col. Henry McIver ordered his men to break their rifles on the courthouse steps to keep them from falling into enemy hands. However, after two or three of the weapons accidently misfired, McIver rescinded the order.

In selected areas, the retaining wall steps will be scooped out to create natural bird baths, fed by an underground drip irrigation system that conserves water use. 

The wrought-iron fence is a replica of the fencing that surrounds the Confederate monument in front of the courthouse facing Main Street. The marble monument – based on a photo of Capt. Amos McManus, a popular Confederate solider from Lancaster – was erected in 1909 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  

Vines of Carolina jessamine, the state flower, will adorn the fence and two Carolina wren houses will be erected to honor, and, hopefully, lure the state bird to the garden. 

Butterfly bushes and plants that attract birds and butterflies are included as well. Most plants are commonly found here, and in many cases, are indigenous.

“We tried to choose plants correct to the period of the building,” Williams said. “And we also chose some not so widely known, since we want this to be a teaching opportunity.” 

The members of all three garden clubs have committed to maintaining the historic garden on an ongoing basis. 

Master Gardener and landscape consultant Betsy Steele, who just completed her term as president of the Garden Club of South Carolina, is project coordinator. 

“It was Betsy’s idea to use a replica wrought-iron fence instead of choosing another pattern,” Massey said. 

Wednesday was “Dig Day” to prepare for the official courthouse dedication ceremonies on Thursday. Members of all three LCGC clubs worked side-by-side in the heat and humidity to complete the initial phase.

A plaque will be erected to explain the garden and the significance of its components. 

“We hope this will become a popular field trip for schoolchildren,” Williams said. “They can learn about the courthouse and the garden in the same tour.” 

Little said she hopes the courthouse garden will inspire others to honor local history by trying their hands at building a Carolina fence garden. 

For more information, visit http://www.scwf.org/index.php/education-programs/habitats/fence-garden.