Storied Haynsworth Building is oldest in downtown Sumter


The Haynsworth Building is the oldest structure existing in the Downtown Historical District. According to Cassie Nicholes in her text, "Historical Sketches of Sumter County Vol II," this office was constructed circa 1820 by Dr. Joseph Cox Haynsworth.

This building site would become an object of controversy when it was purchased by Chris Chokas from C.G. Rowland. Before this transaction, an article ran in the Sumter Daily Item announcing that in May of 1909 "at a recent meeting of the Civic League, a motion was carried to appoint a committee to consider the matter of a public library. This committee reported favorably, and, at an early date, a library was to be opened in the town."

"Necessarily, it must begin in a modest way, as it is a local matter entirely, and the committee does not expect to solicit aid from any source beyond our town. In the next few months, the library will be located at the old Haynsworth law office on Main Street, a place convenient to all," according to the article, "and Miss Ingram will serve as librarian. The dues will be 50 cents quarterly, or $2 for the whole year, if you prefer to pay that way. The need of a public library in a town of Sumter's size and importance is so great and so apparent, that we do not think it necessary to discuss it, feeling that our citizens are already persuaded of the worthiness of such an enterprise."

However, the vision of the Haynsworth Building serving as a public library was shortlived, as the community would secure a financial grant from the Carnegie Foundation and construct a building to house a library in 1915.

The decision was made to raze the Haynsworth Building, which resided on the much-sought-after corner lot purchased by Chokas. His plan was to construct a "new modern building to house a coffee shop-restaurant." The building, more than a hundred years old, had been occupied by a series of distinguished lawyers; however, a movement was underway among the lawyers of Sumter to save the structure and move it to the rear of the courthouse square "and preserve it for its historical value."

The cooperation of C.G. Rowland and Chokas was sought to enact this initiative. The first step to ensure the survival of the Haynsworth building was its purchase by George D. Shore Jr. and F.A. McLeod, who planned to move the structure to a lot adjoining the jail property on Law Range.

McLeod and Shore bought the property from Shepard K. Nash and began the process of relocating the building. Sumter lawyers in their early effort to save the Haynsworth building had taken a photograph of the members of the Sumter Bar Association in front of the old building.

The photo included Judge G.B. Green, Court Stenographer Luther Wimberly and Sheriff C.M. Hurst, who was a member of the association.

"Mr. Rowland stated this morning that as soon as the building had been moved he would begin work on a modern store and office building to occupy the lot vacated." This new structure featured the finest equipment money could buy.

"In connection with the coffee shop would be a soda fountain and luncheonette, where lunches and sodas would be served all hours of the day and night."

What was the Haynsworth Law Office continues to stand on Law Range and remains a testament to Sumter's will to preserve its history.

Sources for this article include the Sumter Item archives, the late local historian and author Cassie Nicholes and others.