Museum Musings – May 25, 2016
Perhaps my title leans a bit too much toward comparisons with the Cockney pickpocket in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, but I couldn’t resist the play on words to conjure up a scene from Fort Mill’s past that is hard to picture today.
Before our town was called a “bedroom community” for Charlotte (an unjust use of the term if you ask me), Fort Mill thrived with the kind of amenities found in bigger cities. Shopping was plentiful on Main Street, and if your pursuits were inclined more toward leisure you could spend the afternoon watching westerns at the Majestic theater or shooting pool at Rexall’s. For your musical enjoyment, the Fort Mill Band might be playing at the bandstand in Confederate Park, displacing the regular group of gentlemen who gathered there for an afternoon of whittling. The only interruption to this idyllic scene was the piercing whistle of the Southern Railroad train pulling into the depot at the bottom of Main Street, and with that whistle came the daily arrival of the out-of-towners. Today, we might send them to the new Hampton Inn by the interstate or tell them the Marriott will be coming soon. In those days, they need travel no farther than the heart of the town to find a night’s rest.
Three hotels offered travelers accommodation in the previous century. On the edge of Confederate Park, just behind present-day Hobo’s, sat the Central Hotel. The three-story structure stood from 1875 until its demolition in 1947. It would have been visible to passengers arriving on the train, and had the added benefit of the park as its front yard. For those who didn’t mind walking an extra block, the Palmetto Hotel welcomed guests with its deep, shaded front porch. The third hotel, located on Academy Street, was a product of the segregated culture of the time. African American travelers could stay at the popular Thorns’ Hotel, which thrived with visitors in the 1920s. It was just a short walk from the passenger depot, also located on Academy Street on the east side of the railroad tracks.
Fort Mill was much more than a suburb of a larger city; it was a bustling destination of its own—a special place to be for locals, visitors, and even the occasional pickpocket.