The site for the City of Abbeville was chosen on land once owned by Revolutionary War General, Andrew Pickens. The village grew up in the late 1700s around a freshwater spring Pickens donated as a public source of water, which is now located behind the present day Court House.
Abbeville is the county seat and the right hand side of the square is dominated by a pair of handsome red brick buildings, both built in 1908. One is the present day Court House and its neighbor is the elegant Opera House and City Hall. Traveling theater groups performing here in the early 1900s helped establish the town as a southeastern cultural center, with appearances by such stars as Sarah Bernhardt and Jimmy Durante. After closing in the 1950s, the Opera House was completely restored in 1968 and now boasts 45 weekends of live theater once again.
Across the street from the Opera House is the Belmont Inn. The “Eureka”, as it was then called, opened its doors in 1903 as the “thirty thousand dollar hotel”, to serve everyone from railroad men and salesmen to travelling performers. After closing down in 1972, the hotel was fully restored and reopened in 1984 as the Belmont Inn, once again catering to visitors, businessmen and Opera House patrons. This 26-room hotel is very special with its unique combination of turn-of-the century elegance and all the modern business facilities such as a four star restaurant, lounge, meeting rooms, fax, cable TV, etc.
Opposite the Court House is the extensively renovated Old Bank Building (c.1865) which houses the new Welcome Center and Greater Abbeville Chamber of Commerce. This is the starting point for the various walking tours around Abbeville’s large Historic District, which encompasses Secession Hill, the site of the first secession meeting, and about 300 other buildings and Victorian homes. Among the highlights is the Bundy-Barksdale-McGowan House, and several fine churches such as historic Trinity Episcopal Church (1860) noted for its Gothic Revival architecture. One of the district’s main attractions is the Burt-Stark Mansion, a gracious antebellum home built about 1841. This house is most famous for being the site of Jefferson Davis’ last war council in 1865 lending Abbeville its title, “deathbed of the Confederacy”.
Abbeville has been home to many influential people. Famed American statesman, John C. Calhoun, launched his public career on the square. Here, too, there is a memorial to “The Major of St. Lo”, Thomas D. Howie, a national hero from World War II whose boyhood home is on East Pinckney Street. This town was also home to Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, one of the founders of the African Methodist Church and nineteenth-century black leader.
Although this is a place rich in history, Abbeville is very much alive, a dynamic and innovative town, which looks to the future as well as preserving the past. Standing next to the Confederate Monument in the gracious, tree-lined square, the town fans out in all directions towards Gothic-style churches and Victorian homes. The historical facades of the specialty and antique shops give the square a quiet charm which belies the fact that this is still the heart of a bustling downtown business district. Restoration of its downtown district has won the city nationwide recognition and awards for small town revitalization. The end of 1996 saw the completion of their latest restoration project in which the old Hospital Building was completely renovated, through a public/private partnership, and opened as an apartment complex. These endeavors reflect Abbeville’s continuing vitality and its success at being a thriving modern community in a historical setting.