The Pee Dee region of South Carolina is known for its agriculture, and Lake City is a commanding example of why. A leading producer of tobacco, strawberries, and green beans in the early twentieth century – in fact, Lake City’s Bean Market was once held the largest green bean auction in the world – the farming community now boasts other cash crops including soy beans and canola.
Though it was settled around 1784, the town was founded in the mid-eighteenth century as McCrea’s Crossroads; in 1825 it became Graham’s Crossroads because of its convenient location at two major intersecting roads on land owned by Aaron Graham. One of these roads led from Kingstree to Cheraw, while the other stretched from Camden to Georgetown.
The town was officially chartered as Graham in 1874. However, the post office serving the area was called Lynches Lake, but because there was already another post office in the state by the name (Lynches Lake), the name of both the post office and the town were changed to Lake City in 1883 to avoid confusion.
Northeastern Railroad built a line through the town in 1856. The addition of the railroad added to the area’s prosperity, as produce could easily be transported by train. Later, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad operated here, its depot built in 1913; the tracks are now used by CSX Railroad. The former depot now houses the city’s Chamber of Commerce, and a restaurant operates from an addition behind the original depot.
The city is home to some of the state’s most illustrious figures, including Dr. Ronald McNair, one of the astronauts killed in the 1986 space shuttle Challenger, and businesswoman Darla Moore, whose gifts to the University of South Carolina and Clemson University have resulted in USC’s Moore School of Business and the Dr. Ronald McNair Aerospace Center as well as Clemson’s Eugene T. Moore School of Education, named for her father.
Moore was also instrumental in establishing ArtFields, an annual nine-day art festival and competition held in Lake City. ArtFields hosted its inaugural celebration in 2013, the same year the town’s Smithsonian-quality art gallery, the Jones-Carter Gallery, opened. A mural depicting the art festival as well as Lake City’s agricultural and railroad history adorns a downtown building, seen at the top of the page. Since the success of Artfields, numerous murals, and statues can be seen throughout Lake City.
Reflections on Lake City
Contributor Wilson McElveen, who sent the historic photo seen below, shares: “My understanding is that this automobile was decorated for an entry in a parade that was held in Florence in 1924. The driver, named Settle, is unknown to me, but the girl sitting in the rear was, at the time, a resident of Lake City. She was my great aunt, Florence Edwards “Tot” McElveen (Parham). Thought you may find this of interest since tobacco farming has had such an influence in areas of the Pee Dee in towns like Lake City.”
Photographer Kathy Mattei, who took the photo above, writes: “My husband and I attended a Revolutionary War reenactment in Lake City, SC, December 2016. The event was very well done and included battle scenes, historians, musicians, and artisans. Although the weather was a little dreary, we really enjoyed ourselves knowing that this was the stomping grounds of the legendary Francis Marion. As the event began to wind down, we took a stroll around the outlying area along an old dirt road. All of a sudden, the sun peaked out and lit up this plowed cotton field. As I pulled out my camera I wondered what stories this old cotton field could tell.”
Historical Marker – Lake City