On September 25, 2013, at 5:23 AM, 911 received a call that a fire had been spotted on historic Front Street in Georgetown. Firefighters were in combat with the blaze by 5:27 AM, yet in almost no time, eight historic buildings had fallen victim to the fire – seven with no hope of restoration. None were equipped with sprinkler systems.
Georgetown is South Carolina’s third oldest city, behind Beaufort and Charleston. It was founded in 1729, and the city’s historic district remains structured in its original four-by-eight grid, even retaining the same street names and numbers that were assigned nearly four centuries ago. The buildings lost to the fire were built in the nineteenth century.
Above is a view of the buildings before the fire. The buildings are connected by a common attic, which contributed to the rapid spread of the fire, along with wood facades.
Many of the buildings that burned also housed upstairs apartments. Business owners as well as tenants resided in the spaces above the storefronts. Fortunately, there was no loss of human life in the blaze, though a beloved dog and cat were killed.
Businesses that were destroyed by the fire were locally-owned and include: Doodlebug’s, a children’s apparel store; Goudelock and Company, a home gifts retailer; Buzz’s Roost Bar and Grill; Limpin’ Jane’s Old South Eatery; Zest, a neighborhood bistro; Harborwalk Books; and Colonial Floral Fascinations. The fire also damaged the South Carolina Maritime Museum, though the building was not completely lost.
The fire occurred just three weeks before the city’s annual Wooden Boat Show. In the spirit of a city that has both survived and thrived since the early eighteenth century, the boat show is neither being canceled nor postponed for 2013.
Governor Nikki Haley visited Georgetown the day following the fire and declared, “Georgetown is open for business.” The city is not only South Carolina’s second-largest port, but also a vibrant tourist area due to its beautiful location along the Sampit River and proximity to the Grand Strand beaches. Governor Haley is encouraging both South Carolina residents and out-of-state visitors to plan a trip to the still-beautiful, still-historic Georgetown.
The governor went on to say, “We are going to step up for Georgetown like they’ve never seen and we’re going to do for the people of Georgetown and it starts today.”
As rebuilding efforts begin for the City of Georgetown, we hope to add photos of the progress to this page. If you have any you would like to contribute, please submit them to the South Carolina Picture Project. We would also love to add more photos of Front Street before the fire, in order to help document Georgetown’s full history.
Many Front Street buildings are listed in the National Register as part of the Historic Georgetown District, which adds the following information:
The third oldest city in South Carolina, Georgetown is significant historically, militarily, agriculturally and architecturally. Georgetown was laid out as a city in 1729. In 1735 Georgetown was conveyed to three trustees. A plan of the city was attached to the deed and was the first plan to be preserved. Included in the plan were 174.5 acres for the town and 100 acres for a commons. The town acreage was divided into blocks by five streets running at right angles to the river. Much physical evidence of the past remains. The oldest existing structure in Georgetown is a dwelling which dates from ca. 1737.
There are approximately twenty-eight additional 18th century structures as well as eighteen buildings erected during the 19th century prior to the Civil War. The existing structures—homes, churches, public buildings—are of both historical and architectural significance and are situated on heavily shaded, wide streets. The architecture ranges from the simplicity of early colonial, or Georgian, to the elaborate rice plantation era, such as Classical Revival.