Georgetown is beautiful, scenic, and historic – three attributes fully reflected in its signature Rice Museum. We’ll explore each of these assets in detail, but first, a note about the museum’s location, which can be a bit confusing for visitors:
The Rice Museum is housed in a complex of two separate buildings. The buildings are the Old Market Building – known locally as the “Georgetown Town Clock” – and the Kaminski Hardware Building. Both buildings are located at the intersection of Front and Screven streets, where they stand just across from each other.
Rice Museum – Town Clock & Old Market Building
The portion of the Rice Museum located in the Georgetown Town Clock and Old Market Building focuses primarily on the influence of the rice culture on both Georgetown and South Carolina as a whole. It features artwork, artifacts, interactive tours, dioramas, and maps.
Rice Museum – Kaminski Hardware Building
The Kaminski Hardware Building houses the Rice Museum’s gift shop on the first floor and its Provost Art Gallery on the second. The third floor is devoted to the display of the Browns Ferry Vessel, which is widely considered the most important maritime artifact discovered in the United States to date.
Rice in Georgetown’s History
For over a century, rice sustained Georgetown, making this the most grand but also most grievous chapter in its history. Georgetown County was home to some of the largest slave-holding plantations in the state, averaging between 200 and 500 slaves each. When renowned architect and surveyor Robert Mills visited Georgetown in 1826, he commented on how intrinsic rice was to its culture:
In Georgetown every thing is fed on rice; horse and cattle eat the straw and bran, fowls, etc. are sustained by the refuse; and man subsists upon the marrow of the grain.
Senegalese, Gambians, and Angolans were captured by hostile tribes and sold to European and American traders who valued their rice-growing skills. Some believe Angolan slaves gave rise to the word “Gullah” through a shortened version of Angola – N’Gulla.
The Civil War erupted at Fort Sumter in 1861 and changed Georgetown forever. Planters struggled to keep the rice industry alive without a free labor pool, and a succession of major hurricanes devastated Lowcountry fields.
To further complicate matters, rice planters in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, California, and Mississippi began serving up some stiff competition. They benefited from modern harvesting equipment, but coastal South Carolina’s wet, muddy soil could not support the heavy machines. In the face of these obstacles, rice was no longer a viable crop, and Georgetown’s last commercial harvest took place in 1919.