Winyah Indigo Society Hall in Georgetown looks today much as it did in the historical photos below. The society was formed by Georgetown planters more than 250 years ago as a “convivial club.” Beginning in the early 1740s, these wealthy men met in a tavern on the first Friday of every month to discuss news from England as well as matters pertaining to the lucrative indigo industry. (Some sources say it was Nathaniel Tregagle’s Old Oak Tavern on Bay Street, and others say it was a tavern at the corner of Front and Broad streets.) Indigo, Georgetown’s first cash crop, was used to make blue dye, and in fact, tradition holds that early members could pay membership dues with a portion of their harvest. Thomas Lynch, Sr., owner of Hopsewee Plantation and a representative to the Continental Congress, was the society’s first president.
The Winyah Indigo Society received its official charter from King George III in either 1757 or 1758 (sources differ). A few years earlier, in 1753, the society had established one of the nation’s earliest free schools, the Winyah Indigo School. Nearly a century later, in 1857, the society built this hall to replace an earlier structure. It was designed by renowned architect E.B. White, who created many notable South Carolina structures, including the French Hugeunot Church in Charleston. The school met here before moving to its own building, completed in 1908.
The Winyah Indigo Society also sponsored the creation of the Georgetown Library Society towards the end of the eighteenth century. The library society collected news materials from major American cities as well as London and Edinburgh. When the society hall was built, the collection was housed in the new facility. The Civil War broke out shortly after the hall was completed, and classes were disrupted when Union troops used the hall as a hospital. The school reopened in the hall in 1872. Materials preserved during the occupation of the building are now housed in the Georgetown County Public Library.
In 1894, President Glover Cleveland visited Georgetown and made a speech before the society’s members. Today the Winyah Indigo Society Hall serves as a popular event venue. It was fully restored in 2004 and stands as one of Georgetown’s most distinctive landmarks. The society remains active and awards an annual scholarship to the valedictorian of Georgetown High School.
Interior Pictures of Winyah Indigo Society Hall
Winyah Indigo Society Hall is listed in the National Register as part of the Georgetown Historic District:
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.