Camden Opera House — Camden, South Carolina
SC Picture Project | Kershaw County | Camden Opera House
Guarding the city of Camden from atop the clock tower stands Catawba King Haigler (also spelled Hagler), known for his friendship towards the white settlers of Pine Tree Hill, as Camden was called in the 1750s. King Haigler was killed by invading Shawnees on August 30, 1763. Today a life-size iron weather vane of the chief adorns the former Camden Opera House, which was built in 1886. However, an iron effigy of the chief has graced Camden since the original was forged in 1826 by J.B. Mathieu.
In 1825 a steeple was built on top of the town market, which sat on the corner of King and Broad Streets. That same year a clock and bell arrived from Philadelphia and were added within the steeple. The iron likeness of King Haigler was placed on the market steeple in 1826. In 1859 the market moved to a lot near the corner of Broad and Rutledge Streets, and the steeple along with the clock and weather vane were also subsequently moved to the new market site.
The Opera House was constructed in 1886, the same year the market once again relocated, this time next to the Opera House. The town clock and weather vane also made the journey and were placed on top of the Opera House. The Opera House was once a popular entertainment venue as well as the site of the first movie shown in Camden, hosted by a traveling road show in 1900. City Hall was located in the building in the early twentieth century. The Opera House was extensively remodeled in 1934, and the weather vane and tower were restored in 1950. The clock was also converted to electricity that year.
The original clockworks, designed by Isaiah Lukens, were replaced in 1973 and now rest within the Camden Archives and Museum. In 1996 the original weather vane was also replaced and relocated to the Camden Archives and Museum. The replica was created by Lewis Anderson. The former Opera House now serves as retail space.
An additional replica of the five-foot-one-inch King Haigler weather vane graces Camden City Hall, built in 1956.
The Opera House is listed in the National Register as part of the Camden Historic District:
Architecturally and militarily significant, Camden was a center of activity in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and its architecture reflects the two centuries of its growth. The city was named in honor of Lord Camden, British champion of colonial rights. In 1774 wide streets were laid off in a grid pattern. The town expanded northward as shown in a 1798 plat. The plat set aside six parks which formed the basis for the city’s present 178 acres of beautiful parkland. Most of the original town was destroyed by the fire of 1813. This accelerated growth northward to the Kirkwood area, north of Chesnut Street. Originally, the houses in this area were summer cottages, but by 1840 Kirkwood was a year-round residential area of handsome mansions and elaborate gardens. Many of the mansions were built around the cottages, which still survive at their core. Contributing properties are mostly residential but also include public buildings, a church, and a cemetery. Camden’s architecture is classically inspired and includes examples of Federal and Classical Revival, in addition to cottage-type, Georgian, Charleston-type with modifications, and mansion-type houses. Several of the city’s buildings were designed by noted architect Robert Mills.
Camden Opera House Info
Address: 950 Broad Street, Camden, SC 29020
GPS Coordinates: 34.244485,-80.606614