This grand Greek Revival structure, located on Camden‘s Broad Street, was completed in 1827. Designed two years earlier by renowned architect Robert Mills, it served as a courthouse for nearly 80 years. Mills is among our state’s most notable sons. Born in Charleston in 1781, he is responsible for no less a landmark than the Washington Monument. In South Carolina, he designed such an abundance of important structures – from plantation homes to county jails – that we’ve created a thorough guide to buildings designed by Robert Mills.
Despite its connection to Mills, it is important to note that the edifice we see today looks substantially different than the edifice Mills created. The courthouse in its original form featured an imposing facade dominated by six Ionic columns; an 1847 renovation replaced them with the four Doric columns you see today. At that same time, the second-story balcony and central stairwell were added.
Attached to the back of this stairwell is the original headstone for Johann von Robais, Baron de Kalb, a major general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, who was killed by British forces in Camden. The headstone was found in 1901 in the basement of Bethesda Presbyterian Church. It was then moved and mounted to the stairwell by the Hobkirk’s Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Today a monument commemorating the celebrated general stands in front of Bethesda Church, where he is interred.
The courthouse was built to be fireproof; its masonry walls are 22-inches thick on the ground floor and taper to about 15 inches on the second floor. The walls are covered in plaster. The floors are brick with a vaulted ceiling in the central hallway and double-arched ceilings downstairs. Portions of the courthouse have been restored to its 1845 appearance. For example, pine planks now cover the bricks on the second floor. The judge’s bench and witness stand look as they did when Mills designed them. (Mills designed another Fireproof Building in Charleston.)
The courthouse functioned in its original capacity until 1906. It is currently operated as a welcome center by the City of Camden’s tourism department. It previously housed the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce. The facility can be rented for special events, and tours are free and available during business hours.
The Kershaw County Courthouse 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.