The LeNoir Store (pronounced le-NORE) is a family-owned general store and post office built in 1869. Known as Sumter County‘s oldest business establishment, the store still operates on the property of the LeNoir (also spelled Lenoir) family’s original store, which opened prior to 1808. Some records claim the LeNoirs have operated a store here since 1765. If so, the LeNoir Store would be one of the oldest continuously-running businesses in the nation. Original owner Isaac LeNoir was an Adjutant of Sumter’s Brigade during the Revolutionary War as well as a signer of the 1775 South Carolina Declaration of Rights. His will, read upon his death in 1808, requested his land be divided equally among his four sons. LeNoir specified this property to include his “store house.”
Today the store remains the center of this rural community, offering modern postal services and staples as well as selling nostalgic and tried-and-true remedies. The post office within the store opened in 1900 and has been slated for an extreme reduction in hours by the United States Postal Service since 2014. Because the store and post office are both a convenience and a community hub, residents are hoping the change doesn’t lead to an ultimate closure. Many fear the reduced post office hours will lead to the closing of the store, a local landmark that has been serving residents here for more than two centuries.
The store is operated by Beverly LeNoir Johnson; her brother, Steve, is the post master. Their mother, Carrie Baker LeNoir, worked in the store for over 70 years and served as post mistress for 35. When the post office faced closure for the first time in the 1970s, Carrie LeNoir’s efforts allowed it to continue running. She was also active in the community outside of the store, donating land for the Horatio Volunteer Fire Department and even driving one of the trucks. Active in her community, Carrie LeNoir found herself embroiled in a murder case during the 1970s that remains controversial today.
In 1977 Carrie LeNoir was found in contempt of court and sentenced to 90 days in jail for refusing to give up copies of a photograph and an autopsy report pertaining to the 1970 murder of 13-year-old Margaret “Peg” Cuttino of Sumter. William “Junior” Pierce was convicted of the murder, and Carrie LeNoir – along with other area residents – believed he was innocent. LeNoir stated that the victim, or someone who closely resembled her, was in the LeNoir Store on December 19, 1970, the day after she was reported missing. LeNoir and her husband said that the girl entered the store on that afternoon with two boys whom she did not recognize. Later that day the two boys returned without the girl to buy gas, and LeNoir said the boys “seemed excited.” Peg Cuttino’s body was found in a shallow grave in Manchester State Forest on December 30, 1970. She had been raped and bludgeoned to death. Peg Cuttino was the daughter of South Carolina Senator James Cuttino, Jr., who petitioned for LeNoir to surrender her copies of the photograph and autopsy report in 1977. He claimed she was displaying them publicly in order to reopen the case, which brought distress to the family.
Carrie LeNoir held onto the copies of the documents in hopes of exonerating Pierce, who had confessed to the murder. Despite her efforts, two grand juries declined to reopen the case. Pierce had been convicted of three prior murders and was known to be a “serial confessor” with an IQ of 70. Several locals, including the county coroner, disagreed with the timeline given by police of Cuttino’s murder and believed that Pierce was coerced into his confession due to pressure on police to solve the case. Discrepancies in his confession, along with his history of dubious confessions, made many people doubt that events happened the way he claimed. For example, Pierce claimed to have murdered Cuttino at a landfill; people wondered why he didn’t dump her body in the landfill instead of driving to the state forest.
It also bothered LeNoir and others that his confession had not been written or recorded and that a murder weapon – thought to be a tire iron – was never found. It troubled her that his car was never recovered, though Pierce claimed to have left it near a service station near his Georgia home. Ray Sconyers, Pierce’s boss in a Swainsboro, Georgia factory, testified that Pierce was at work the day Peg Cuttino was thought to have disappeared – December 18, 1970. Pierce ultimately was convicted of nine murders in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia between 1970 and 1971 and served multiple life sentences. When he was convicted of Peg Cuttino’s murder on March 3, 1973, he was already serving a life sentence in Georgia.
In an unexpected twist, serial killer Donald Henry “Pee Wee” Gaskins confessed to the murder of Peg Cuttino in 1977. Gaskins had been working as a roofer near the site where Cuttino was last seen alive. He also was able to describe details of the crime, such as burns on Cuttino’s arm. However, Pierce and Gaskins had been communicating through letters while both were in prison for other murders, and it is thought that details of the murder came from Pierce, despite the scrutiny of prison mail. Pierce’s conviction was upheld in 1983 when a court agreed to hear an appeal on behalf of Pierce due to Gaskins’ statements; the court found Gaskins’ confession to lack credibility. Pierce is still alive and in prison, and theories still abound in Sumter County as to who killed Peg Cuttino. Many believe justice was served with Pierce’s conviction, while others live with doubt, afraid that her unknown murderer walked away from the heinous crime unscathed.
Carrie LeNoir served three days of her 90-day sentence before agreeing to turn over her papers to the state Supreme Court. In October of 1978 the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed its citation of contempt against LeNoir. Carrie LeNoir died on June 18, 2015 at the age of 94. Her children continue to work at maintaining the legacy of their store. Today the store’s house of operation are 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on Monday through Friday and 8:00 a.m. until noon on Saturday. The post office is open from 10:00 a.m. through 2:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8:00 a.m. through 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. Both the store and the post office are closed on Sunday.
The LeNoir Store is listed in the National Register:
The Lenoir Store, built prior to 1878, is a surviving example of the “old general store” and a standing reminder of life before strip malls and modern supermarkets. It is a one-story, weatherboard-clad building on a brick foundation. The gable end metal roof is disguised by a simple false store front. The porch is supported by simple knee brackets and plain square wooden posts.
Though the store now has prepackaged goods on its shelves, it maintains the look of the old general store and all of the equipment used in its early days, including an old cheese cutter, a tobacco cutter, ice tongs and penny scales. The store still serves as the local post office, since 1900, and retains its postal equipment installed at the turn of the century. It continues to serve as a focal point of the Horatio community, a small but readily identifiable community above Stateburg in the High Hills of Santee. The Lenoir family has operated a general store in Horatio since before 1808. It is the oldest business establishment in Sumter County.
More Pictures of the LeNoir Store
Reflections on the LeNoir Store
Contributor Jim Jenkins provided SCIWAY with this additional insight: “The Lenoir Store has been operated by the Lenoir family since before 1808. The store includes a post office inside with 155 post office boxes, and 124 of those boxes are still in use. The post office is on the list of small post offices for closure. The store and post office represent the center of the social activity for the community and a way of life that is rapidly vanishing from the scene. I spent a delightful hour there talking with Beverly L. Johnson and taking photos of the store, post office, and surrounding area. I hope this site survives the proposed cuts.”
Photographer Brandon Coffey who contributed some of the above photos says: “I first became aware of this place through my involvement with the South Carolina Picture Project and made a mental note that this would be a place for me to visit. I came across a video on YouTube that showcased the store and that only made me want to visit more. I finally set out with a friend of mine to make the two hour drive to see this place.
At first glance, to those unfamiliar, this simple wooden building is nothing but a store. Upon further inspection one will see this is so much more.
When you get exit your car you’ll notice the old Coca-Cola signs that dot the weathered building, the antique gas pumps out front reading 0.49 a gallon and bowls set out to feed the cats that hang around this place.
When you enter you’re immediately hit with a wave of nostalgia. The walls and shelves are filled with old medicinal remedies, metal signs, portraits of customers past, antique post office boxes, handmade artwork and more. A cheerful “Hello, I was starting to get lonely in here!” calls from the back of the store. This was the voice of Beverly Lenoir Johnson, a woman who I found out later was the seventh generation of Lenoirs to run this store. She happily told me to take “as many pictures as you’d like!” and also called me over to show me her artwork. She proudly shared that she didn’t know she was an artist until she had a hospitalization that had awakened her creative side. She showed me page after page of bright cheerful pages she had colored with markers. Many with religious sayings enforcing positivity and others which had a fun use of colorful whimsy. I bought four of her pieces while there and she thanked me many times for even being interested.
It did my heart good to spend about an hour with her and take in everything this wonderful time capsule had to offer. It is not a place I will soon forget.”