English settlers founded the town of York in the 1750s. It was first known as Fergus’s Crossroads in reference to a popular tavern owned by brothers William and John Fergus.
By 1785, the town became the county seat, and the name was changed to Yorkville. The founders traced their heritage back to the House of York, symbolized by a white rose, which opposed the House of Lancaster, represented by a red rose, in England’s War of the Roses. Yorkville was shortened to York in 1915, and the white rose has been adopted as an emblem of the city.
Congress Street in downtown York is regulated by the town clock, which oversees the street’s historic commercial buildings such as the Latta House – seen below – built around 1824 by merchant Robert Latta.
The building was made with English red bricks once used as ballast in merchant ships arriving to Charleston and later transported to York via wagon. The Latta House is also known as York’s Wedding Chapel, as the building has served as a popular wedding event site since the 1940s.
The York County Courthouse, located at 2 South Congress Street, was constructed in 1914 and designed by the prominent architect William Augustus Edwards.
Nearby Neely Drugs was once famous for its old-fashioned soda fountain and mouth-watering grilled cheese sandwiches. The business opened in 1952 and, sadly, closed its doors as an independent pharmacy in 2000.
The First National Bank, also on Congress Street, was built circa 1920. At the time, York was thriving as a leader in the textile industry.
People familiar with York imagine the iconic Sylvia Theater when they think of downtown. Built in the early part of the twentieth century, this Art Deco entertainment venue was originally built as part of a hotel, along with its next-door neighbor. It operated as a movie theater until 1968 and then was used for various commercial purposes until it was purchased in 2001. Today it is the backdrop for musical and theatrical performances, though it has stuck to its cinematic roots and also screens movies.
The Rose Hotel was built in 1849 and housed many occupants during its tenure as such, including federal troops during Reconstruction after the Civil War. Under President Grant’s martial law, counties of South Carolina that still enforced laws that were hostile to African Americans and had an active Ku Klux Klan, as York did, were considered to be in rebellion. Troops were sent to supervise these counties until such activity died down. Today, the Rose Hotel is an apartment building.
Many of the buildings found in downtown York are listed in the National Register, which adds the following:
The York Historic District consists of approximately 180 contributing properties located in the significant downtown commercial and residential areas of the town of York. Although there are numerous structures from the early settlement of the town, the majority were constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Established as the county seat, York has continuously served as a political center for York County. In 1785, the South Carolina Legislature enacted the establishment of York County. A centrally located site called Fergus Crossroads was chosen to be the county seat and became known as Yorkville. The name was shortened to York in 1915. The town incorporated in 1841. At the eve of the Civil War, York had the second highest per capita income in the state and considered itself to be “the Charleston of the Upcountry.”
During Reconstruction, York became a major center for Ku Klux Klan activities, and as a result, Federal troops were stationed in the town. The early 1890s saw the beginning of the growth of the textile industry in York and the presence of Cannon Mills and Spring Mills had a large effect of the town’s growing economic prosperity. Today, the York Historic District’s visual appearance is primarily that of a nineteenth and early twentieth century town. The District includes commercial, residential, religious, and industrial structures. Reflective of the different eras of the town’s development, these structures show a diversity of architectural forms, including Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Classical Revival, Victorian, Commercial, and Bungalow.