Georgetown Rice Museum – Georgetown, South Carolina
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Downtown Georgetown is beautiful, scenic, and historic – three attributes which are fully reflected in the Rice Museum. Known locally as the Town Clock, the Rice Museum is located in the Old Market Building where it documents the impact rice had on Georgetown and South Carolina through artwork, artifacts, interactive tours, maps, and dioramas.
Part of the Rice Museum tour includes the Maritime Museum Gallery, located in the former Kaminski Hardware Building. It houses the Brown’s Ferry Vessel, the oldest vessel on exhibit in the United States. Also located in the building is the Prevost Gallery and Museum Gift Shop. The Prevost Gallery features rotating exhibits of local art and history.
For over a century rice sustained Georgetown, making this the most grand but also most grievous chapter in its history. Georgetown County was home to some of the largest slave-holding plantations in South Carolina, averaging between 200 and 500 slaves each.
Senegalese, Gambians, and Angolans were captured by hostile tribes and valued for their rice growing skills. Some believe Angolan slaves gave rise to the word “Gullah” through a shortened version of Angola: “N’Gulla.”
The popular Carolina Gold rice was the lifeblood of Georgetown’s economy for over 100 years. When famous architect and surveyor Robert Mills visited Georgetown in 1826, he commented on how intrinsic rice was to its culture saying: “In Georgetown every thing is fed on rice; horse and cattle eat the straw and bran, fowls, etc. are sustained by the refuse; and man subsists upon the marrow of the grain.”
The Civil War erupted at Fort Sumter in 1861, and changed Georgetown forever. Planters struggled to keep the rice industry alive without a free labor pool, while several major hurricanes devastated Lowcountry fields. To further complicate matters, rice planters in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, California, and Mississippi began serving up some stiff competition. They benefited from modern harvesting equipment, but coastal South Carolina’s wet, muddy soil could not support the heavy machines. In the face of these obstacles, rice was no longer a viable crop, and Georgetown’s last commercial harvest took place in 1919.
This picture shows the Brown’s Ferry Vessel, located in the Georgetown Rice Museum. The 18th century cargo ship has been carefully restored, and declared the ‘most important single nautical discovery in the United States to date’ by anthropologists worldwide.
Many years ago, a dive instructor licensed by the SC Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, found this historic vessel on the bottom of the Black River at Brown’s Ferry in Georgetown County. He recognized the significance of his discovery, and gave his rights to the vessel to the Institute for Scientific Investigation. The ship was raised on August 28, 1976 and, after 16 years of restoration, was moved to its current home on the third floor of the Rice Museum. The roof of the museum had to be lifted off so the vessel could be lowered in to the exhibit area. The ship is the oldest on exhibit in the United States, predating all other ships by fifty years.
The vessel was primarily sail-driven, but was small enough to be rowed or poled along if necessary. It has a flat hull, which allowed it to be slid ashore for easy loading and unloading.
Many artifacts were salvaged from the ship, including belt buckles, china, and coins, which are all on display at the museum. What caused the boat to sink still remains unclear. Chris Amer, an archaeologist who studied the ship wreckage, simply hinted “we found a lot of wine bottles that went down with the vessel.”
Learn more about the Browns Ferry Boat.
The Old Market Building, including the Rice Museum, is listed in the National Register:
The Old Market Building is an outstanding example of architecture utilized to serve both the political and economic life of the 19th century. As one of the few remaining brick market buildings in the US with a bell tower and clock, this structure has served as a town hall, a jail, an open-air market, and a slave market. At the time of nomination it served as the Georgetown Rice Museum.
Built ca. 1832-1835, this distinguished one-story Classical Revival temple form building was designed to rest on a high arcaded base. The arched area was used as an open air market but was enclosed in the early twentieth century. The front façade of the market is laid in Flemish bond, with the side and rear wall in common or American bond. The tower and market are unified by the belt course encircling them. In ca. 1842 a tower topped by a square stage and an open belfry was added. The tower houses a four-sided clock.
Reflections on the Georgetown Town Clock
Contributor Paige Sawyer adds the following information: “The town clock building is a Greek Revival structure and was originally used as an open air market. As early as 1788, the site at the foot of Screven Street had been the location of the town market. The brick building replaced an earlier wooden structure. In February of 1865, when Federal troops occupied Georgetown, the town council signed surrender papers in this building.
“In 1970 the Georgetown County Historical Commission purchased the town clock from the City of Georgetown. The Commission restored the structure and ever since it has housed the Rice Museum, which opened in May of that year during the celebration of the South Carolina Tricentennial. The clockworks in the tower were made operational again in 1975.”
Georgetown Rice Museum Info
Address: 633 Front Street, Georgetown, SC 29442
Georgetown Rice Museum Map
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