History of Lake City

Lake City History

By the 1730ʼs, the greater Lake City area of the Pee Dee was known as Williamsburg Township. Williamsburg Townshipʼs population began to grow because settlers immigrated to this area for its good reliable water, similar Scots-Irish neighbors, inexpensive or even free land, and close proximity to the Lynches Creek “highway” to Georgetown and Charleston markets. The more densely populated areas all along this waterway became known as Lynches Lake.

Lynches Lake is a series of lakes, extending east from Williamsburg Township to Witherspoonʼs Ferry, which is present-day Johnsonville. Lynches Lake was a geographical designation on plats and maps during the colonial era, before there were many towns, hence few town names. Lynches Lake was frequently cited as the home area of many patriots in General Francis Marionʼs Brigade.  Lake City is located at the western tip of the northern branch of Lynches Lake.  

In the 1820ʼs Lake City was called the “Crossroads,” the place where the road between Charleston and Cheraw crosses the road between Georgetown and Camden. By the 1850ʼs, this crossroads had developed into a plantation with a smoke house, a gin, several barns and slave quarters, and had become known as “Grahamʼs Crossroads.” The North Eastern Railroad completed their north-south line with a freight depot in 1858, built several hundred feet west of Grahamʼs Crossroads. This railroad and its depot provided a nucleus around which an energetic mercantile community developed. The town chartered itself officially as “Graham” on March 4, 1874. Nine years later in 1883, due to statewide postal delivery problems, the name of Graham had to be changed and this town became “Lake City.”

Lake Cityʼs first major industry other than farming was turpentine. Turpentine harvesters from North Carolina and Virginia came here shortly after Reconstruction ended to “bleed the piney wood” of its turpentine and the market boomed. By the 1900’s this market had dwindled, so the local citizenry needed another industry to replace turpentine.

A local farmer named Henry Horace Singletary unknowingly took the agricultural lead around 1890 when he observed that the soil content here was well adapted for growing strawberries. He wondered why they had never been cultivated here in any kind of quantity large enough to ship to a major market. After several earnest attempts, Mr. Singletary succeeded in growing fine strawberries and shipping them North, thus laying the foundation for Lake Cityʼs second major industry, strawberries. By the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, Lake City claimed one of the largest strawberry markets in the Southeast, shipping between twelve and eighteen railroad cars per day during the peak season. The crop was discontinued after the northern and eastern buyers failed to make adequate payments.

Lake Cityʼs principal claim to significant historic value is her prominence as an agricultural center. She could boast of the largest snap bean market in the world at one time. In 1939, as much as 30,000 bushels of produce were sold per day at auction in the municipally owned market building erected three years earlier. This produce market typically handled approximately half a million bushels, or packages, of produce each year, each type of produce sold in its own season. Lake City shipped over 850 railroad carloads in an average year. According to the marketʼs accounting books for the 1938 season, 450,000 bushels were shipped. The market handled peas, beans of most kinds, cucumbers, squash, and limas in large quantities - other vegetables in lesser amounts. Lake City has had the most diversified agricultural market in the two Carolinas. From its season opening in late April continuously until late July or early August, it sold assorted produce.

Then from August 1 until well into the fall, it operated as a tobacco market, the second largest in the state. The tobacco market took root in Lake City in in the late 1890’s and as the market grew, so did the small community. According to census records, the village had 300 inhabitants in 1900 and by the 1910 census had more than tripled to over 1,000 people. Tobacco was king in Lake City. As demand for the golden weed continued to grow, so did the town. During August of 1929, Lake City sold ten million pounds of tobacco, the record for the most tobacco sold anywhere ever in a single month in the history of the tobacco industry. During the 1930ʼs, Lake City got five tobacco warehouses. The tobacco market here has sold over twenty-three million pounds annually. Farmers here and from eleven nearby counties have received over $5,000 for tobacco sold here. This industry, with an investment of over one million dollars in Lake City, provided employment for over 3,500 persons for a period of from two to four months at a weekly payroll of $100,000. By 1958, Lake City had nine large warehouses whose volume of business placed it second in the state and eleventh in the nation. Tobacco was indeed King in Lake City.
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