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The Town Clock

In 1785, the General Assembly of South Carolina authorized the establishment of a public market in the town of Winnsborough. This market house was a square, wooden building, painted yellow and topped with a belfry. Some years later, probably between 1820 and 1830, the market house as sold to Robert Cathcart. He then donated to the town his old duck-pond, a small piece of land in the middle of Washington Street, as a site for a new market house. The town council accepted the land and petitioned to legislature for authority to erect the new market house and town clock. Colonel William McCreight, Intendent of the town in 1837, ordered the works for the clock. They were imported to Charleston by sailboat, and hauled to Winnsboro in wagons. Varied and interesting (if not authentic) are the reports of the journey from Charleston—Adam Blake declared it took 50 wagons to do the hauling. Whether of wood or metal, the works are undoubtedly superior; the clock has run continuously for 100 years, the longest continuously running clock in the United States.

The town clock bell was also French made, and is said to have had silver in its composition. Its tone was beautiful and silvery. The bell did good service until 1895; during a fire that year two young men were ringing it so vigorously that is cracked and was sent to Philadelphia to J. McShane for repairs. When, after some delay, it was returned and sounded for the first time, the tone was so different doubt was immediately expressed as to its being the original bell. In 1875 the present tower was erected. The carpentry work was done by John Smart, an African-American carpenter of Winnsboro. The old public market occupied the ground floor of the town clock and had a bell of its own. Its tone was not as silvery as that of the clock, but was a very welcome one when its ringing proclaimed to the villagers that fresh meat was to be had at the market. (It is interesting to learn that this was an old custom, not particular to Winnsboro.) The first floor is now used as meeting space for the town’s various organizations and as a voting location. The second floor of the Town Clock is home to the Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce.