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The Pink Palace (copy)

The “Pink Palace” on St. John Street in Orangeburg has a lively history.

Have you ever wanted to see one of the rare examples of Gothic castellated architecture in South Carolina?

Well, you can right here in Orangeburg.

The “Pink Palace” on St. John Street in Orangeburg has a lively history.

The jail is a part of the walking tour of historic sites in Orangeburg. The interior of the building is not open to the public.

Designed along the lines of the English prisons of the day by British architect Jonathan Lucas, the Pink Palace was completed in 1860 after approximately three years of construction.

The castle-like structure served as a prison until 1865, when Union Gen. William T. Sherman used it as his headquarters. Sherman ordered the building to be burned when he left. The main foundation, however, stood firm despite extensive damage, allowing it to be completely restored after the Civil War.

Lucas, who by then was married to a woman from Cordova and living in Orangeburg, supervised the renovation of the building.

From that time until 1976, it housed an assortment of prisoners.

When it was a prison, hard-core criminals lived behind its thick walls. After it became the Orangeburg County jail, it housed only lesser offenders. By the early 1920s, electricity and water had been added at the jail.

It was during the 1950s that the jail got its famed nickname. The late Sen. Marshall Williams’ wife, Margaret, used her influence to have the building painted her favorite color — pink. Williams and her garden club planted the two oak trees that still shade the property. Felons soon began to joke about their reservations at the “pink palace.”

Another story relates how the builders of the structure did not have enough money so they purchased a number of different color paints and stirred them all together, creating the pink color.

The jail became a landmark in the area and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. In honor of the recognition, the jail was given a massive cleaning, with its entire interior being hosed and scrubbed down.

When the county vacated the Pink Palace in 1976 after the Law Enforcement Complex was completed, the building was vacant for the first time in 116 years.

Repairing the facility was too costly an endeavor for the county.

When Orangeburg City Council approached the county about using the building for a museum, the county transferred the title to the city for a dollar. The jail was later painted beige.

By 1989, the city council was forced to lease portions of the building to nonprofit groups and rent out parking spaces in the surrounding lot to help cover the museum’s daily operating expenses.

James M. Guthrie III and John Townsend Sifly purchased the old Orangeburg County jail for $10,000 in 1995 from the Orangeburg Arts Council, which bought the building in 1984.

The remaining property, in use as a parking lot, was sold to First National Bank.

Sifly and Guthrie have no specific use for the property but an interest in preserving what has become a part of Orangeburg’s history.

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Staff Writer

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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