Orangeburg's Memorial Plaza is at the heart of the city's downtown district and in many ways at the heart of the city's community life.
There have been several major alterations in this center-city plot of land since the late 1800s when it was the location for the Orangeburg County Courthouse. Back then, it was known as Courthouse Square and for short, "The Square."
In the late 1920s, the old courthouse was demolished upon the completion of the new courthouse between Amelia and Church streets. The city purchased the old courthouse property from the county for $32,000.
A landscape gardener was brought in from Washington, D.C., to plan what became Memorial Plaza.
The U.S. War Department provided some captured World War I German artillery pieces to become plaza attractions. Other organizations provided guns of the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
In the center of the plaza layout was a triple-based fountain with electric illumination.
The middle fountain, the largest, was the "Lady Fountain" that is now at the entrance to Edisto Memorial Gardens. While on the plaza, the Lady Fountain sat above a reflecting goldfish pool.
Added to the plaza was the Confederate soldier statue and the statue of a fireman holding a child, later moved to the fire department on Middleton.
Despite booming, postwar World War II tourist traffic in the late 1940s on U.S. Highway 301, which flowed along the square on Russell, there was no major alteration of the plaza until the 1970s.
The traffic through the city was significant, with it bottlenecking at the four street-sided square. These were the days before the 301 traffic was rerouted onto John C. Calhoun Drive, constructed in the 1950s.
In the 1960s, the streets around the plaza were widened, making the square smaller in size.
The soldier statute was moved from the west-center to the middle. The fountains were removed entirely and gun emplacements relocated.
Amid a storm of controversy, the decision was made to further widen Russell Street in a diagonal cut on its border with the plaza. The square was no longer a square. The traffic flow was altered radically.
While much business downtown has suffered due to the construction of Interstate 95, which drew much traffic away from Orangeburg, Memorial Plaza still serves as the city's gathering space.
Community events such as car shows, the Orangeburg Festival of Roses street dance, St. Patrick's Day festivals, the annual Taste of Orangeburg, the farmers market, among other events continue to make the Memorial Plaza a place where Orangeburg comes together.
In 2000, the city embarked upon a $7 million, 15-year streetscape project in an effort to beautify a stretch of Russell Street from Edisto Memorial Gardens to Boulevard Street, plus portions of Middleton Street.
The project included sidewalk, lighting and drainage improvements and the addition of brick pavers, crosswalks, granite curbing and underground wiring. Parking and resurfacing work was also done.
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