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Darlington Historical Commission
The Darlington County Historical Commission was created by an Act of Legislature on June 18, 1965. There is a board consisting of 8 members appointed by County Council for a period of three years.
It came out of the old Darlington County Historical Society, a private group dating back to 1938 and still active as a club. In the late 50's, this Society became very active in historical work, and did an in-depth survey of sites throughout the county that were historic and should be marked by state-approved historical markers. At that time, makers cost around $300 each. There was no money, and with a membership of only 120 people, with dues of $1.00 year, the Society was unable to afford them on their own.
The Society decided to approach County Council, and asked for a donation of tax dollars to help pay for these markers, but was denied on the grounds that should donations be made to this club, a precedent would be set, and donations would then have to be made to other clubs when requested. A number of County Council Members (then called County Commissioners), who were historically minded, were interested in the proposal though, and wanted to find other ways to aid with the project.
It was found that a County Historical Commission could be created as a part of the overall county government and given a small stipend from tax revenues to function; hence an Act was passed in 1965.
It was an unwritten understanding that the money appropriated was to be used to purchase historical markers for sites around the county over an extended period, until all historic sites were marked. That has now been updated to allocation of funds for two historical makers per year.
Around that time, one of the County Commissioners arranged to have the Jacob Kelley House donated for preservation and was instrumental in getting federal grant money to have the house renovated and turned into a house museum. At that time, it was said, federal dollars were flowing in an apparently unending torrent. The house was a long-range process, but it was renovated, finished and furnished during that time period.
Over the years, a group of ladies living near the house volunteers and takes responsibility for furnishing the house (looking for and buying antiques) and staging "open house" visits at regular intervals. Through County budget, $1,000.00 per year is put aside for payment of utilities, upkeep and miscellaneous costs for the house. Several years ago, a new wooden roof - at an estimated cost of $5,000.00 - was added. It was painted by professionals and lately, both that and the grounds are being maintained by using prison farm labor.
Shortly after the Commission was created in 1965, a small room in the brand new court house was assigned, along with a desk and chair; and as a member of the Society, and having helped with the publication of the county history, Mr. Horace Rudisill was asked by the Historical commission board to join them as a paid Director. At the time, he had a full time job, but agreed open the courthouse office each Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., when he was not working at his regular job.
In the early 70's, with federal money still flowing, one of the members of the House of Representatives, along with a County Commissioner, secured another federal grant to employ a full time "research consultant" to keep our courthouse office open full time. Mr. Rudisill filled this position and remained there until his death on July 15, 2003.
From the start, he began to collect historical facts and statistics on Darlington County. Gifts of historical significance were collected and bought by Mr. Rudisill and other patrons. These items grew immensely, and by 1984, the commission was offered its own building, the former county jailhouse.
After the jail was renovated, and the building became the Historical Commission, all the pre-1900 records were then moved from the courthouse and into the custody of the Commission. The plan was approved by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Everything except land records were moved at that time. This acquisition required the creation of a second full time position. Presently, it has grown so much, that there is an additional two part-time employees, ensuring that at all times there will be three people on call at the Commission.
Over the past years, we have found various other organizations that assist in providing funding for roadside historical markers. This has made it possible for more markers to be erected through their contribution. All contributions are accepted and often received by the Commission. The Darlington County Historical Society has been one of the main contributors, coming to the aid of the Commission in way of donations on many occasions.
Through the years, the Darlington County Historical Commission has become more of a county archives department, and early information center, and incorporates storage and preservation of all types of written records relating to the county.
It houses all of the old courthouse records prior to the 1900's, and as space is needed at the courthouse, records are moved over for safekeeping. Recently Probate records from 1900 through 1922 were relocated to the Commission and is currently in the process of being inserted into acid free file folders for preservation.
Staff regularly attends workshops at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History at different times and for different aspects of historical preservation. This helps in maintaining and preserving the records for use by future generations.