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Preserve America is a national initiative in cooperation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation; the U.S. Departments of Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Education; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities; and the President's Council on Environmental Quality.

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Preserve America Community:
Gray Court, South Carolina

Gray Court (population, 1,020) is located in northwestern South Carolina. Cherokee Indians first used the region as a hunting ground. The first European settlers to the area were the Owings family, who came in 1757 from Owings Mills, Maryland. Gray Court was first called Dorrohville for the Dorroh family, who operated the Stagecoach Stop Inn and the post office. Settlers in the area primarily practiced agriculture. When the railroad came through in the late 1800s, the small towns of Gray Court and Owings began. Gray Court was incorporated in 1899, and the nearby, unincorporated community of Owings is often associated with the town of Gray Court. 

Gray Court is dedicated to recognizing and protecting its historical resources. Gray Court historic properties are included in a survey of Laurens County historic properties available to the public at the Laurens County Public Library and the Gray Court-Owings Historical Society Archives. In 2006, Gray Court citizens worked with Clemson University Planning and Landscape Architecture graduate students to plan for restoration of the historic town. The students conducted an analysis of various historic sites, met with the mayor and city council members, and conducted a public design workshop. At the meeting the students facilitated small group discussions with community members, made drawings, and noted comments. Discussion included land use, restoration of historic buildings, parking, community vision, parks, and use of green space.

The Gray Court-Owings Historical Society leads tours of historic sites in Gray Court, Owings, and upper Laurens County. A self-guided tour brochure is also available for Owings. The historical society also operates a local history museum in Gray Court. The Colonial Revival-style Gray Court-Owings School, built in 1914, was listed on the National Register in 2004, thanks to the efforts of the historical society. It is still in use as the Gray Court-Owings Middle School.

Budding musicians are carrying on local bluegrass and gospel music traditions. Each Saturday evening the Owings Music Hall hosts an open performance session for musicians of all ages. Lessons are held in the hall on Monday nights. Several youth musical groups have formed and now perform both locally and around the state. The Gray Court Gospel Festival is held each October, featuring gospel singing by members of local churches.

The Gray Court-Owings Historical Society sponsors the annual Pioneer Day festival each September. One festival highlight is a parade with Native Americans, Revolutionary and Civil War re-enactors, pioneers, and wagons and buggies drawn by horses and mules. Living History exhibits, such as blacksmithing, weaving, spinning, and woodcarving are displayed on the Village Green, and musical groups perform.

The Culbertson Back Country Settlement, run by the Gray Court-Owings Historical Society, opened to the public in 2007.  The settlement is a living history museum made up of two log cabins, a blockhouse, a one-room African American schoolhouse, an 1882 church, and a blacksmith shop. All of the buildings were relocated from their original sites, restored, and furnished with period pieces. The town of Gray Court installed lighting and provided water to the settlement. Volunteers have worked hard to identify, move, and restore the buildings, and continue to staff the program. Grants from the state of South Carolina and Laurens County have also assisted the project. Historical society members conduct living history tours for school children and other groups. They also host special celebration days demonstrating life in the area during the 19th century. A number of events occur at the site, including a Thanksgiving dinner. The Historical Society received an Innovation Award from Michelin in 2005 for its work in historic preservation at the site. The award included a $2,000 grant. The historical society was also awarded the 2008 Star Award by the Old Ninety-Six Tourism District for its promotion of tourism in Laurens County.

For more information

Old 96 Tourism District: www.sctravelold96.com

Posted March 18, 2009

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