Although it may not be obvious to the average citizen, over the past 154 years, Cheraw Town Hall has been slowing sinking. Town officials have recognized this threat to the historical structure and safety of the building and have executed a plan to save the 1858 structure that has, literally, become a symbol for the town.
Simply stated, “the foundation is sinking and we’re stabilizing the building,” said Randall Bird, of Eagle Construction and Contracting, the company out of Bishopville hired to do the renovations. But the process of stabilizing the building and its foundation are far from simple.
According to David Sides, director of tourism and community development for the Town of Cheraw, a $25,000 matching grant from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History has allowed Cheraw Town Hall to “remain a part of the landscape for the town’s next generation.”
“When you have a structure that has survived like our Town Hall, it requires a certain amount of regular maintenance,” said Cheraw mayor Andy Ingram. “The town is fortunate that we are one of the recipients of this state funding.”
For all kinds of reasons in relation to structure and safety, the work has and must be done in stages. Bird noted visible evidence in the window sills of the building that are turning down and outward. “We call it sinking and rolling” said Bird, “and that’s a sure sign of trouble.”
“When the building was constructed, the carpenters cut the weatherboards to resemble stone blocks to give the building more prominence,” said Sides. “However, Town Hall is actually built of wood, and over time, the wood has weakened, causing the building to deteriorate.”
“There’s no jacking the building up,” said Bird. “And we can’t correct the problem, but we can stop it from getting any worse. And we can only do sections at a time. It’s just the wise thing to do.”
“We kept the theater across the street from falling in on itself a few years ago,” said Bird. Although the Theatre on the Green is a brick structure, that building suffered similar foundation problems.
The crew is currently working on the side of the building closest to the Town Green. “The whole building needs it, but this side is worse.”
The crew has actually been working, on and off, on the project for more than a year. New beams that run vertically from the floor to the second story roof line, along with steel beams in the foundation, have been installed and reinforced. The next step will be to fill in around the old brick foundation with fresh concrete, said Bird.
The temporary exterior support beams, visible under the blue tarp, will remain in place for at least a week, allowing for the concrete to dry completely, said Bird.
The crew has been working mostly at night, so as not to disturb town hall employees. “I appreciate old buildings like this,” said Bird, “I guess I have sort of a passion for them.” He also said he and his crew have grown rather fond of the people working inside town hall.
“We’ve developed a great loyalty to the town of Cheraw. Everybody here has made us feel welcome,” said Bird. “It’s not like any other municipality I’ve ever worked for.”
According to Sides, Town Hall used to be known as the “Opera House.” In the early days, said Sides, “the building included a small auditorium and stage on the first floor. The second floor was the venue for a number of social gatherings, including dances, musical recitals, and conventions.”
The building is now used primarily for office space for Town of Cheraw employees, Cheraw Town Council and other meetings, and Cheraw’s traffic court.
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at email@example.com.