It could be quite a surprise for people who know how downtown Florence looked a few decades ago to come back today and see what they would find. There have been quite a few changes.
I guess Florence’s signature spot might have been the intersection of Dargan and Evans streets. As Evans crossed Dargan, it was necessary for a westbound vehicle to make a quick turn to the right as if going onto Dargan, then quickly turn back to the left to reach the 100 block of West Evans. For a time, it was argued that a muddy pond on one side required the turn, but now a surveyor’s error is blamed.
Anyway, to make room for the new Hyatt Place hotel at that corner, Evans Street on the east side of Dargan was cut across a vacant lot through what had been known as Lake’s Corner, because pharmacist F.U. Lake’s drug store was located there. The Hyatt is on a new piece of usable property largely in what had been the complicated Evans-and-Dargan intersection.
Florence has never been famous for tall buildings, but the past few decades have seen some seven- and eight-story buildings disappear. The old McLeod Hospital building was a seven-story job in the 100 block of West Cheves. The hospital moved in the late 1970s, and its old building went down about 20 years later when no use could be found for it.
Perhaps the saddest was the leveling of the old Trust Building. It went up in the late 19-teens at the corner of West Evans and South Irby streets, and it was the tallest building in town until the 1950s. It usually had a bank on its ground floor and a mixture of offices throughout the building.
I once threw paper airplanes out of the seventh-story windows. When it was destroyed, it was replaced by a fine building that is part of Francis Marion University’s health science programs, which will also include the old post office, which is being remodeled by FMU across West Evans Street. The Trust Building was just short of 100 years old.
Finally, The Florentine, an eight-story apartment building with offices on lower floors, came down recently. It had been the tallest building in town from the 1950s until the 11-story City County Building was put up in the 1970s. The block on which it stood is to be part of a big downtown development that is to be underway soon.
Until it built its home down Pamplico Highway from Coles Crossroads, what once was Carolinas Hospital had a six- or seven-story building on South Irby that has been torn down.
A parking lot across West Evans Street from the present Hotel Florence once was the location of the old City Hall, which was a fine-looking, Gothic-like building until an unfortunate remodeling took place in the 1950s. In an effort to “modernize,” they took the old look away and destroyed the goldfish ponds that once were at its Evans Street doorway.
Between the Waters Building on the 100 block of South Dargan and Cheves Street once were a string of store buildings, once including McLeod, a radio station and an afternoon newspaper. They are gone, and their replacements are the relatively new Florence County Museum and a combination parking garage and apartment building that fronts on Cheves. The old nursing home that once was on the corner of Dargan and Cheves was once the McLeod hospital.
The old Florence County Courthouse on the east side and a block of business buildings on the west side of the 100 block of North Irby have disappeared, replaced by the new courthouse and the 1970s County Complex office building.
A couple of nearly full blocks of business buildings on the 100 and 200 blocks of East Evans have disappeared, replaced by government buildings and a bridge over the railroad.
Along Dargan Street, we can visit an assortment of restaurants and party spots that seem to have suddenly made Florence a party town.
There is something I wish somebody would figure out for us. Which of the remaining buildings is taller? The County Complex building, which has been counted as 11 stories but sometimes now is referred to as 13, or the McLeod Pavilion, part of the hospital complex, which has 12 stories?