A reminder of its historical origin is added to Lander's campus

January 16, 2014

The historic gazebo in Williamston across from the site of Williamston Female College, which later became Lander University, was the model for a new gazebo on the Lander campus.

The newly constructed gazebo in front of Lander University's Laura Lander Hall is decorated with a Christmas tree to help celebrate the holiday season.
Work has been completed on the newest structure on Lander University's campus: a gazebo that is an exact replica of one located about 40 miles away in Williamston, in a park across the road from the site where, in 1872, the Rev. Samuel Lander founded Williamston Female College. The college would become the university named in his honor after being relocated to Greenwood in 1904.

The original gazebo was built before the Civil War to shelter the natural spring in Mineral Spring Park in the center of town. The water from the spring contains iron and sulphur, and is considered to have healing properties. During the 1850s, Williamston blossomed as a resort area as word of the spring waters spread, and with the arrival of the railroad linking the town with Columbia and Greenville. Dr. DeWitt Stone, great-grandson of Samuel Lander and a special assistant to Lander's president, said the area became known as the "Saratoga Springs of the South," a reference to the popularity of the mineral springs in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

In addition to attracting people from across the state and beyond, Mineral Spring Park was a favorite spot for students from Williamston Female College to spend their free time, attracted by the gazebo, the spring and a picnic area on the grounds.

Many years after the college moved to Greenwood, a gazebo was erected on the campus in front of Laura Lander Hall, and it came to be as popular with modern-day students as the original was with the students at the college in Williamston. Myra Greene, a 1978 Lander graduate, remembers it as a spot where graduation photos were taken and wedding proposals were made and accepted. She said it was a quiet place for students to sit and reflect and to watch albino squirrels, which were plentiful on campus, scamper around the area. The structure deteriorated over time and it was taken down in 2001.

Greene, now Lander's director of Alumni Affairs and Annual Giving, said the Alumni Association's board of directors had long considered replacing the gazebo. Then, in the fall of 2012, it voted to create a fund for the purpose of preserving the historic nature of the campus, and it selected replacing the gazebo as its first project.

She said the directors wanted to restore the gazebo as a focal point, describing it as a "piece of history," and adding, "We wanted to honor the past." It was DeWitt Stone who suggested designing the new gazebo to be a copy of the one in Williamston. 

Stone and Lander's master craftsman and lead carpenter Terry Powell traveled to Mineral Spring Park and took meticulous measurements of the gazebo from every possible angle. Powell also returned on his own to double-check measurements and to make a pattern of the eight posts supporting the ceiling and roof. Powell said the posts are 9 feet long, which made copying them quite a challenge, but he located a woodworking company in Marietta, Ga., with a lathe large enough to turn posts of that length. 

It took Powell and workers in Lander's physical plant three months to build the gazebo, as they combined work on the project with their other routine duties on campus. They built it in Lander's woodworking shop, then took it apart and reassembled it in front of Laura Lander Hall, near the site of the old gazebo. Powell described the project as a team effort, using the talents of the university's carpenters, painters, electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians and members of the grounds crew. 

At 23 feet tall and 64 feet around, the new gazebo is a mirror image of the one in Williamston with the exception of the original's opening in the floor, which allows access to the natural spring. Since the exact color of the original is unknown, the new gazebo was painted white to match the trim on Laura Lander Hall.

Greene said funds to pay for the project came from members of the Alumni Association and other Lander graduates, plus proceeds from a Greenwood Tower Club fundraiser. She also expressed the association's gratitude to local businesses that donated building materials.

The new gazebo will be dedicated on May 3, 2014, as part the Alumni Day festivities, and to celebrate Lander's 110th anniversary in Greenwood. 

Cash donations are being accepted for other items on the Alumni Association's list of campus historic preservation projects. Benches for the perimeter of the gazebo can be purchased for $1,500 each, and sidewalks are also included in the long-range plan.

Greene said, "Preservation of the historic side of the campus is only possible with the help of generous, interested donors." Contributions can be sent to The Lander Foundation, 320 Stanley Ave., Greenwood, S.C., and earmarked for Campus Preservation.