The Tennis Capital of South Carolina
Long know as the Tennis Capital of South Carolina, Belton's tennis history can be traced back over 110 years. An 1892 edition of the Anderson Intelligencer stated, "The young men of Belton are happy. The stores close at 6:00 and the clerks have an opportunity to engage in lawn tennis."
Belton's first court was located in the triangle formed by the railroad tracks near the depot and later the famous Town Court stood where the Belton Tennis Center is located today. Tennis began to really catch on in Belton during the time between the two world wars. Belton's youth dominated play and produced many state high school champions. The high school girl's team did not lose a match for 14 straight years.
The formation of the Belton Tennis Association combined with the number of public and private courts enabled the town to become the home of the Palmetto Tennis Championships in 1957. Belton girls sparkled in the early days of the Palmetto and won many titles in the 50s and 60s. The girl's high school team won 9 straight state championships between 1958 and 1967.
During the 1970s the Palmetto Championship became the state's national junior qualifying tournament. The 80s saw a major addition to the Belton tennis scene, the South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame, located in the Belton Depot. The Hall of Fame showcases portraits and memorabilia of South Carolina's greatest tennis championships and volunteers.
Belton tennis continued to flourish over the years. The Hall of Fame Classic, the state's top high school girls tournament, was started in 1987. The Belton Tennis Center was expanded in the early 90s, the Palmetto Championships grew and prosperous, and local players and teams continued to win championships. Providing decades of the state's best junior tennis is a proud local tradition. Belton tennis provides a sense of place that may be best described by a tennis pro as he watched a young player compete in the Palmetto: "The sweet smell and feeling of this match reminds me what is good about learning to enjoy tennis. What is good is that it happens to you. You become a player. You become someone with a chance of winning a match. You become someone with a history...you become someone who had played Belton!"
Child of the Railroad
The town of Belton was chartered in 1855 as a "child of the railroad." Judge John "Belton" O'Neal and a group of prominent leaders of South Carolina formed the Columbia and greenville Railroad Company to connect Charleston with Cincinnati by way of the Blue Ridge Railway. Work on this project began in 1847 and it soon became evident that the company could save $100,000 by following a path west of the Saluda River, crossing near Pelzer near Greenville. This met with extreme opposition from the Anderson stockholders. In order to retain their financial support, it was decided that a spur line be run from the courthouse at Anderson to connect with the regular line at Sugar Hill (now called Belton). This would take place on the property owned by Dr. George Brown who also donated land for the depot and town square. The decision to form this rail line sparked interest in many to locate to this junction and, thus, Belton was born.
Built in 1906, the depot once served two rail lines. The tracks for both lines are still intact. Although the Piedmont & Northern closed down, the Columbia and Greenville, now called the Pickens Railroad, is still in use. Visitors to Belton still near an occasional train's whistle. Today the renovated depot houses the South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame and Belton's history museum, the Ruth Drake Museum.
Growth and Prosperity
The railroad brought phenomenal growth. Belton now only prospered economically, but also socially. People from miles around would gather to see the trains arrive and the local hotel on the town square served hot lunches. The inviting porch of the hotel soon became the social hub of the town where people would gather to discuss the issues of the day.
A portion of the original hotel building still stands on Belton's historic square as Horton's Pharmacy. People from miles around would come to see the trains arrive and have lunch at the hotel. The inviting porch of the hotel soon became the social hub of the town.
Back in 1892, the first tennis court was located in the triangle formed by the railroad tracks. At the time, tennis was a popular leisure activity, and hotel guests and others gravitated to Belton for tennis games. Tennis remains an important part of life in Belton which more than 50 tennis courts within the city today. The city is home to the South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame and the annual Palmetto Tennis Championships.
Belton's Living History
The first brick building on the square was built in 1877 and the second and third floors of this building became the opera house known as Stringer's Hall. The introduction of the movies established the Pastime Theater which brought the best silent movies to town. The town square also boasted a skating rink and bowling alley.
Many historic landmarks still stand today as reminders of Belton's rich past. One is the First Baptist Church. The first phase of the church was completed on October 11, 1861 and the beauty of its architecture can still be enjoyed today. rising above the city's skyline is the famous standpipe water tower, a landmark that can be seen for miles. The tower was built in 1908 and still stores part of the city's water supply.
Belton's cultural history comes to life through bluegrass concerts here at the depot on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, and during the annual Standpipe Festival each fall. Local artists' work can be seen at the Belton Center for the arts located on the square.