Lesson Plan: Overview

Walking Down Main Street: The Changing Times of a Railroad Town

Grade Level: 8th

Students learn about their town's past through postcards like this 1939 image of Dillon, SC.

Academic Standards

Standard 8-5: The student will demonstrate an understanding of major social, political, and economic developments that took place in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century.
8-5.1 Summarize the political, economic, and social conditions in South Carolina following the end of Reconstruction, including the leadership of Wade Hampton and the so-called Bourbons or Redeemers, agricultural depression and struggling industrial development, the impact of the temperance and suffrage movements, the development of the 1895 constitution, and the evolution of race relations and Jim Crow laws.
8-5.3 Summarize the changes that occurred in South Carolina agriculture and industry during the late nineteenth century, including changes in crop production in various regions, and the growth of the textile industry in the Upcountry.
8-5.4 Compare migration patterns within South Carolina and in the United States as a whole in the late nineteenth century, including the population shift from rural to urban areas, migration between regions of the United States, the westward expansion, and the motivations for migration and settlement.
8-5.6 Explain the significance that the increased immigration into the United States in the late nineteenth century had for the state of South Carolina, including cultural and economic contributions of immigrants, opportunities and struggles experienced by immigrants, increased racial hostility, and the effect of racial and ethnic diversity on national identity.

Historical Background Notes

In 1882 the Florence Railroad Company was chartered to build a short-cut between the town of Pee Dee, SC and Fayetteville, NC.  Through negotiations the company partnered with James W. Dillon and his son Thomas A. Dillon to bring the route east of the town of Little Rock on 50 acres of “a marshy clearing surrounded by pine trees and underbrush.”  In exchange for title to a half interest in the property Dillon got the railroad company to agree to run the rail line through the property, build a depot, and lay out a town to be named after him.  It took two years to lay the twenty-four miles of roadbed and track.  With the completion of the railroad the town of Dillon was incorporated in 1888. 

The railroad engineers laid out the town in an orderly fashion.  The blocks were 300 feet square so that the streets are equidistant from each other.  The streets that parallel the railroad became numbered avenues.  The intersecting streets were named after prominent Americans such as past presidents.  The thoroughfares were crafted to be very broad and this proved invaluable later when the automobile changed society.

As the railroad attracted settlers to the town progress followed and Main Street began to grow.  The population of the town went from next to nothing in 1887 to 1,015 by 1900.  Three major factors contributed to the growth of Dillon: transportation; the fact that it became the County seat; and its importance as a supply town for the local agricultural economy, principally cotton and tobacco.

In 1984 the area around Main Street and the train depot were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  This distinction is a result of the fact that many of the buildings along this stretch date back to the early 20th century.  There is a treasure trove of properties to explore which tell the story of the development of this railroad town.  There is the Dillon Herald building which was built in 1917 and until recently housed the oldest continuing business in Dillon, a family owned newspaper of the same name.  Then there is the old Anderson Bank building built circa 1900.  Right next door is the Dillon Theater built in the 1920s or early 1930s.  Its architecture features an ornate Moroccan or Egyptian motif which was popular in those days.  It is still operating as the home to a local performing group called the McArthur Players.  The Dillon Courthouse, constructed in 1911, is regarded as the most elaborate of the courthouses designed by W. A. Edwards.  Across the street the post office dates back to 1931.  On the other corner sits the W.P.A. built Dillon County Agricultural Building.  These historic buildings offer students a wide variety of opportunities for learning about the past and understanding key Social Studies concepts outside of the classroom.


Primary Sources
Set of Historical Postcards of Downtown Dillon. Dillon House Research Library. Dillon, S.C.
Selected images from the collection can be seen here:
Secondary Sources
Braddy, R. N. “Dolph”, Early Homes of Dillon County and other Historical Sketches. Columbia, South Carolina: R. L. Bryan Company, 1982.
McLaurin, G. G., “The Town of Dillon in 1910 as remembered sixty-five years later.”
Stokes, Durward T., The History of Dillon County, South Carolina.  Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1978.
1984 Survey of Historic Places in Dillon, South Carolina.  Department of Archives and History.  Columbia, S.C.

Lesson Plans

Walking Down Main Street: The Changing Times of a Railroad Town encourages students to see that history is literally being made all around them. Students will gain an appreciation for their local community.  This is a multi-day lesson including a field trip to Dillon’s historic district.

1. Have students complete a historical scavenger hunt along the historic district in downtown Dillon.  Students will be given a list of questions that can only be answered by exploring the exterior of the buildings and monuments in the historic district.  Students will also have to use historic postcards to locate modern day buildings and compare how the town has changed.
2. Students will research a particular city block using historic postcards, architecture, city directories, and other resources.  They will create a timeline showing the changes that have taken place along their piece of Main Street.  Students will write reflective essays on what caused this change and what will the same block look like in the future.
3. Students will look at historic preservation and research what can be done to preserve the historic integrity of the downtown.  Students will learn about the National Register of Historic Places.  Students could also document the changes that have taken place to the buildings over time that could affect their historical value.
4. Students could interview older members of the community and record their memories of downtown.  These interviews could be transformed into a newspaper or put on a website.  In this way the students could hear for themselves how the downtown has changed and adapted over the years.

Teacher Reflections

Among my goals in teaching this lesson was to get my students to discover that history was sitting just two blocks down the street from our school.  I teach 8th Grade South Carolina and United States History in the small rural town of Dillon, SC.  My school is located in the downtown district.  In fact one of the buildings on my junior high campus is the oldest school building in the state that is still being used for that purpose.  Built in 1898, the white building as we call it, still contains classrooms and houses some district offices on the second floor.  So with history all around them I found that many of my students where blind to this and I wanted to open their eyes a little.

My method for waking them up to their own local history was to get them out from behind the overhead projector and dusty chalkboard by conducting a historical scavenger hunt downtown.  A lot of preparation went into laying out the scavenger hunt.  Along the way I too learned quite a bit about the history waiting for us on Main Street.  I collaborated with the Dillon County Historical Society and specifically Maggie Riales, the cities Downtown Revitalization Coordinator, and local historian Don Barclay.  Using the resources they loaned me I crafted a fifteen question scavenger hunt which included five questions involving historical pictures and postcards.

The scavenger hunt was a success; it really exceeded my expectations.  …  One of the things that helped the scavenger hunt work is that I included clues as to where the answers to the questions could be found.  I really didn’t want to have to point and be inundated with “I can’t find it,” so the clues were helpful enough that I never had a student feel discouraged.  Instead the students were challenged to find the answers and get the satisfaction of figuring it out for themselves.

Some of the students surprised me with their comments along the way.  One student figured out one of my questions right away.  She said she could remember shopping at the old Allied Department store, which she recognized by the picture.  I commented to her that even in her lifetime Main Street is changing.  A student who had just recently transferred in from Ohio smiled as she stated in response, “I don’t know anything about this stuff.” 

There were some challenges along the way and improvements that could be made for next year.  Although I had asked for parent chaperones to accompany us I wasn’t able to recruit any.  There were times when this could have helped as I had to call some students down for running across the courthouse lawn or speeding up trying to stay out in front of the rest of the pack.  More than once I led the middle of the pack in the correct direction and the ones in front had to double back to get on track.  Without more chaperones I had to keep all the students together and originally I wanted them to be in smaller groups.

I think that the questions were solid but perhaps the scavenger hunt was too short.  Afterwards I thought how nice it would have been to wrap the trip up at an ice cream shop on Main Street and have Mr. Barclay or Mr. Riales meet us and lead a discussion about the buildings that the kids had just explored.  Perhaps with the rare teaching moment of “having them,” I let them slip back out of my hands when we returned to school an hour after we began.

The students did very well on the historical scavenger hunt with everyone turning in a completed questionnaires and scoring 85 or better.  I think the lesson was effective in that it got them to think about their Main Street and downtown in terms of the past, the present, and hopefully the future.  Our stop by the 1905 railroad depot worked to show them the industrialization that the brought the train to fifty acres owned by James W. Dillon and also built our town.  When we got back one of my more active students commented, “Coach, we should do one of these once a month”.  When I asked him where we should walk to next he shrugged his shoulders not knowing what else was out there.  I guess I have more work to do.

Student Assessment

The historical scavenger hunt will have fifteen questions covering the following areas: Post Office, exterior of Courthouse and Monument grounds, Dillon Hall of History 4th floor of courthouse, Main Street, and railroad depot area.  The teacher will have an answer key for the scavenger hunt.

Scavenger Hunt Key

Examples of Students Work

Scavenger Hunt 1
Scavenger Hunt 2


Jason P. Spangler
Dillon, South Carolina