Center for the Arts
121 East Main Street
Builder: Frew Brothers
Built: Started in 1887
The story of these lots began with their purchase by Jonathan N. McElwee in 1856, for the price of $110. McElwee’s son, J. Lewis McElwee, sold various sections of the lots two decades later. In 1887, a portion landed in hands of J. Henry Toole, who remained in the spot till 1895, and created quite a legacy for himself. Toole, born in North Carolina in 1852, came to Rock Hill and opened a barber shop. The city at the time was struggling under the conflict of Reconstruction.
Toole, an African-American, not only established a successful business, but a customer base that included the influential white men in Rock Hill. Regular customers had their own shaving mugs and brushes, with their names engraved in gold, and there was a system fans and pulleys to keep customers cool on hot days. A savvy business man, Toole’s ventures throughout the years included real estate transactions, a grocery store, and a newspaper, insurance company and Episcopal Church for African-Americans in the area.
Numerous businesses operated in this section of Main Street, including Bass Furniture Co., which later became Bass Funeral Home.
Despite his work for the African-American community, Henry Toole was not without controversy. In the 1870’s, he was involved in KKK activity, and supported and Democratic candidate for Governor who was associated with an organization accused of racist attacks. These things affected him later on, when he trying to procure a political office. Toole died in 1920, and his influence of the city can be seen in his pall bearers, who were influential white men.
Toole’s barber shop moved in 1895, and his lot here was purchased by A.R and Susan Smith and their nephew Paul Workman. An article in 1939 states that the lot over time held a furniture store, grocery store and the A & P Chain store, and in more recent time it was the location of Smith’s Drug’s. Though the lot has had many occupants and people, Henry Toole’s is perhaps the most reflecting of Rock Hill throughout a significant period in history.