Barnwell County, South Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2020)



Brig. Gen. John Barnwell


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1740s / Swiss Palatines, Scots-Irish

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

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Coming Later

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Airports in Barnwell County

Maps of Barnwell County

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A History of Barnwell County

The Locomotive "Best Friend" - 1830

Descendants of an early settler named Robert Willis founded the town of Williston in the early nineteenth century. Growth occurred rapidly following the establishment of the Charleston & Hamburgh Railroad running from Charleston to Augusta. On Christmas Day, 1830 the locomotive "Best Friend" made the first trip along the 136 mile route, averaging twelve miles per hour. At the time the longest railroad in the world, by the 1840s over 100,000 bales of cotton a year were being shipped along it to Charleston. Farms soon sprung up along the route, and Williston soon became an important station stop.

During the American Civil War, Union forces under General William Tecumseh Sherman made a concerted effort to cut and then destroy the rail line, which was an important supply route from the interior to Charleston. On February 8, 1865, Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, the commander of the Union Cavalry, reached Williston. He set up a headquarters in the Ashley-Chapman House and, pushing on, fought a sharp skirmish with Confederate forces guarding the rail line two miles west of the center of town near White Pond. Units of the First Alabama Cavalry were badly routed and a number of battle flags captured.

Over the next several days’ successive Union forces moved into and through Williston on their way to Columbia, tearing up the railroad ties and track in their wake. Much of the town was burned as they left, with only the Ashley-Chapman House and a nearby house where a woman had just given birth were spared. General Sherman’s comments on the matter were "we don’t burn occupied houses, but if people vacate their own houses I don’t think they should expect us to protect them." Major General Kilpatrick is reputed to have said that when he got through, Barnwell County would have to be renamed "Burn Well." Many honored dead from the war are buried in the town cemetery.

Major rebuilding occurred in the years during and following Reconstruction, as farming came back, and many of the homes around the town date from this period.

In the early twentieth century it was discovered that local conditions were ideal for asparagus, and until the early 1930s more asparagus was grown and shipped from the Williston area than from any other part of the country, earning the town the nickname "The Asparagus Capitol of the World." Unfortunately, California gradually captured the market, and only now are asparagus crops being re-established locally.

The first phone system in Williston was established in 1905 and had ten subscribers. City waterlines were built in 1917, and electric power was established in 1919 (at first only available from 5 p.m. to midnight). The high school, built in 1925 and now housing administrative offices, is one of the oldest buildings of its kind in the state.

Originally called Winton County formed in 1785 as one of the four counties created from the old overarching Orangeburgh District. Within the Barnwell County Court House archives are the original court records of Winton County, dated to 1786. In 1800, the county was renamed Barnwell District (county) after John Barnwell, a noted Revolutionary War leader of South Carolina. Parts of the county were later broken creating three additional counties: Aiken (1871), Bamberg (1897) and Allendale (1919).

Three known Revolutionary War period skirmishes took place in Barnwell County: the battle of Morris Ford, the battle of Vince's Fort, and the battle of Slaughter Field.

During the American Civil War, an unfortunate event occurred when Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick's Cavalry commandeered Banksia Hall in the town of Barnwell for five days, burning down much of the town during their stay. Banksia then became a Federal occupation headquarters during Reconstruction.

Named after Mr. Alexander Black, the town of Blackville was chartered as an independent community in 1851. The village itself existed before Revolutionary War times. Blackville is the second largest community in Barnwell County. The first inhabitants used the land primarily for large plantations. This early cultivation would slowly develop the community into becoming an important agricultural industry. The growth of Blackville was much in part due to the development of the Charleston & Hamburgh Railroad, which was a stopping point before continuing on its route to Charleston.

At one time surrounding areas depended heavily on Blackville for popular crops such as cucumbers, asparagus, and watermelon. The town was referred to as the "Watermelon Capital of the World." Blackville continues today as being one of the leading agricultural communities in the southeastern region of South Carolina.

There is much history carved into the town of Blackville, not only tied to the land and farming families, but also in the homes and other buildings that were constructed as well. Many of the historic sites were built more than two centuries ago. During 1865, when General William Tecumseh Sherman's troops stormed through Blackville, he and his men attempted to destroy the town, burning 45 major structures. Some of the buildings were saved, but everything connected with the railroad was burned.

Though Blackville is primarily thought of as a rural farming town, it has had experience in governmental affairs. During 1869 to 1874, Blackville held Circuit Court hearings for its neighboring communities. Being the county seat was an important role that Blackville was able to successfully manage, even before the first court house of the town was built.

A prominent family, the Lartigue family, is known especially for their impact on the town, bringing with them doctors, lawyers, and government officials. Nathan Blatt served 47 years in state legislature and was nominated for Supreme Court Justice of the United States by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Samuel H. Still was a legal Council to Congress, and Dr. Hammond, who was the brother of Senator James Hamhlond, lived in Blackville.

Blackville is a wonderful example of a quiet and peaceful place to live. The town limits still encompass many acres of farmland, which help to retain the agrarian feel of the town. The town shows a unique interest in keeping its history alive while continuing to grow with the present.

Blackville is a town where the importance of remembering its history is fully understood and respected. Restoration projects are currently being planned to provide evidence that the town's history is valued. The town contains a wealth of historically and culturally significant places. Some of these sites are eligible to be included in the National Register of Historic Places. Attention should be given to those sites and their potential for nomination to the National Register when planning for the preservation of Blackville's historic and cultural resources. Listed below are many important historic resources of the town.

1. Mennonite Community - Similar in religious belief to the Amish, the Mennonite community in Barnwell County settled in the Blackville area, establishing a church and school.

2. Depot Library (Blackville Passenger Depot), Blackville - The current library was originally the town's train depot that was moved from the railroad bed and renovated.

3. Floyd Manor Inn, Blackville - Utilizing pillars shipped from England in 1886, this building was once the manor house of an 8,000 acre plantation.

4. Healing Springs, near Blackville - Artesian springs believed by Native Americans to have healing powers; people still collect the spring water for drinking and bathing.

5. Healing Springs Baptist Church, near Blackville - Founded in 1772, the church is located near the Healing Springs.

Barnwell County and its county seat of Barnwell were named for Revolutionary War leader John Barnwell (1748-1800). The county was originally part of the Orangeburg District, and in 1785 it was named Winton County. It was given its current name in 1800. Barnwell County has decreased in size over the years as new counties were created within its boundaries (Aiken in 1871, Bamberg in 1897, and Allendale in 1919). The South Carolina Railroad, which connected Charleston to Hamburg on the Savannah River, was built through this area, creating the towns of Blackville and Williston in the mid-nineteenth century. In more recent years the county was the home of several powerful state politicians, known collectively as the "Barnwell Ring." Included were state Senator Edgar A. Brown (1888-1975), Speaker of the House Solomon Blatt (1895-1986), and Governor Joseph Emile Harley (1880-1942).
Barnwell County was settled in the early 1700s by pioneers wishing to adventure into the "backcountry." By the 1740s, Palatine settlers entered the picture spreading throughout Orangeburgh District. By the end of the Revolutionary War, many settlers obtained grants in Barnwell County. Most were from North Carolina and Virginia. Barnwell was actually a district within Orangeburg until the late 1780s. At this time, Winton County was created and the Barnwell name wasn't used again until 1800. Many of the Palatine, Virginian, and North Carolinian surnames are still evident in Barnwell today. Some of them being, Hutto, Hartzog, Matheny, Hair, Delk, Dyches, Harley, Rountree, and many more.
Barnwell County, originally Winton County, stretched from the Savannah River on the west almost to the Atlantic ocean. In 1800, the county was organized and named Barnwell in honor of Brigadier General John Barnwell, Revolutionary War leader. Even until the American Civil War times, the county reached from the Savannah River to Branchville, and from old Barnwell County - Bamberg, Allendale, and Aiken counties have been formed.

Barnwell County is the home of the first steam railroad in the world. The old South Carolina Railroad (originally called the Charleston & Hamburgh Railroad) built in 1830 reached from Charleston to Branchville and thence on through Barnwell County to Hamburgh. Blackville and Williston, in the county today, were stations on this famous road when it was a journey from early morning till late in the night to travel from the Georgia line to the wide Atlantic and when the well known cry "change cars" was first heard in Branchville.

Of Barnwell County's generous contributions to the Confederate cause, the most distinguished was General Johnson Hagood who later as governor gave to the state one of the outstanding economic and business-like administrations in its history. Soon after his election, one of Hagood's constituents asked him if he wished to be called "General" or "Governor." "Call me General," he said, with a twinkle in his eye, "I fought for that and begged for the other." The South Carolina poet and novelist, William Gilmore Simms, lived most of his life in the county and his descendants are today among the leading citizens. The county stands particularly high religiously and educationally. Bishop McTyre of the Methodist church, Dr. B. M. Palmer, one of the leaders of the Southern Presbyterians, Dr. C. T. Willingham, called the greatest of all the foreign mission secretaries of the Southern Baptists, and Louis M. Shook, first Baptist missionary ever sent to China, were born in Barnwell County. Mr. Shook is buried in the Baptist churchyard in Barnwell and near his grave has recently been erected a beautiful brick church.

In the exciting Reconstruction days when the white Democrats fought so valiantly to restore the state government to the whites, the county capital played hide and seek between Barnwell and Blackville. The present high school building was built in 1873 as the county court house. About this time the five members of the legislature from the county were colored. Simon Coker, killed in the Ellenton Riot, was one of these. So unsettled was the location of the county seat that the sheriff in advertising sales would say that they would be held at the courthouse, but name no town. Finally the location of the court house was left to a vote and Barnwell won by twelve votes. There is an ancient sun dial in the Barnwell courthouse yard - certainly the only one of its kind remaining in South Carolina.

Barnwell today is a rather small but forward-looking and hustling county with some of the finest farming lands in the South. Two of the largest single farms in the state are located in the county - the Jumper place of nearly 2,000 acres along the Edisto River on the northern boundary, and the Farrell place at Reynolds Station near Blackville, 2,500 acres, now owned by the Reynolds Farming corporation.

Barnwell has 522 square miles and a population (1920) of 23,081-white native born, 7,444; colored, 15,583; foreign born, 52; Indians, Chinese, 2. The county seat, Barnwell, by the same census had a population of 1,903 and the other towns of the county as follows: Blackville, 1,421; Williston, 854; Kline, 238; Elko, 188; Dunbarton, 187; Snelling, 137. The railroad mileage of the county is 85, of which the Southern has the largest part, the Atlantic Coast Line second, and the Seaboard a few miles of Florida and New York main line.

The growing season is 240 days and almost everything except strictly tropical fruits and vegetables thrive. In Barnwell County asparagus was first grown in this state in a commercial way, and Williston, always the center of this remarkable business, is the headquarters of the South Carolina Asparagus Growers' association and one of the largest truck basket and crate factories of the South. Of course, cotton is the leading crop, with corn second. Kline, Dunbarton, and Barnwell are shipping points for some of the largest and finest watermelons. Blackville is the largest cucumber shipping point of the state, while asparagus is shipped in quantity from Elko, Williston, and Barnwell.

Barnwell has four accredited high schools and five banks. While primarily an agricultural county, the recent coming into the county of high tension hydroelectric power lines gives promise of considerable industrial development.

Immediately above, published in "South Carolina: A Handbook," prepared by The Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industries and Clemson College, Columbia, South Carolina, 1927. In the Public Domain. [with minor edits] 


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