Edgefield County, South Carolina

Year Established

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Population (2020)



Edge of the State


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Late 1750s
Scots-Irish from PA & VA

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A History of Edgefield County

Edgefield County Court House

The origin of the name Edgefield is not clear, although it is usually described as "fanciful." Several sources assert it was named for being at the western "Edge of the State." The county and the town was formed in 1785 as part of Ninety Six District; parts of Edgefield later went to form Aiken (1871), Saluda (1895), Greenwood (1897), and McCormick (1916) counties. The county seat is the town of Edgefield. This part of the upcountry, settled in the late eighteenth century, was the site of several Revolutionary War skirmishes. Although primarily agricultural, Edgefield County developed a thriving pottery industry in the nineteenth century; the old alkaline-glazed Edgefield pottery is highly sought after today. The larger Edgefield County was the home of ten South Carolina governors, including Francis Wilkinson Pickens (1805-1869), Benjamin Ryan Tillman, Jr. (1847-1918), and James Strom Thurmond (1902-2003). Confederate Brigadier General Martin Witherspoon Gary (1831-1881) was also a resident of Edgefield County.
Edgefield County was created in 1785 when the old Ninety Six District of upper South Carolina was divided into smaller districts, or counties, by Act of the State Legislature. Although we have been left with little information about the selection process for a site for the seat of government for the new district, the records which we do have suggest that the site was chosen about the same time as lines of the new district were laid off. It was approximately in the center of the new district.

The property on which the county government was to be established was originally a forty four acre tract granted to David Burk in 1784. Of Burke we know very little. Burke sold the tract to Drury Mims, an early settler of Edgefield and the ancestor of the Mims family which has contributed many prominent citizens to the county over the centuries.

It was recorded in the minutes of the Judges of the Edgefield Court in 1786 that taxes were being collected from Edgefield inhabitants for the purpose of making payment for the "public building." During the same period, the meetings of the Judges of the Edgefield County Court were held at the plantation of John Harris and Drury Mims' house near the "County 'Gaol' in 1786. Harris' plantation and Mims' house were both in the immediate vicinity of where the Public Square now stands. Thus, apparently the county gaol was already constructed as early as 1786.

From these same minutes we find that the first Court House for Edgefield County was under construction in 1788. In that year Edward Mitchel, John Gray, and John Cheney were appointed commissioners to "let the laying the floors of the Court House with seasoned good plank 1-1/2 inch thick, 16 window shutters, 3 in each folding, 3 pannels, 2 folding pannels case in side and out with the doors lined with 1/2 inch plank, 3 pannels in a door, the two end windows sashed, a neat stair case and banister, the whole finished in a workman like manner out of seasoned stuf."

The court later ordered that bond be taken by the commissioners from Isaac Foreman, "one of the builders of the court house," and be filed in the Clerk's office. Later, the court ordered that "Henry Ware be allowed his account provided it be produced which is twenty nine pounds and four pence for building the Court House."

In 1790, the court ordered that the Treasurer of the county "do pay unto LeRoy Hammond Esq. (a Judge of the Court) all such debts as may be due to him by an assignment of Isaac Foreman for undertaking and building part of the Court House out of the monies that he may receive for the use of the County."

It was not until 1792 that Arthur Simkins, a prominent early settler and one of the Judges of the Edgefield County Court, deeded, for the "sum of one Shilling Current money," to the Judges of Edgefield County Court a "certain plantation or tract of land containing two acres whereon the Court House and gaol now stand, bounded southwardly by Moses Harris, westwardly on John Simkins all the parts adjoining on the land of the said Arthur Simkins; also one and quarter of an acre adjoining on the south side of the said two acres whereon the Clerk of the said County hath lately built a House for his office...."

Sometimes between 1792 and 1820 a second court house was built, replacing the earlier weatherboard structure. In 1820, this second building was described as "a slight, rough, inferior building, relatively large of brick, and capable of repair." Identical porticos with pairs of stairs were added to the east and west front, and extensive remoldeling was specified in a contract dated July 10, 1827.

Edgefield County Commissioners Benjamin Frazier, Christian Breithaupt, Allen B. Addison, and Whitfield Brooks, advertised in the 1827 Augusta Chronicle in Augusta, Georgia, that they had made the "liberal appropriation of $3,000 for the repair and improvement of the Court House." This court house was described in 1833 by an English visitor as "of brick, which is a good building."

In the March 8, 1838 edition of the Edgefteld Advertiser, A.B. Addison, chairman of the Edgefield commissioners of public buildings of Edgefield District called for bids on construction of a new third court house to be built of brick, 60 x 48 feet and of the following specifications: "A passage running lengthwise through the lower story with three offices on each side. The courtroom and two jury rooms to be in upper story, and also two ranges of seats for spectators, and a two story portico at the end."

The next mention of the court house occurred in the minutes of the fall term of court in 1838. Judge John Belton O'Neal was presiding. The commissioners of public building being called upon to show cause why they should not be indicted for neglecting to repair the jail and some of the public offices in the court house, made the following return:

"That a contract was made with a stone mason to make certain repairs for the meeting of this court but had not been done because of failure of the mason to carry out his contract, but certain other repairs had been made. In relation to public offices in the court house, the board have only to say, that they did not deem it proper to expend any portion of their very limited means in their improvement as the court house was soon to be taken down for the purpose of erecting a new one."

This was signed by A.B. Addison, chairman, and approved by John Belton O'Neal, presiding judge.

The February 21, 1839 issue of the Edgefield Advertiser announced:

"The new court house is now completed, and we invite the citizens of the district, and strangers, to come and see it. It is a large and noble looking building, standing on the western side of the great road leading to the upper country, and but a few yards distant from the site of the old court house.

"The building is of brick, and is two stories in height. in the lower story there are six rooms, the Sheriffs office, the Clerk's, the Commissioner's in Equity, the Ordinary's, a Jury room, and a small apartment adjacent to the Clerk's office. A long and spacious passage runs between the rooms. The front of the edifice is at eastern end, and is painted so as to resemble granite. By a noble flight of granite steps, protected by black iron railings, the visitor ascends into the portico, which is supported by four massy columns. From thence he enters the court room, which is large and spacious and contains a sufficient number of windows.

"Besides the seat for the judge which is neat, and those for the jury, there are others arranged conveniently for spectators. In the court room there is a large semi-circular table for the gentlemen of the bar.

"In the western end of the upper story there are two jury rooms, and a small retiring room, situated immediately in the rear of the judge's seat. As the visitor enters the village by either of the great thoroughfares, the Court House presents a commanding appearance and immediately attracts his attention. In conclusion, it may be truly said that the style of the building is chaste and that it is an ornament to the village."

The contractor of building this third structure was Charles Beck, who had been earlier associated with Robert Mills commissions throughout the South. Mills' influence on this third Edgefield Court House is undeniable.

In 1930, the old building was remodeled, bringing about enlargement and modernization. The court room was expanded the width of two jury rooms by the process of extending the building west and to the rear, the lower floor of the extension being arranged as offices and fire proof vaults for the clerk of court.

Another building program was begun in 1933, which extended the main building still further westward and to the rear, providing new offices for the sheriff. This later program of expansion was carried on to add to the main court house building a new jail with modern facilities and a number of offices used by various government activities. Also, a water supply and central heating plant were added during this time.

On the state's western edge, along the Savannah River, about midway between its source and its mouth, on the high and well-drained plateau dividing the Piedmont region from the Coastal Plain, lies Edgefield County, with its hill section and its plain section. It was organized in 1785, has 524 square miles and its population, 1920, was 23,928, estimated in 1925 at 24,712, all native except 29. The soils range from light sandy type through the loams to clays and are adapted to a wide variety of crops. Mild winters and pleasant summers, always between the extremes, characterize the climate, and the abundant waters are the clearest and purest in the state. In the northern part are many springs and small streams and for raising there is no better region anywhere. The clement winters, and the soils that make easy the cultivation of legumes and grains, cause good pasturage to be open nine months in the twelve.

All varieties of fruits known to the latitude can be raised commercially, and peaches, melons, asparagus, tomatoes, and pecans are shipped. Cotton, corn, oats, peas, sweet potatoes, and sorghum have been the principal crops, but the numerous tourist hotels in Augusta, Georgia, Aiken, and North Augusta, South Carolina, and the fine sand-clay roads leading to them have aroused interest in truck raising, now steadily on the increase. The sand and clay, with an ideal kind of top soil close at hand, afford all parts of the county road materials than which no region can boast better.

The Dixie Highway and the Black Bear trail run through the county between the Greenwood and Aiken county lines. The Southern railway serves Edgefield, the county seat, population 1,865; Johnston, 1,101, and Trenton, 271, the mileage being 24, and two power lines traverse the county. Soon the new railroad from Augusta to Greenwood will be open. Prosperous country communities thickly-settled dot the county. In mineral wealth, with many deposits of fine clays, fine white silica, sands for all purposes, soapstone, limestone, kaolin of the best, and granite in abundance, the county is rich, and it is not unlikely that the gold mines in the northern part, profitably worked before the Confederate war, will be reopened.

No section of the United States is freer from storms and harsh winds, no one is driven from Edgefield County to the mountains for the summer nor farther south for the winter. It is an all-the-year-around climate and the best in the world that blesses Edgefield.

All the principal Christian bodies have churches. There are three accredited high schools, and the population is the wholesome and old Carolina blend. Edgefield is the home of historic families, Butlers, Bacons, Pickers, Simkinses, Bonhams, and Tillmans. Formerly it was a county of great area, but Saluda and parts of McCormick and Greenwood were taken from it.

Land is purchasable at reasonable prices and good people from everywhere are invited to come and see the county, taste its products, drink its waters, know its citizens, and save time and money by establishing homes and becoming Edgefieldians. The county has an excellent health record, it has good physicians, preachers, and teachers, and an efficient county government. Come and see.

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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