A History of Lexington, South Carolina

Lexington County Court House - Lexington, SC (2007)

The historic town of Lexington, South Carolina is a direct descendent of the old Royal Township of Saxe-Gotha. This township was one of eleven Townships established in 1735 by the colonial government of King George II to encourage settlement of the backcountry in South Carolina and serve as a protective buffer between powerful Indian tribes to the west and the older settled plantations of the low country. The name Saxe-Gotha was in honor of the marriage of the British Prince of Wales to Princess Augusta of the German state of Saxe-Gotha.

The territory of colonial Saxe-Gotha covered most of present day Lexington County and was traversed by two important early Indian trails, the Cherokee Path which followed roughly modern U.S. Highway 378 and the Occaneechi Path, today U.S. Highway 1. These ancient trading paths and the highways that later developed from them have had an enormous impact on the historical development of the area.

Most of the early settlers came from various cantons, principalities, and city-states of Germany and Switzerland. Others came down from Pennsylvania and Virginia. Despite the disruptive Cherokee Indian War of 1760 and the “Regulator” unrest that soon followed, the township flourished as a largely self-sufficient area of small-scale farming operations. Major crops in the eighteenth century included corn, wheat, tobacco, hemp, flax, beeswax, and livestock.

During the American Revolution twelve (12) known skirmishes occurred in the area. Click Here to see all 12.

In 1785, Lexington County was established, changing the name from Saxe-Gotha to Lexington in honor of the Massachusetts Revolutionary War battle. The county’s first court house was built at Granby, located just south of present day Cayce.

With the clearing of upriver lands for the spreading cotton culture, Granby became plagued with floods. The county seat was moved in 1818, when the present town of Lexington was laid out on a high, healthy sand ridge near Twelve Mile Creek. The town was known as Lexington Court House throughout the nineteenth century since in the first few years of its existence there was only the court house with few residences.

By 1861, when it was incorporated as a town, Lexington boasted a diverse population of lawyers, physicians, tradespeople, artisans, and farmers. There were then two churches, several schools, a carriage factory, a saw and gristmill, a tannery, livestock yard, tin and blacksmiths, and a weekly newspaper. The major crops of the surrounding countryside were mainly cotton, corn, sweet potatoes, and lumber. Lexington was not a marketing center for these staples, but did serve as a retail market for manufactured goods purchased wholesale by merchants in nearby Columbia.

In 1865, the town was virtually destroyed by occupying Union Army forces guarding General William Tecumseh Sherman’s western flank. The court house, county jail, and St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church were put to the torch as were most businesses and homes. The devastation and political turmoil of the period were weathered, however, by a frugal people willing to rebuild for a future without abandoning the ideals of their heritage.

The small farms with their varied crops and the lumber industry stabilized somewhat the economy of the area after the Reconstruction years. The completion of the Columbia & Augusta Railroad just after the Civil War and the construction of the Lexington Textile Mill in 1890 contributed greatly to the growth of the town itself. Disastrous fires in 1894 and 1916 on Main Street resulted in the construction of brick buildings, many of which are standing today.

The town of Lexington has continued to be the political center of Lexington County, one of the fastest growing areas of the nation. With new major highways passing nearby, the town continues to experience phenomenal growth. The people of Lexington are proud of their past and look forward to a promising future.

Lexington had its beginning on January 24, 1820 with the purchase of two acres of land for the establishment of a new court house and jail for Lexington County. The town was called Lexington Court House until 1895, when it was changed to simply Lexington.

* 1821 - First of four court houses in town, constructed of wood, was built on the northwest corner of Main Street and N. Lake Drive.
* 1822 - Village was composed of the frame court house, the jail, two stores, a tavern, a blacksmith shop, and three dwellings.
* 1831 - St. Stephen's Lutheran Church was constructed as the town's first church.
* 1838 - Second court house and jail constructed of granite covered with stucco.
* 1853 - Town's first newspapers, the Lexington Telegraph and the Lexington Flag established. The Lexington Flag continued until 1865.
* January 28, 1861 - A Municipal Charter was issued to the town.
* February 15, 1865 - Town burned by Federal troops under Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick.
* 1868 - "Reconstruction" court house and jail were built.
* 1871 - The Lexington Dispatch was founded by Godfrey M. Harmon.
* 1882 - A brick court house (demolished in 1958) was constructed.
* 1890 - Lexington Manufacturing Company was organized as a textile mill with W.P. Roof as president. Mr. Roof established Lexington Savings Bank, the town's first bank.
* 1898 - Telephones arrived with the formation of the Citizens Telephone Company.
* 1901 - Town businesses included 3 drug stores, 1 grocery, 2 hotels, 3 hardware stores, 3 dry goods stores, 3 general merchandise stores, 1 furniture store, a millinery shop, a livery stable, a bank, a state whiskey dispensary, 2 physicians, 1 dentist. A town well stood at the intersection of Main and Church Streets. At the train depot (on Hwy #6 at the railroad tracks) were 2 general stores, 2 fertilizer warehouses, a cotton warehouse and passenger/freight building.
* 1911 - Electricity for lighting was made available.
* 1912 - Lexington Public School (on N. Lake Drive) opened.
* 1916 - On March 28th fire destroyed all but four buildings in the town's business district.
* 1927 - Municipal water system began operation.
* 1928 - U.S. Highway 1 was paved through town of Lexington.
* 1930 - Lake Murray Dam reservoir project was completed.
* 1938 - The Old Town Hall with its fire bell and old jail was torn down
* 1940 - Present court house dedicated after 1939 completion.
* 1973 - The first female, Maureen Macaulay, was elected to Town Council.
* 1976 - On August 31, the Council form of government was adopted by the town under the Home Rule Act.
* 1976 - Town's first Carolighting Service was held.
* 1992 - On February 7, groundbreaking was held for the new municipal complex on 111 Maiden Lane.
* 1993 - On April 30, the new municipal complex was officially opened.
* 1993 - On September 12, the Virginia Hylton park was dedicated.
* 1994 - JMM Operational Services contracted with the town to operate and maintain the town's water and wastewater treatment plants.
* 1995 - On April 3, curbside recycling began.
* 1995 - On September 21, the town Information Channel was aired.
* 1995 - In December, the Lexington Police Bike Patrol started.
* 1996 - On November 1, groundbreaking ceremonies for the 12/14 Mile Creek Regional Sewer System was held, it was 27 miles long.
* 1997 - On February 11, Richard Thompson became the first African-American elected to the Town Council.
* 1997 - In November, Lexington was determined to be the fastest growing town in South Carolina.
* 1997 - On December 18, a contract was signed with West Columbia for regional water service.
* 1998 - On April 20, dedication ceremony for Lexington's Special Children playground.
* 1998 - On July 23, the Police Department purchased a drug dog.
* 1998 - On November 3, new electronic voting machines were first used in the municipal election.
* 1999 - On October 1st, closed town water plant and tied into the city of West Columbia water plant.
* 2043 - On January 15, the 50 year old time capsule placed in the Town Hall at 111 Maiden Lane will be opened.

As Lexington Court House, the town was granted a U.S. Post Office on August 28, 1821, and its first Postmaster was Mr. John Meetze. On April 25, 1895, the name was officially changed to simply Lexington. Its Post Office has been in continuous operation ever since inception.
Click Here to view / download a 2012 map of Lexington, SC. Adobe PDF file - 2 pages. Fairly large.

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