A History of Ridgeland, South Carolina

Jasper County Court House - Ridgeland, SC (2013)

The county seat of Jasper County is Ridgeland, once known as Gopher Hill, in the geographic center of the county.

Ridgeland, South Carolina has been called the "Heart of the Lowcountry" for several reasons. First of all, the people who live here are genuinely friendly. Don't be surprised when people you have never seen before bid you the greeting of the day while walking down the street or wave at you from their cars.

It also is the "Heart of the Lowcountry" because it is centrally located to all the famous sites people want to see and all the wonderful things people want to do while visiting in the Lowcountry. And last, but for many certainly not least, Ridgeland is known as the "Heart of the Lowcountry" because people come from all over the world to get married here. It only takes 24 hours to get your license and the Probate Judge will gladly do the honors.

Ridgeland, the "Heart of the Lowcountry." Many towns in the southeast owe their genesis to the presence of a railroad during the 1800s. When the railroad was being planned, the nearest town to today's Ridgeland, was Grahamville, a quiet village about one mile east. Grahamvillians, not wanting the noise, smoke, and smell of a railroad, turned "thumbs down" on routing the "line" through their settlement, never dreaming that they would one day be a suburb of the town that formed as a result of the railroad and its "depot."

Originally named Gopher Hill by the Plant System, which bought the Charleston & Savannah Railroad in 1880, and incorporated under that name in 1894, the town officially became Ridgeland in 1902 when the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad took over the "line" and built a new depot about one mile north of the original "station." The name, Gopher Hill, was derived from the "gopher tortoise," which was once indigenous to the area but that name was not considered good enough for a new railroad station. Since the town was located on the highest hill between Charleston and Savannah it was renamed Ridgeland.

The town, which is near the geographic center of Jasper County today, and is its county seat, straddled the county lines of Beaufort and Hampton Counties when it was first settled. Jasper County was formed in 1912, with Ridgeland selected as its County Seat. A court house was built in 1915. This large and beautiful structure is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Of course, prior to the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans inhabited the area. Artifacts, such as arrowheads and pottery shards, are still often found. These are attributed to the Coosaw and Yamassee tribes which were here when the Europeans arrived. Native Americans migrated out of this area soon after the Yamassee War of 1715-1716.

Thomas Heyward, Jr. was one of the most famous citizen this area has produced. A signer of the Declaration of Independence, he was raised and buried at Old House about five miles east of present day Ridgeland. His father, Daniel, and brother, Nathaniel, were also entrepreneurs of their time. However, the county is named for a non-resident, Sgt. William Jasper, a hero of the Revolutionary War. Ridgeland is also the birthplace and current home of General Jacob Edward Smart (1909-2006). General Smart was the second South Carolinian to earn a fourth star. A highly decorated Air Force veteran the general was a true American hero.

Ridgeland had just begun to develop when the American Civil War devastated the area. Although the "Battle of Honey Hill" was fought just a few miles from town, and the Confederate troops won the battle to protect the railroad, General William Tecumseh Sherman's Union Army was not far behind, and almost everything was "put to the torch." Only a few churches and buildings used by the dreaded Yankees were left standing. Holy Trinity Episcopal in Grahamville, and the Gillisonville Baptist Church in Gillisonville, are both antebellum churches that have been well preserved.

An economy based on agriculture, particularly rice farming, brought prosperity to the community in the early and mid 1800s. The Civil War devastation left the entire area in poverty. Wealthy outsiders bought up the land and many hunting clubs and absentee-owned timber companies moved in. Local citizens developed businesses and small industries and were making an excellent "comeback" when the Great Depression of 1929 hit. As we came out of the depression and tourism developed, Ridgeland's location on U.S. Highway 17, the main route between Miami and New York for many years before Interstate 95 was completed, opened up opportunities, and Ridgeland began to grow again.

We even learned to love those "damn yankees" because they brought money. Around 1980, when 1-95 opened, the location of Ridgeland's two interchanges were such that traffic bypassed the town. Main Street began to "dry up." It was not until politicians saw fit to put an interchange at U.S. Highway 278 and 1-95 (Exit 21) that Ridgeland began to really benefit from the proximity of the Interstate. Several motels, restaurants, service stations, a major super market, and numerous small businesses soon developed.

The 1990s saw great things happen for Ridgeland. The town began its downtown redevelopment effort with Main Street receiving new sidewalks, parks, lighting, and palmetto trees. New businesses moved in. The old downtown and the new business section at I-95 were united with a common development theme. Additional commercial development followed and made for a much stronger economy. Ridgeland is the "residence of choice" for much of the work force that serves Hilton Head, Sun City, and other new and developing resort, residential, and commercial areas springing up in the southern part of the county.

Ridgeland has turned itself into one of the prettiest and most-charming small towns in South Carolina. With its proximity to excellent hunting grounds, good salt and fresh water fishing, and numerous golf courses within easy driving distance, it is a highly desirable place to live, work and play. It is truly the Heart of the Lowcountry, not only geographically, but in its people, culture, history, recreation, and economic opportunity.

Home is where the heart is. And Ridgeland is known as "The Heart of the Lowcountry." And since it stands on the highest elevation of Jasper County, it also bills itself as the "High Point of the Lowcountry."

It's a hometown with traditional values and a great deal of optimism about the future. Like a ripple in a pond, the warmth of the community spreads farther and farther outward. With a walk down its oak-lined streets, the town of Ridgeland will steal your heart. So don't say we didn't warn you.

Ridgeland is in the Jasper County School District, a single district that serves the entire county.

Students who attend public school enjoy low teacher-to-student ratios, small classes, computer labs in all schools, and gifted, early education, and special needs programs.

The school district has implemented a "re-engineering" effort in all schools to rededicate themselves to the mission and beliefs of the district. Ridgeland has one high school (Jasper County High School), one middle school (Ridgeland Middle), two elementary schools (Ridgeland Elementary and West Hardeeville Elementary), one vocational school (The Academy for Career Excellence). A private school is also available in Ridgeland - ages K through 12.

Higher education is available in nearby Beaufort at the Technical College of the Lowcountry and the University of South Carolina, Beaufort Campus. Savannah, GA, which is a half-hour drive from Ridgeland, has two 4-year colleges. The University of South Carolina also plans to build a 4-year college in southern Jasper County on U.S. Highway 278.

Established in Hampton County, Ridgeland was granted a U.S. Post Office on February 12, 1896, and its first Postmaster was Mr. John T. Wall. Before year's end, Ridgeland was in Beaufort County. In 1912, Jasper County was created from Beaufort County, and Ridgeland was named the County Seat. Its Post Office has been in continuous operation ever since inception.
Click Here to view / download a 2018 map of Ridgeland, SC. Adobe PDF file - 9 pages. Fairly large.

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