BLACKSBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA IN THE 1880s
Founded in 1897, with its largest city and county seat being Gaffney, Cherokee County was named after the Cherokee Indians. Prior to the Revolutionary War the Cherokee Indians used the area as a campground. Cherokee County was made possible by the coming of the railroad in 1893 and was carved out of Union, York, and Spartanburg Counties. The creation of the county was also made possible by secession movements by the citizens of Gaffney, Blacksburg, the townships of Limestone Springs, Draytonsville, White Springs, Gowdeysvlle, and Morgan in an election in December of 1896 and the General Assembly created the county in January of 1897.
In 1900 the population of Cherokee was 21,359 and it was mainly concentrated in the northern part of the county. Even with an established agricultural economy and a growing textile industry the economy of the county did not grow very quickly. By 1920, the population had only reached 27, 570 and the Great Depression and World War Two caused people to seek opportunities elsewhere. In 1940 Cherokee had add another 6,000 residents. A major growth did not occur in Cherokee until 1980 when the population grew to 40,983. Cherokee additionally grew in the decade between 1990 and 2000 when the county added new industries and became a bedroom community for York and Spartanburg counties.
Cherokee had economically been part of the ‘Old Iron District’. During the 1700’s and 1800’s an iron industry flourished in the area but it was gone by the end of the Civil War. By 1880 rail road construction took over iron production and the Atlanta and Charlotte Air Lines crossed the counties. This established stations in Blacksburg and Gaffney. Following the coming of the railroads the textile mills began to be built. In 1882, the Cherokee Manufacturing Company was built, in 1892 the Gaffney Manufacturing Company, 1900 the Limestone Mills and 1907 Hamrick Mills. These mills were built by men such as J. A. Deal, Rufus P. Roberts, Joseph C Plonk, L Baker, Dr. Wylie C Hamrick, and Adolphus N. Wood. These men either lived in the community or moved there. Their mills encouraged a better wage than agriculture, better living conditions, and furnished employment for thousands in the community. Although many of the residents that lived in the southern part of the community were tied to agriculture and did not want to tie themselves to mill life. By 1880 the decline in cotton prices caused the farmers to seek other options. An option that arose to supplement the declining cotton prices was growing fruit, particularly apples and peaches. 364 bushels of peaches were produced in Cherokee in 1900.
The county was brought into the twentieth century by the textile mills which grew with employment during World War I and the 1920’s. While new technology suggested growth too much supply and not enough demand slowed mill production in the 1920’s. Cherokee Falls and Gaffney Manufacturing Mills did survive but they changed hands. The five Hamrick’s mills, like many others consolidated to continue running. During the next twenty years Cherokee experienced an economic downtown.
The production of the peach softened the blow that the Depression and its aftermath. In 1910 1,572 bushels were produced and it rose to 3,302 in 1920. By 1930 they had produced 6,000 bushels and by 1940 the county crop was quadruple that number. Cherokee County was responsible for 70,100 of the state’s total in 1950. In 1900 the county began with 32,079 peach trees and in 1940 the orchards in the county had 150,000 trees. A decade later this number had doubled. By 1982 the county produced ten percent of the state’s total and shipped 35 million pounds out of state. The giant peach shaped water tower off of Interstate 85 symbolizes the influences the effect the peach has had on this community. The South Carolina Peach Festival began in 1976 as a one day celebration and grew into a ten day celebration. It was noted for having the largest peach pie and the largest peach milkshake.
With the growth of the interstate system in the 1960’s there were efforts at diversification. The textile industry grew some, along with new industries such as trucking food processing, industrial metalwork, truck and dairy farms, and woodworking. The counties historical sites and recreational areas began to offer services. Among these were Kings Mountain and Cowpens Battlefields, important American victories in the American Revolution. Famous houses include the Adam Goudelock house built in 1780, the John Nuckles house built in 1790, the Robert Scruggs house built in 1787 and the Possum Trott School a one room school house. The county is also home to Limestone College.
Limestone College, originally founded as Limestone Springs Female High School in 1845 by Thomas Curtis a Baptist minister. Due to Curtis’s death in 1859, the Civil War and the schools remote location the school was put up for auction in 1871. The property changed hands a few times and in the late 1870’s the local civic leaders got a grant from Peter Cooper a New York industrialist and in 1881 the Cooper-Limestone Institute for Young Ladies was opened. In the late 1890’s investments were made by textile men and the present Limestone College was made. The college was racially integrated in 1967 and went co-ed in 1970.
Information compiled and written by Anna Lee – 2014, with assistance from Edgar, Walter B., ed. The South Carolina encyclopedia. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2006 and the South Carolina Gazetteer by J.H. Moore, 1989. Also assisting – Will Cobb, Blacksburg, S.C.
Additional information on Blacksburg, S.C.: In December of 1888, the Charleston, Cincinnati, and Chicago Railroad opened a stretch of track from the capital of York County to Rutherfordton, North Carolina, and reporter Edward P. McKissick was on one of the first trains to travel over this new line. Among the stops made before crossing into North Carolina were Sharon, Hickory Grove, Blacksburg, Earl’s, and Patterson’s. In addition, a station to be known as Smyrna—a shipping point for iron ore, pyrite, manganese, and other minerals—soon would be opened four miles north of Hickory Grove. “Blacksburg,” McKissick noted, “is so prosperous and progressive a place that it is necessary to write of it in a separate letter, which will be published hereafter.” That letter, printed with his report of the rail journey, describes a wide-awake community whose population increased dramatically during the 1880s, up from 145 to 1,245.
It will not be inappropriate, perhaps, in the beginning of this communication to remark that the name of this thriving village was (changed from “Black’s” to the present name by an act of the last Legislature, and hence the name may not be very familiar to the readers of the News and Courier. Not many years ago a station was built on the Piedmont Air Line Railway, just twenty-nine miles from Spartanburg, at the foot of Whittaker’s Mountain. The station was first known as Black’s Station. It was not until a short while ago that the name was changed to “Black’s,” and now it has been metamorphosed into “Blacksburg.” The place was named in honor of the well-known family of Blacks which has been established in this section a very long time, and which is famous for the men it has produced who have made themselves known in State affairs and as sterling and worthy citizens.
Blacksburg and its opportunity have met, and its opportunity is the great iron highway which binds Charleston with the Ohio River. And the prevailing impression is that Blacksburg has grasped its opportunity and will make the most of it, which means, in a word, that Blacksburg will in the near future develop into a city of more or less magnitude. The rapid transit of the Charleston, Cincinnati, and Chicago Railroad to Charleston makes Blacksburg in one sense a suburb of the City by the Sea, and by this her chances for development are greatly augmented. The completion of the great Three C’s Road to Blacksburg has already been fully described in the News and Courier, and the fact of its completion has awakened the deepest interest in Charleston in everything that tends to the advancement and prosperity of the people of Blacksburg.
The situation of Blacksburg is especially advantageous. The town is built on an undulating plateau at the foot of the famous Whittaker’s Mountain. The streets are laid out with care and are kept in the best condition. The stores are built in various parts of the town, although a majority are on Main Street. The structures, while not pretentious, are of a substantial character and are all conveniently arranged. There are a number of very handsome private residences in Blacksburg, noticeable among which are those of Major J.F. Jones, Mrs. J. A. Deal, and Dr. J.G. Black. But the most important considerations in the situation of Blacksburg are the fact that it is at the junction of the Atlanta and Charlotte Air Line Railway and the Three C’s Railroad and that the county around abounds in minerals.
The municipal government of Blacksburg is in the hands of a mayor and four aldermen. Mr. A.B. Crosby is the mayor and is supported by a sterling set of aldermen. The manner in which the government is controlled and the prosperity of Blacksburg advanced is a sufficient guarantee that the council are trustworthy and valuable men. Heretofore Blacksburg has been a dry town, but by a special enactment licenses will be granted hereafter to sell whiskey within the town.
The health of Blacksburg is excellent, and it is noteworthy that no epidemics have ever occurred here, but in case a stranger should fall ill he would be in no danger of suffering for lack of attention, as there are five physicians resident here whose practice necessarily extends to the surrounding country. The population of Blacksburg is now estimated at 1,300 and is increasing every day. There are fourteen mercantile establishments here, all of which do a good and lucrative business. There are two blacksmith shops, two livery stables, and two hotels, and it is stated that each of these establishments is very successful. There is also a lime kiln which is successfully operated by Simon Brothers, the well-known lime manufacturers of Limestone Springs near Gaffney.
Blacksburg has good educational advantages, and the indications are that these will be materially increased in the near future. Permission was granted by the last Legislature for the levy of a tax to erect a building for a graded school at a cost of $8,000. The present school at Blacksburg is a high school, of which Prof. J.T. Moore is principal. Prof. Moore, who has two associates, is a former student of the South Carolina College and is well qualified for his position. There are about one hundred and twenty-five pupils in attendance upon this institution, and the attendance is daily increasing under the successful management of Prof. Moore.
There are four white churches and four colored churches in Blacksburg. The Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal churches are all substantial and handsome structures, while the churches of the colored people are neat and comfortable buildings. This section abounds in a great diversity of valuable minerals. The iron ore is taking the lead and its latest developments have been marvelous. The soft ores were the only species that could be worked in the charcoal blast furnaces of the old regime, but now the most valuable ores, the hard ones, which are found in great quantities, can be reduced in the stone coal hot blast furnaces.
A company has been formed of Atlanta and Birmingham capitalists, known as the Magnetic Iron and Steel Ore Company, and are now, with a strong force of hands, exposing immense lodes of iron ore at and around Blacksburg. A Richmond company has also begun operations. Both companies have considerable means and have bought several thousand acres of mineral lands. An average of these ores on analysis shows from 60 to 65 per cent. The iron ores occur in lodes. The richest yet discovered is the Black-Wilson lode. This lies near the surface and seems to cover a great extent and is made up of the very finest magnetic oxides. Lying beside the iron ore is limestone and manganese used in the manufacture of steel. Around this locality is found the grey or magnetic oxide, and the red or hermatite ores, limestone, manganese, kaolin, fireproof clay, tin, asbestos, talcose, with a variety of clays and slates. These minerals are found along the King’s Mountain range, on which Blacksburg is located, and in Broad River that runs directly across this formation. By dredging these minerals can be taken from the bottom of the river. In company with Col. J.H. Averill, Mr. W.E Marshall, and Major J.E Jones, who kindly drove the party to one of the mines, this correspondent had an opportunity of seeing the vast quantities of valuable ore that have already been extracted from the mines. All the mines in and around Blacksburg will be worked as soon as sufficient machinery can be brougth to this place. Prof. Pratt, the State geologist of Georgia, who has visited Blacksburg at different times and made thorough investigations of the ores and their mineralogical situation, says that the ore is of and their mineralogical situation, says that the ore is of the best and most valuable quality, and from all appearances the deposit is exhaustless. A large quantity of ore has already been shipped from this place to different points.
In this connection it may be well to state that if the water transportation can be had at Charleston, large quantities of ore will be shipped over the Three C’s Road to eastern points via Charleston, and thus Charleston will reap a benefit from the mineral deposits of this section.
One of the attractions of Blacksburg is Whittaker’s Mountain, upon which a park is now being laid out which will be known as “Overlook Park.” In the centre of the park, on the very highest portion of the mountain, is now being built an observatory which will be fifty-two feet in height and will be handsomely furnished with every convenience and a fine glass. The work is being done under the direct supervision of Major J.F. Jones.
The scenery from the top of the mountain is grand and sublime and is said to equal, if not surpass, that which is obtained from the Battery Park Hotel in Asheville. The Blue Ridge range can be easily seen, and as we stood on the celebrated Indian mound and looked toward Charleston the spire of St. Michael’s was almost visible (in imagination), while on the other side the cities of Chicago and Cincinnati were some distance beyond the horizon. The scene was a dream, and it would require a poet’s pen to describe the profound loveliness and grandeur of the surrounding country. It is proposed to build a hotel on the mountain, but no decided action has been thus far taken in the matter. On the south side of this mountain the now celebrated cavern and underground river are natural attractions. None of the party who visited the mountain manifested any desire to descend into the well, or cavern, and so we did not visit that place. Dr. John G. Black, Col. R.A. Johnston, Major John F. Jones, and M.R. Reese have formed a joint stock company for the purpose of opening and exploring the cavern, and the work is progressing as rapidly as possible, although no developments of an important nature have yet been made.
It will thus be seen that the resources of Blacksburg are numerous and valuable. The people here are alive to the needs of the hour and are making use of their resources in a manner that insures abundant success.
Reprinted from South Carolina in the 1880s: A Gazetteer by J.H. Moore, Sandlapper Publishing Company – 1989