(Barnwell County; 2000 pop. 5,035). Originally located on the old Stage Coach Road from Charleston to Augusta, Barnwell was first called Red Hill. Like Barnwell County, the town was named for John Barnwell of Beaufort. The first county courthouse was built in 1800 on five acres given by Benjamin Odom. Subsequent courthouses were built in 1819, 1830, 1848, 1871, and 1879. With several renovations and additions, the 1879 building continued to serve as the Barnwell County Courthouse into the twenty-first century.
Although important as the district seat of justice, Barnwell grew slowly. By the mid-1820s the village contained just 120 inhabitants. The town was incorporated in December 1829. The line of the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company passed some ten miles to the west of Barnwell in the 1830s, and the town’s economic importance declined relative to the newer railroad towns such as Blackville and Williston. Barnwell would not gain a railroad until 1880, when a short line connecting the town with Blackville was completed.
Late in the Civil War, in February 1865, Barnwell was occupied by federal troops under the command of General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick. Most businesses and public buildings, except for the churches, were destroyed. As a result, the county courthouse resided for several years in nearby Blackville before returning to Barnwell in 1875. Court was held in the Barnwell Presbyterian Church until a new courthouse was completed in 1879. Despite the carnage wrought by the war, more than a dozen antebellum houses survive in Barnwell, including the office used in the latter half of the 1800s by Dr. Todd, a physician and brother-in-law of Abraham Lincoln.
Perhaps Barnwell’s most enduring feature is the 1858 freestanding vertical sundial located in front of the courthouse. It was given to the town by Joseph Duncan Allen, a wealthy planter, politician, and soldier. In 1907 a portion of the five acres given by Benjamin Odom, later containing the Confederate Monument, was named Calhoun Park honoring Clinton Calhoun, longtime mayor of Barnwell.
Barnwell remained a commercial center for county farmers well into the twentieth century. This situation changed in the years following World War II, however, as the town and county began to move from an agricultural to an industrial-based economy. The coming of the Savannah River Plant in the 1950s briefly swelled the town’s population to some fifteen thousand during the time of construction. Most of these temporary residents left once the plant was completed in the mid-1950s, but enough remained to more than double the population of Barnwell during the decade, from 2,005 in 1950 to 4,568 by 1960. Aggressive recruitment efforts by local leaders helped attract major industrial plants to Barnwell during the 1950s, including a $10 million woolens plant opened by Amerotron in 1956 (later acquired by Deering-Milliken) and an optical parts and machinery factory built by Shuron Optical Company a few years later.
Barnwell’s population peaked at 5,572 in 1980 and stabilized at about 5,000 entering the twenty-first century. Residents enjoy access to a thriving industrial park, airport, library, hospital, strong churches, community theater, museum, and recreational programs. A portion of the 135-acre Lake Edgar Brown lies within the city limits of Barnwell.
Barnwell County Heritage Book Committee. Barnwell County Heritage, South Carolina. Marceline, Mo.: Walsworth, 1994.
Flynn, Jean Martin. A History of the Barnwell First Baptist Church and Antebellum Barnwell. Barnwell, S.C.: Barnwell First Baptist Church, 2002.