(Marlboro County; 2000 pop. 9,425). Bennettsville was established on December 14, 1819, when the General Assembly moved the Marlboro District courthouse to a more central location. The new district seat was named for the sitting governor, Thomas Bennett. A three-acre square was selected on a bluff above Crooked Creek, on the stage road running between Society Hill, South Carolina, and Fayetteville, North Carolina. By 1824 a Robert Mills–designed courthouse was completed, and a town slowly developed around the square. By 1860 Bennettsville contained about thirty houses, three churches, and two fraternal lodges, with stores, offices, and artisan shops surrounding the town square. The town suffered a disastrous setback on March 6, 1865, when Union forces captured Bennettsville and burned cotton warehouses, barns, and the office of Dr. Alexander McLeod, a signer of the Ordinance of Secession. However, Bennettsville had the only courthouse from the old Cheraws District to survive the torch, which left district and county records intact from 1785.
Prosperity returned in the 1880s with the arrival of the railroad, which greatly benefited county cotton farmers. New businesses and industries followed, including the Bank of Marlboro (1884), the Bennettsville Cotton Exchange (1886), the Marlboro Cotton Oil Company (1889), and the Marlboro Mill Company (1894). Bennettsville’s “boom” continued into the 1920s as city streets were paved, electricity arrived, and water and sewer systems were installed. Traffic on U.S. Highways 15 and 401 introduced a flourishing tourist trade along Main Street, which sprouted hotels, tourist homes, cafés, theaters, and motor courts. World War II brought to Bennettsville Palmer Field, an army flight-training base that opened in August 1941. When flight training ended, German prisoners of war were billeted at the airfield, where they supplied labor to local farms.
After the war, the mechanization of Marlboro County agriculture led surplus farm laborers to seek opportunity in Bennettsville, and African Americans soon comprised more than half the city’s population and workforce. The migration marked the beginning of Bennettsville’s shift from an agricultural economy to a more industrial one. A variety of new industries arrived in the latter half of the twentieth century, including Willamette Industries, Marley Engineered Products, Mohawk Carpet’s Oak River Mill, SoPakCo, Powell Manufacturing Company, Bennettsville Printing LLC, Reliance Trading Company, OxBodies Inc., Musashi Inc., and International Cup Corp.
During the 1950s the U.S. Highway 15-401 bypass was built, which became the site for much of Bennettsville’s commercial development. Crooked Creek was dammed to create Lake Wallace, an 846-acre recreational lake and waterfowl preserve. Attractive residential developments soon appeared on both sides of the lake. By the 1970s Cottingham Boulevard, the S.C. Highway 9 bypass, served travelers passing through Bennettsville on their way to the Grand Strand. Another addition to the Bennettsville economy came in 1989 with the opening of the Evans Correctional Institution, which housed some twelve hundred state inmates. Noteworthy natives of Bennettsville include former Bank of America chairman Hugh L. McColl, Jr., Children’s Defense Fund chair Marian Wright Edelman, and former congressman John L. Napier.
Hudson, Joshua Hilary. Sketches and Reminiscences. Columbia, S.C.: State Company, 1903.
Kinney, William Light, Jr. Sherman’s March: A Review. Bennettsville, S.C.: Marlboro Herald-Advocate, 1961.
Marlboro County, South Carolina: A Pictorial History. Bennettsville, S.C.: Marlborough Historical Society, 1996.
McColl, D. D. Sketches of Old Marlboro. Columbia, S.C.: State Company, 1916.
Thomas, J. A. W. A History of Marlboro County, with Traditions and Sketches of Numerous Families. 1897. Reprint, Baltimore: Regional Publishing, 1971.