(405 sq. miles; 2010 pop. 32,062). Dillon County, known as “The Golden Land,” was formed in 1910 from the upper portion of Marion County. Its triangular shape is bound on the east by North Carolina and the Lumber River and on the west by Marlboro County and the Great Pee Dee River. Its southern boundary was painstakingly drawn so that at least five hundred square miles remained in Marion County and at least four hundred miles were included in the new county, as required by the state constitution.
Settlers were slow to come to the area that became Dillon County. It was isolated and occupied by the Sara Indians, who were hostile toward the encroachments of European settlers. Roads were primitive and few. Most early settlers came to the northern part of the territory, near the Little Pee Dee River, which developed into a community named Harleesville, later Little Rock. Upper Marion’s first post office opened there in 1807. Although the fertile soil was highly productive, poor transportation made it difficult for residents to market surplus grains and staple crops. As a result, the earliest commercial venture was raising cattle, which were driven overland to supply beef to the lowcountry. As river and road transportation improved, residents of upper Marion intensified their farming efforts. As in much of antebellum South Carolina, cotton became the dominant crop. By 1860 planters and farmers along the upper Little Pee Dee Valley produced 4,564 bales of cotton. Agriculture would dominate the region’s economy throughout the nineteenth century.
The county’s struggle for political independence began in 1895 with the adoption of a state constitution that eased restrictions on creating new counties. The political leaders of lower Marion did everything they could to prevent the separation. With the population concentrated in lower Marion, political control rested there. But while the rich farmland of upper Marion produced large property taxes, government expenditures for road maintenance and services were kept low. As a result, upper Marion’s leaders grew determined to have their own county. The construction of the Florence Railroad Line through upper Marion, with stations at Dillon and Latta, added to the new county movement by improving transportation and shipping facilities, which spurred rapid population growth. Finally, after five elections, three surveys, and fifteen years of political maneuvering, all of the requirements for the creation of the new county were met. In a referendum on December 14, 1909, voters supported a new county by an overwhelming margin, 1,615 to 272. Dillon was selected as the name based on the name of its largest town.
Agriculture continued as the backbone of Dillon County’s economy at the start of the twentieth century. A combination of climate, water resources, and fertile terrain created excellent growing conditions. However, following the onslaught of the boll weevil and disastrously low prices during the Depression of the 1930s, cotton gradually fell out of favor, forcing farmers to seek an alternate crop. Tobacco was the answer. Income from the “golden weed” grew dramatically and quickly overtook cotton as the leading money crop. By 1997 Dillon County’s tobacco yield had grown to $18.6 million, with cotton a distant second at $5.4 million. During the last half of the twentieth century, farm size and methodology changed dramatically, with machinery replacing manual labor to a large degree. Dillon County farms grew larger in size and fewer in number. In 1950 the county had 3,336 farms, averaging sixty-three acres. By 1997 the number of farms had dropped to 199, while average acreage increased to 458 acres. Mechanized farming forced many families off the land.
As in many South Carolina counties, Dillon’s industry had consisted mostly of cotton mills, which became increasingly outdated as the twentieth century progressed. In 1954 Dillon County’s industrial base expanded significantly with the arrival of Dixiana Mills, a division of Mohawk Carpets, which created badly needed jobs for displaced farm workers and others. In 1995 Dixiana stunned the county by closing its Dillon plant and moving to Calhoun, Georgia. Fortunately, in 1992 Perdue Farms, Inc., had established in Dillon a chicken processing plant, which helped to replace many of the lost jobs. In 2000 Perdue employed 1,250 workers. In addition, each week local farmers raised 1.25 million chickens from Perdue’s hatchery in Dillon. As the new century began, there were twenty-one industries in Dillon County employing approximately 3,500 people. The balance between agriculture and industry worked to maintain a healthy economy.
Besides the county seat of Dillon, the county is home to two other incorporated towns. Latta was established in 1887 as a station for the Florence Railroad. Located seven miles south of Dillon, this community established its cultural and educational leadership long before the county was formed. Hofwyl Academy, built in 1853 near the present town, was widely recognized as the foremost educational facility in upper Marion. It was the forerunner of Latta’s public school system, which proved its excellence in many ways over the years. From 1997 to 1999 the SAT scores of Latta students exceeded those of the county’s other two districts by more than one hundred points. The Latta Library, built with a tax levy and a $5,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation, became the county’s first library in 1914 and became the nucleus of the Dillon County library system.
Lake View, originally called Ford’s Mill, is thirteen miles east of Dillon. It began as a pond and gristmill in 1792, which makes its origin the earliest of the county’s three incorporated towns. Lake View proudly claims Page’s Mill Pond, with its moss-draped cypress trees, black waters, and carefully preserved gristmill, to be the most picturesque spot in Dillon County. The town also has a reputation for excellence in athletics, with its teams earning eight state championships in football, six in baseball, and one in basketball. In 2001 Josh Cribb of Lake View became the first South Carolina high school pitcher to go an entire season without allowing an earned run. At the end of the twentieth century, life in Dillon County was aptly characterized by its motto: “Quietly Progressive.”
Stokes, Durward T. The History of Dillon County, South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1978.