Harbison State Forest is a 2,177-acre site located in northwest Richland County entirely within the corporate limits of Columbia. The site was acquired in 1945 from the Harbison Agricultural and Industrial Institute, an institution operated by the Board of Missions for Freedmen of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., to educate young African Americans. Located in Irmo, the school was named in honor of Samuel P. Harbison (1840–1905), a wealthy Pennsylvania brick manufacturer and Presbyterian philanthropist. In addition to its educational activities, the Harbison school also owned some 3,600 acres of adjacent land, on which it operated a “Farm Home Community” project. The land was divided into one-acre town lots and twenty-five-acre parcels and sold to “Presbyterian settlers” in the hope of establishing a strong black and Presbyterian community in the area. The experiment fell short of expectations, however, and some 2,100 acres of the land was sold to the South Carolina Forestry Commission in 1945 for $21,000.
For the first thirty years of its ownership, the forestry commission practiced nonintensive forest management limited to periodic improvement harvests or insect salvage. Beginning in the 1980s grants were obtained to begin developing the property as an educational forest. Volunteer groups provided enthusiastic assistance in building and maintaining hiking and bicycle trails.
Because Harbison’s mission is primarily one of education, forest management is practiced in small-scale demonstration areas throughout the property. Harvesting, planting, natural regeneration, insect and disease treatment, and prescribed burning are among the practices conducted on the state forest. Artifacts of South Carolina forest history are on display in and around Harbison headquarters. Among the exhibits are a working sawmill, a fire tower, a steam-powered log skidder, and a display of tools from the turpentine industry.
Parker, Inez Moore. The Rise and Decline of the Program of Education for Black Presbyterians of the United Presbyterian Church, U. S. A., 1865–1970. San Antonio, Tex.: Trinity University Press, 1977.