(Lexington and Richland Counties; 2000 pop. 11,039). Incorporated on Christmas Eve 1890 and extending one-half mile in all directions from a new railroad depot, Irmo got its name from the surnames of two officers of the fledgling Columbia, Newberry, and Laurens Railroad: C. J. Iredell and H. C. Mosely. The CN & L, locally dubbed the “Crooked, Noisy, and Late,” selected this spot as a refueling station for steam locomotives. This facility spawned a few stores that, for over fifty years, served as a town hall, election headquarters, and community center. Finally, in January 1988, a municipal building was dedicated: the Mathias-Lown House, a picturesque Victorian cottage located at the corner of Woodrow Street and Columbia Avenue.
During its first century, this lower Dutch Fork crossroads straddling the Lexington-Richland County line experienced substantial change. The Lake Murray Dam project of the late 1920s brought more than four thousand workmen, creating an unexpected economic boom. It also transformed the region into a recreational mecca for fisherman, water sports enthusiasts, and others mesmerized by the beauty of an enormous, man-made lake covering nearly eighty square miles. Four decades later, the emergence of an interstate highway network sparked suburban growth that saw Irmo’s population rise from 408 to 3,957 in the 1970s and nearly triple during the ensuing decades.
Governed by a mayor and four-member council, with the assistance of a town administrator, Irmo has well-staffed police and fire departments and an active chamber of commerce. The community is home to five elementary, two middle, and two high schools, as well as the Harbison Campus of Midlands Technical College. Major regional employers include Fort Jackson, Allied-Signal, Michelin, and Phillips Components. Scores of residents also commute each day to jobs in the greater Columbia area.
Throughout the year residents and visitors enjoy a dozen special events, pageants, and celebrations honoring beauty queens, golf, football, the great outdoors, and—of course—okra. The famed “Okra Strut,” held during the last weekend in September, attracts up to eighty thousand spectators and is recognized as one of the top festivals in the Southeast. Inaugurated by the Irmo–Lake Murray Women’s Club in the early 1970s as part of a campaign to raise funds for a branch library, it has grown into a much-anticipated event complete with a parade, street dance, music, arts and crafts, food, an okra-eating contest, and a visit from the Green Giant—the Okra Man. And how did the “Strut” get its name? Credit apparently goes to Columbia radioman Gene McKay, who spun a fanciful tale concerning “the ancient Irmese.” They were, he vowed, a band of short folk who each season produced a remarkable and much admired okra crop.
Close by Irmo is Harbison Regional Shopping Center, one of the largest concentrations of shops, restaurants, and specialty stores in the state. Located along Harbison Boulevard where it intersects Interstate 26, this actually is a collection of several malls, including Columbiana Centre, which sparked a turf war between Richland and Lexington Counties over tax revenues in the late 1980s.