Located in Sumter County, this 26,000-acre property was acquired in the 1930s by the Federal Resettlement Administration as part of its program to relocate families from worn-out farms to more productive land. From 1935 to 1939 the site was operated as the Poinsett Project. The South Carolina Forestry Commission assumed operation in 1939, changing the name to Poinsett State Forest. The name was finally established as Manchester State Forest in 1949.
Manchester was operated under a fifty-year lease from the federal government. During the early years the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration were active partners in developing the property. Manchester’s mission, as expressed in the lease agreement, was similar to that of Sand Hills: develop as a demonstration conservation area, utilizing the principles of multiple-use management. The Forestry Commission obtained title to the forest property in 1955.
Early on, Manchester posed a significant challenge to managers. Much of the property was infertile, cut-over, and subject to destructive wildfires. About seventy-five percent of the land was considered too poor to produce any kind of crop except trees. Reforestation was a primary concern, but early records show that game management and recreation have been prominent parts of Manchester’s management since 1939.
Manchester State Forest includes several historical sites, including Bellfield, the home of Richard I. Manning, governor of South Carolina from 1915 to 1919. Except for salaries of forest workers, Manchester is completely self-supporting.