(452 sq. miles; 2000 pop. 19,181). Saluda County, created in 1895 by an ordinance of the South Carolina Constitutional Convention, encompasses 288,877 acres in west-central South Carolina. It is bordered by Lexington, Aiken, Edgefield, McCormick, Newberry, and Greenwood Counties. Big Saluda River flows along the northern edge, where it is joined by the Little Saluda River a few miles above the Lexington County line. In 1929, when Lake Murray was created, Saluda County gained one hundred miles of shoreline and found 5,120 acres of its territory underwater.
The county was once part of Ninety Six District, then of Edgefield District, and finally of Edgefield County and therefore shares its early history with these entities. After the 1755 Saluda Old Town Treaty brought peace with the Indians, settlers from Pennsylvania and Virginia came to the Carolina backcountry. According to Benjamin W. Crouch, the “Father of Saluda County,” the first settlers to the Saluda area were the “Cavalier, the Scots-Irish, and the Dutch. The Dutch element predominates in the Delmar section—formerly called Germanville. The Cavalier and Scots-Irish in the other parts of the county.” State and national leaders from the Saluda side of Edgefield District included General William Butler of Revolutionary War fame; Andrew P. Butler, judge and U.S. senator; Pierce M. Butler, governor and colonel of the Palmetto Regiment; Milledge Luke Bonham, general and governor, and the Alamo martyrs James Butler Bonham and William Barret Travis.
Agriculture has historically dominated the economy of Saluda County, which has soil consisting of deep, well-drained loams and clays with sand along the “Ridge” section. Hills are low and easily adapted to cultivation. Abundant rainfall enabled early settlers to grow a variety of crops. They also raised livestock on the native grasses flourishing in the mild climate, which has a year-round average of sixty-two degrees. With the introduction of the cotton gin at the end of the eighteenth century, cotton quickly became the dominant crop. African American slaves came into the area along with whites, who purchased more slaves as cotton production increased. By 1860 more than forty-six percent of household heads in Edgefield District owned slaves, with surviving records showing that white farmers on the Saluda side shared in the antebellum prosperity as well. Between the Civil War and the creation of Saluda County, the effects of war, emancipation, and Reconstruction altered the economic and social order and brought great changes. Cotton was still the most important crop, but with a sharecropping system in place to provide land, capital, and labor.
With the creation of Saluda County in 1895, Red Bank became the site of Saluda, the county seat. County officers were elected, and on December 1, 1896, the county began functioning as a legal entity. Three towns were already present: Ridge Spring, Ward, and Monetta (part of which lay in Aiken County).
In the 1900 census Saluda County had a population of 18,966, with 46.5 percent whites and 53.5 percent African Americans. By 1920 the population had grown to 22,088. Then, in the 1920s, the destruction of cotton crops by the boll weevil led to the migration of African Americans to northern cities. By 1970 the population had decreased to 14,528. In 1990 it had risen to 16,357, but with whites now comprising two-thirds of the county population. In the 1990s the county gained about nine hundred Hispanics, who worked in the poultry industry.
In 1902 the county’s dual school system had more than thirty school districts, with forty-nine buildings for whites and forty-eight for African Americans. There were 2,563 white and 2,825 African American students in 1907. The one-and two-teacher country schools ran for five or six months during the year. By 1912 the county had two accredited high schools. In the 1950s country schools were closed and students were transported to town schools. At this time one section of the county became a part of Lexington District Three and another became a part of Aiken County Schools. In 2000 only the 2,300 students living in Saluda School District One attended school within the county. In 1970 Saluda School District One schools were integrated, and after 1972, when the African American Hollywood High School was closed, all high school students in the district attended Saluda High School. New facilities for all Saluda middle and high schools students opened in 2001. One private school, King Academy, has operated since the 1970s. In 1998 Piedmont Technical College opened a center in Saluda County to provide technical and core courses for local students.
At the end of the twentieth century, agriculture still dominated the Saluda County economy, but cotton was replaced by the poultry industry, cattle farms, dairy production, and tree farming in most of the county, and there were peach orchards along the “Ridge.” In 1998 Saluda County ranked ninth in the state in sales of agricultural products, third in livestock, and nineteenth in timber sales. That same year found 271 business establishments in the county. Amick Farms, a poultry producer, had the most employees with 1,100, followed by Knight Industries, a textile firm, with 730. Also in 1998, however, 4,790 Saluda residents commuted to jobs outside the county, and median household income in Saluda County lagged considerably behind the state average.
Despite such statistics, Saluda County remained optimistic about its economic future at the end of the twentieth century. In the early 1990s the county established an industrial park and built new law enforcement facilities. County officials likewise sought funding to complete a proposed four-lane highway from Columbia to Greenwood to improve Saluda’s access to outside markets. Recognition of the county’s cultural resources has led to the preservation of county landmarks and the establishment of a museum. The Economic Development Board and the Chamber of Commerce actively promoted the county’s unique assets in an attempt to attract industry, tourists, and retirees. With recent improvements in county water and sewer service, new schools, the county industrial park, opportunities for recreation, and emphasis on education and cultural resources, Saluda County joined others in South Carolina in building on its past to enhance its future.
Herlong, Bela, ed. Scraps of Interesting History and Other Writings from the Papers of Benjamin West Crouch. Saluda, S.C.: Saluda County Historical Society, 1996.
Herlong, Bela, and Gloria Caldwell, eds. Breaking New Ground: A Pictorial History of Saluda County. Saluda, S.C.: Saluda County Centennial Commission, 1995.
Saluda County Planning Commission. Saluda County New Millennium Plan. Saluda, S.C.: Saluda County Planning Commission, 1999.