(York County; 2010 pop. 7,736). The courthouse town of York was originally known as Fergus’ Cross Roads, lying at the intersection of two stagecoach lines. The Fergus family operated a popular tavern at the site, but William Hill, the proprietor of an ironwork, owned the crossroads and a large tract of surrounding land. In 1786 Yorkville was laid out with the crossroads becoming Liberty and Congress Streets. In the early 1800s the name was changed to York, but the town was incorporated as Yorkville in 1849. The first intendant (mayor) was I. W. Clawson. In 1915 the name was changed back to York.
The earliest Europeans in the region were mostly Scots-Irish who came via Virginia and Pennsylvania. Yorkville served as the social center and market for antebellum York County’s farmers and was also a popular site for lowcountry planters escaping the malarial season. Sometimes called the “Charleston of the Upcountry,” antebellum Yorkville boasted macadamized streets and gas lighting, as well as a theater group and an opera house. In 1852 both the Rose Hotel and the Kings Mountain Railroad (which ran from Yorkville to Chester) were completed. A year later the Yorkville Female College began operation, and in 1855 Citadel graduates Micah Jenkins and Asbury Coward opened the Kings Mountain Military School. By 1861 only Charleston exceeded Yorkville in per capita income.
Yorkville’s voters supported secession in 1860 and, while little military action took place in the region during the Civil War, the violence in York during Reconstruction was unparalleled in any other S.C. county. The Ku Klux Klan organized in Yorkville as early as 1868, and it took two companies of federal troops stationed in the town to quell the violence. After President Ulysses Grant declared martial law in 1871, some 195 York County whites were imprisoned for crimes related to Klan activity.
In the late nineteenth century, Yorkville experienced the same forces of industrialization as the rest of York County and the southern Piedmont. Cheap labor combined with low tax rates encouraged a cotton mill boom, and many poor farmers came to town in search of work. Several mills were built in the town in the 1890s, but nearby Rock Hill quickly became the economic center of the county, greatly outpacing Yorkville in population and economic development. By 1900 the population of Yorkville was 2,012 while Rock Hill had 5,485 residents. After several cotton mills closed in the 1970s and 1980s, many workers sought employment in Rock Hill and Charlotte, North Carolina.
York has remained a relatively small town. In 1970 the population was 5,081, and thirty years later it had grown to slightly less than 7,000. The city’s large historic district includes many antebellum homes that attract visitors and help retain a sense of the town’s long history.
Judge, Peter. “‘Charleston of the Upcountry,’ Yorkville Offered Genteel Living.” Rock Hill Evening Herald, March 4, 1985, p. C4.
Shankman, Arnold, et al. York County South Carolina: Its People and Its Heritage. Norfolk, Va.: Donning, 1983.