Industrial development in Anderson County began in earnest in the decades following the Civil War, and gradually replaced agriculture as the foundation of the county economy.
(718 sq. miles; 2020 pop. 204,353). Colonel Robert Anderson was a popular Revolutionary War veteran who served with General Andrew Pickens and who subsequently had three South Carolina places named for him. The first was a briefly prosperous river town named Andersonville, then followed Anderson District and the town of Anderson.
Due to population increases in the South Carolina upstate during the early 1800s, the General Assembly in 1826 divided the large district of Pendleton into two smaller districts: Anderson and Pickens. The town of Pendleton continued for many years as the largest town in Anderson District, larger even than the new courthouse seat. There had been disagreements over just where the new courthouse would be situated, and courts continued to be held in Pendleton for several years.
Antebellum Anderson District was dominated by small farms, which grew grains, raised livestock, and produced increasing amounts of cotton. Plantation agriculture reached Anderson District as well, but not to the degree found in the lower portions of the state. By 1830 twenty-five percent of the district’s population was slaves. Transportation improvements brought more substantial change both before and after the Civil War. The Greenville and Columbia Railroad arrived in the mid-1850s, spurring the creation of the new towns of Belton, Honea Path, and Williamston. Later in the century, the towns of Iva and Starr came into being along the line of the Savannah Valley Railroad from Augusta, Georgia.
Industrial development in Anderson County began in earnest in the decades following the Civil War, and gradually replaced agriculture as the foundation of the county economy. Several textile mills commenced operations in the 1870s, although one, the Pendleton Manufacturing Company, had started in 1838. Piedmont, which originated as Garrison Shoals on the Saluda River, opened its first mill in 1876. Downstream on the Saluda River, the first of four mills belonging to the Pelzer Manufacturing Company began in 1881. Over the next few years, cotton mills developed in Anderson, Belton, Honea Path, Iva, and Williamston.
By 1920 Anderson County had nineteen textile mills, trailing only Spartanburg and Greenville. The county also had eight cottonseed oil mills, two fertilizer factories, two machine and foundry companies, and 6,086 automobiles (only Greenville County had more). Despite the industrial boom, “farm to market” roads were improved as well, as there were 8,910 farms in Anderson, the most in the state and nearly 400 more than in second-place Orangeburg County. More than eighty percent of the county remained in farmland, with cotton, corn, oats, and wheat as the primary crops.
Government contracts helped the Anderson County textile industry thrive during World War II. But by the 1990s, foreign competition and decreasing demand had taken its toll on county textile mills, forcing many to cease operation. However, over the same period, diversification helped maintain a healthy manufacturing base. Owens Corning Fiberglass opened a sizable manufacturing facility south of the city of Anderson in 1950, taking advantage of natural gas and ample water supplied to produce its glass-woven products. Industrial growth in Anderson has been among the highest in the nation. Major firms at the start of the twenty-first century included four Milliken and Company plants, two Michelin Tire Corporation plants, Robert Bosch automotive components, BASF Fibers Division, Electrolux Company, several auto-parts-related firms, and a Santee Cooper electric plant. The county also contained twenty-two foreign firms from Canada, Western Europe, and Japan, which were recruited by an energetic county development board that stressed the quality of Anderson County’s labor force.
The county’s geography altered in the 1960s when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the Hartwell Dam and Reservoir at a cost $104 million to provide electricity, flood control, and recreation. Located on the Savannah River and its tributaries, the reservoir covers 56,000 acres and has a 960-mile shoreline. The lake brought changes. Land values soared, fine homes were built, and recreation and tourism added millions of dollars to the economy. Lake Hartwell, historic Pendleton, and the Anderson Jockey Lot and Farmers Market became major tourist attractions, thanks in large measure to the access created by the thirty-seven miles of Interstate 85 that cut through the county.
In June 2000 the National Civic League selected Anderson County as one of its ten “All-American” communities. Highlighted projects included the Hanna-Westside Extension Campus, a career center established in Anderson School District Five; the Alliance for a Healthy Future, an $11.5 capital campaign involving six nonprofit agencies; and the Anderson Sports and Entertainment Center, a complex of athletic fields, outdoor theater, and recreation facilities surrounding the Civic Center of Anderson. The county used the theme “Making News, Making Progress.”
Anderson County Tricentennial Committee. Anderson County Honors the State of South Carolina on Her 300th Birthday: Souvenir Program. Anderson, S.C.: Anderson County Tricentennial Committee, 1970.
Badders, Hurley E. Anderson County: A Pictorial History. Norfolk, Va.: Donning, 1999.
Dickson, Frank. Journeys into the Past. Anderson, S.C.: Dickson, 1975.
Vandiver, Louise Ayer. Vandiver’s History of Anderson County. Rev. ed. Anderson, S.C.: R. M. Smith, 1970.