Named for the beech trees growing in the wetlands of the nearby Savannah River swamp and possibly a dead river island, Beech Island began in the 1680s as Savano Town, an important Indian trading center.
(Aiken County; 2000 pop. 4,843). Named for the beech trees growing in the wetlands of the nearby Savannah River swamp and possibly a dead river island, Beech Island began in the 1680s as Savano Town, an important Indian trading center. In 1716, after several Indian uprisings, the British constructed a fort (later Fort Moore) at Savano Town to protect the upcountry trade and guard the western entrance to South Carolina. The surrounding area became part of New Windsor Township in the 1730s. Offers of free land attracted European Protestants to the new township, including fifty Swiss families brought by John Tobler in 1737. These Swiss settled on the rich farmland along the Savannah River and began Beech Island’s agricultural economy.
Agriculture reached its zenith in Beech Island in the years prior to the Civil War. The neighborhood was the site of several large plantations, such as Governor James Henry Hammond’s 7,500-acre Silver Bluff Plantation and his smaller, more opulent Redcliffe Plantation. In 1856 Hammond and others organized the Beech Island Farmer’s Club for the diffusion of agricultural knowledge. Many large plantation homes were built from the early 1800s until the start of the Civil War. Following the war, sharecroppers did most of the farming. Not until after the Great Depression did agriculture again thrive in Beech Island, with successful farms raising beef and dairy cattle, hogs, corn, wheat, and soybeans.
Farming was the main employment until the early 1950s, when the Urquhart electrical generating station and the Savannah River Site were constructed. A new four-lane highway was built to handle the bumper-to-bumper plant traffic from Beech Island to the “Bomb Plant.” By 1966 construction began on the first industrial plant to locate in Beech Island, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, which produced paper products. Another plant, Amoco Foam, a producer of polystyrene food containers, followed in 1974. Both plants are located on farmland originally granted to Beech Island’s Swiss settlers by King George II.
Maness, Harold. Forgotten Outpost: Fort Moore & Savannah Town, 1685–1765. Pickens, S.C.: BPB Publications, 1986.
Nylund, Rowena. Redcliffe Plantation State Park, a Visitor’s Guide. Columbia: South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, 1991.