The town was named in honor of Judge John Belton O’Neall, president of the Greenville and Columbia Railroad.
(Anderson County; 2020 pop. 4,484). Belton began in the 1850s as the site of a proposed junction of the Greenville and Columbia Railroad and spur line to Anderson planned by the Blue Ridge Railroad. The town was named in honor of Judge John Belton O’Neall, president of the Greenville and Columbia Railroad. Dr. George Brown donated several acres of land for a railroad depot and a school building. The town was incorporated in 1855, and the first intendant (mayor) was Charles C. Chamberlain, a railroad supervisor. Broadway Presbyterian Church, established in the late 1700s about five miles from where Belton was later established, was relocated to the new town to become its first house of worship. Area farmers soon made Belton an important local market, and McGee’s Hotel became a popular stop for travelers on the Greenville and Columbia Railroad. An 1860 census taken by the local militia counted a population of 183 whites and 30 slaves.
The Rice family can be credited with much of Belton’s growth after the Civil War. Brothers Enoch and Joel Rice started a brick mill in the late 1860s and also operated a traveling gin, which made a seasonal circuit among nearby cotton farms. In 1882 the brothers built the Rice block of buildings on the north side of the town square and the gin was placed there. They later built and operated a cottonseed oil mill and a grist and flour mill.
Belton’s first major industry, the Belton Cotton Mill, commenced operations in 1900. Blair Mills and Rice Mills, owned by the Rice family, opened several years later and remained Belton’s largest employers into the twenty-first century. Blair Mills started in 1908 and was the first mill in the nation to manufacture terry cloth. In the twentieth century, industrial diversification brought plants operated by Goodman Conveyor, Rockwell Automotive, and Wells Aluminum.
Tennis has been popular in Belton since the late nineteenth century. The town is home to the Palmetto Tennis Championships, drawing several hundred youth annually. The Victorian-styled railroad depot became the home to the S.C. Tennis Hall of Fame, the Ruth Drake Museum, the Belton branch of the Anderson County Library, and a large space for meetings and special events.
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.
Grubbs, Max Wilton. “A History of the Social, Economic & Political Development of Belton, South Carolina.” Master’s thesis, Clemson University, 1960.
Herd, E. Don. Early History of Belton, South Carolina, 1700–1860. Williamston, S.C.: by the author, 1959.
Sketches of Belton, South Carolina. Belton, S.C.: Belton Times, 1911.