Prior to the Civil War, Blackville prospered as a cotton reception point, which stimulated the development of a bustling mercantile community. The final decades of the twentieth century found Blackville struggling to maintain its position of economic importance within Barnwell County. In 1979 more than one-fifth of Blackville families lived below the poverty line, and the removal of the town’s railroad line in the late 1980s further added to difficulties.
(Barnwell County; 2020 pop. 2,173). Incorporated in 1837, Blackville originated as a depository on the South Carolina Railroad in Barnwell District. It was named for Alexander Black, a railroad superintendent, but was briefly renamed Clinton in honor of Revolutionary War hero General James Clinton. However, in 1851 the town name reverted to Blackville after sectional pride led residents to conclude that it was more fitting to honor a southern railroad entrepreneur than a northern general.
Prior to the Civil War, Blackville prospered as a cotton reception point, which stimulated the development of a bustling mercantile community. Although much of Blackville was destroyed by Union forces in February 1865, the town recovered quickly. In the years immediately following the war, Blackville briefly served as the county seat before that returned to the town of Barnwell in the mid-1870s. By the 1880s Blackville contained thirty-three stores, four churches, four schools, several saw and grist mills, and a population of almost one thousand. The town continued to thrive as a cotton market, shipping some four thousand bales of cotton annually.
Devastating fires struck Blackville in 1876 and 1887, but the town survived to maintain its role as a commercial and transportation center for Barnwell County farmers. Truck farming grew during the first half of the twentieth century, and large quantities of cucumbers, watermelons, and asparagus were sent from the town each year. Blackville residents further benefited from the establishment of the Commercial Bank of Blackville in 1917 and the installation of the town’s first water system in 1933. By 1940 the population stood at 1,456.
Although agriculture declined in importance throughout the region in the decades following World War II, Blackville experienced population growth over the same period, particularly in its African American community. Between 1950 and 1980 the town’s population more than doubled, from 1,295 to 2,840, with African Americans making up over two-thirds of the total. The location of the massive Savannah River Site plant in Barnwell County in the 1950s inspired some of the increase, but most came about from new manufacturing plants. By the 1960s factories operated by the Blackville Manufacturing Company (a maker of ladies’ apparel) and the Ducane Heating Corporation employed hundreds of Blackville inhabitants and attracted new residents. Only seven percent of the workforce remained in agriculture by 1980.
The final decades of the twentieth century found Blackville struggling to maintain its position of economic importance within Barnwell County. In 1979 more than one-fifth of Blackville families lived below the poverty line, and the removal of the town’s railroad line in the late 1980s further added to difficulties. Like other areas of South Carolina, Blackville turned to recreation and tourism to revitalize the economy. In the 1990s residents cooperated with state agencies in attempts to restore and preserve the town’s historic downtown.
Blackville was also designated as the site of a regional heritage center on the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor.
Barnwell County Heritage Book Committee. Barnwell County Heritage, South Carolina. Marceline, Mo.: Walsworth, 1994.
Crass, David Colin, and Mark J. Brooks, eds. Cotton and Black Draught: Consumer Behavior on a Postbellum Farm. [Columbia]: Savannah River Archaeological Research Program and the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, 1995.
Downey, Tom. Planting a Capitalist South: Masters, Merchants, and Manufacturers in the Southern Interior, 1790–1860. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005.
Maddox, Annette Milliken. The Long Shadow of the Big Brick: A History of the First Baptist Church, Blackville, South Carolina, 1846–1996. Blackville, S.C.: First Baptist Church, 1996.