Following the Civil War, the future of Clinton appeared bleak. The railroad ceased operation, and Laurens County was plagued with racial violence. However, prospects rose in the 1870s, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Jacobs and the local entrepreneur Mercer Silas Bailey.
(Laurens County; 2020 pop. 8,304). Clinton grew up around the intersection of two roads, one connecting Greenville with Columbia and the other Spartanburg with Augusta. In the 1850s the Laurens-to-Newberry railroad began running through this intersection, known as the Five Points or Five Forks, resulting in lots being sold for the development of a town. As the community grew into an important railroad way station, it was named for Henry Clinton Young, an attorney from nearby Laurens. By 1858 Clinton had both Methodist and Presbyterian congregations, as well as a public school. However, when the Presbyterian minister William Plumer Jacobs arrived in Clinton in 1864, he described the village as having a bad reputation for “gander-pulling, gambling and drinking, rowdyism, brawling and other little disorders.” In that same year Clinton was incorporated.
Following the Civil War, the future of Clinton appeared bleak. The railroad ceased operation, and Laurens County was plagued with racial violence. However, prospects rose in the 1870s, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Jacobs and the local entrepreneur Mercer Silas Bailey. In 1872 Jacobs became head of the Clinton Library Society, which began holding public lectures. Jacobs worked to organize the Thornwell Orphanage to help children who had lost their parents during the war. By 1874 the main orphanage building, the Home of Peace, had been built. In the 1880s Jacobs established Clinton College, which became Presbyterian College in 1890. The first building, Alumni Hall, was built the following year. Meanwhile, Bailey opened a bank and helped secure a new railroad connection for Clinton: the Georgia, Carolina, and Northern. In 1896 Bailey built the town’s first textile mill, the Clinton Mill. It was followed by the Lydia Mill in 1902.
Clinton’s growth continued steadily through the early 1900s. In 1920 the State Training School for the Feeble Minded (later renamed Whitten Center), an institution for the mentally handicapped, was established. With the orphanage and the college, it was the third important institution operating in Clinton. By 1930 Clinton’s population had reached 5,643. In the decade that followed, the town’s water supply and streets were improved and a National Guard Armory was built. The Presbyterian College and Community Library opened in 1942, built with funds provided by the Works Progress Administration. The 1940s and 1950s saw additional industry enter the community and several new schools built.
At the start of the twenty-first century, textiles still played a vital role in the Clinton economy. In addition to Presbyterian College and Whitten Center, other major employers manufactured metal bearings, building products, and printed products. Many retirees relocated to Clinton because of the facilities of the Presbyterian Home and Bailey Manor Retirement Center, as well as the cultural opportunities afforded by Presbyterian College and the county arts council, concert association, and little theater group.
Bolick, Julian Stevenson. A Laurens County Sketchbook. Clinton, S.C.: Jacobs, 1973.
The Scrapbook: A Compilation of Historical Facts about Places and Events of Laurens County, South Carolina. N.p.: Laurens County Historical Society and Laurens County Arts Council, 1982.