In 1950 Alan Schafer, a prominent businessman from Little Rock, built a small diner on Highway 301 at the North Carolina border. From this modest beginning he developed South of the Border, a giant tourist complex. The nearby community of Dillon enjoyed many benefits from its operation, as well as from Schafer’s generosity.
(Dillon County; 2020 pop. 6,289). In the late 1800s, the need arose in northeastern South Carolina for a north-south rail line to bypass the long loop eastward through Wilmington, North Carolina. To solve the problem, the Florence Railroad Company planned a line from Pee Dee, near Florence, to the North Carolina border, which would also pass through the town of Little Rock in upper Marion County. However, the project seemed doomed when several Little Rock landowners refused to grant rights-of-way. James W. Dillon, a Little Rock merchant, and his son, Thomas, recognized the importance of the railroad to local development. Acting quickly, they obtained options on fifty acres, about five miles east of Little Rock, which they then offered to the railroad on the condition that a depot and a town named Dillon would be located there. The offer was accepted, and construction of the railroad began in 1886. The depot was built in a marshy clearing. Settlers quickly followed, and the fledgling town of Dillon soon took shape. While construction of the railroad was under way, the Little Rock physician John H. David arrived in Dillon and instructed railroad engineers to plot a circle one mile in diameter from the depot. Within this circle wide streets were laid, parallel and perpendicular, forming perfect blocks three hundred feet square. The state legislature approved Dillon’s application for a municipal charter on December 22, 1888.
When Dillon County was formed in 1910, it became necessary to construct a courthouse in Dillon, the county seat. James and Thomas Dillon contributed $25,000 toward its construction, as well as half of the full block needed for its location. Work on the impressive two-story, beaux arts structure was completed at a cost of $100,000. In 1999 the courthouse underwent a $1 million renovation. To celebrate the completed project, a special session of the S.C. Supreme Court was held in the beautifully decorated courtroom, with many dignitaries in attendance.
In 1928, thanks to the influence of Dillon County senator Robert S. Rogers and Dr. Wade Stackhouse, a Dillonite who chaired the S.C. Coastal Highway Commission, U.S. Highway 301 was routed through Dillon. This highway became the major overland route between New York and Florida. Located about the midpoint of the route, Dillon became a popular stop-over point, and tourist business flourished. In 1950 Alan Schafer, a prominent businessman from Little Rock, built a small diner on Highway 301 at the North Carolina border. From this modest beginning he developed South of the Border, a giant tourist complex. The nearby community of Dillon enjoyed many benefits from its operation, as well as from Schafer’s generosity.
The citizens of Dillon possessed an optimistic outlook for their community as it entered the twenty-first century. Dillon had a new library, plans for a Young Men’s Christian Association and community center, a downtown revitalization project, and Salley Huggins-Cook, the city’s youngest and first female mayor.