Edgefield continued to be the district’s focus of political activity during Reconstruction. Rallies were held in the courthouse square, as were information sessions for freedmen.
(Edgefield County; 2020 pop. 4,825). Edgefield was founded as the Edgefield County seat in 1791 because of its central geographic location. Alternately referred to as Edgefield Court House, Edgefield Village, and Edgefield, the town was incorporated in 1830.
From the early to mid–nineteenth century, Edgefield was the political and social center of the district. The Edgefield Advertiser, the oldest newspaper in South Carolina to publish continuously under the same nameplate, began operation in 1836. The present-day courthouse was built in 1839 on a high point in the village and followed the design characteristics of the noted South Carolina architect Robert Mills. The town was particularly known in the antebellum period for its great number of accomplished lawyers, many of whom became state political leaders. These included Francis Pickens, Francis Wardlaw, George McDuffie, John C. Sheppard, and James O. Sheppard. However, despite its leading role in politics and its wealth, Edgefield was not a commercial center. Most local cotton dealing and shipping business was conducted at Hamburg or Augusta on the Savannah River.
Edgefield continued to be the district’s focus of political activity during Reconstruction. Rallies were held in the courthouse square, as were information sessions for freedmen. The town grew as African Americans established their own social and religious institutions after the Civil War, such as the Macedonia Baptist Church in 1868. Reconstruction leaders and former Edgefield slaves Paris Simkins and Lawrence Cain won seats in the state legislature and led local militia groups. At the same time, pre–Civil War political leaders and former Confederate military officers from Edgefield, such as Martin Gary and Matthew Butler, were some of the most ardent opponents of the Reconstruction government.
Industry did not develop in Edgefield until 1890 when the Edgefield Ginning, Milling, and Fertilizer Company opened. The mill was an important economic resource both in the cotton purchased from local farmers and in the large number of persons it employed. Daniel Augustus Tompkins later purchased the company and built a textile mill next to the oil mill in 1898. The mill and nearby worker housing were located in the Cumberland neighborhood, named for the Cumberland Gap Railroad that ran from Edgefield to Charleston. The mill later was sold to the Kendall Company and remained the town’s most important industry through the first half of the twentieth century.
Edgefield suffered through difficult financial times in the second half of the twentieth century when the mill ceased operation. The town’s distance from major highways and interstates also hindered its growth, and its population stagnated. While the agricultural and logging industries remained important employers, beginning in the 1990s Edgefield worked to attract new manufacturing development and expand tourism. From these efforts, the town was named as a discovery center location in the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor, and the National Wild Turkey Federation moved its headquarters to Edgefield and opened the Wild Turkey Center and Museum.
Burton, Orville Vernon. In My Father’s House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.
Chapman, John A. History of Edgefield County from the Earliest Settlements to 1897. 1897. Reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1980.