Largely because of its proximity to the railroad, the town initially experienced rapid growth.
(Cherokee County; 2020 pop. 12,695). Incorporated in 1875, the city of Gaffney was named for Irish immigrant Michael Gaffney. He came to the area in around 1804, bought land, and constructed a house, barns, and a store and tavern. The property, known as Gaffney’s Cross Roads or Gaffney’s Old Field, became a local gathering place but failed to compete with nearby Limestone Springs, the site of a girl’s school and mineral springs patronized by a wealthy clientele. In the early 1870s, Mary Gaffney, Michael’s widow, lured the Atlanta and Charlotte Air Line (later the Southern Railway) to her property with the promise of a free right-of-way from the Cross Roads to the Broad River. Seven hundred acres of Gaffney’s land was then laid out into town lots. A town government was formed in 1874, and Gaffney was incorporated on March 3, 1875.
Largely because of its proximity to the railroad, the town initially experienced rapid growth. Four hundred citizens in 1880 became 1,631 within ten years, 3,937 by 1900, and 4,767 by 1910. Private schools (1876); a board of health (1881); a newspaper, the Gaffney Ledger (1894); the Gaffney School District (1897); a library (1905); hospital (1908); and a board of public works (1909) followed. At the same time, industries such as the Cherokee Falls Manufacturing Company (1882), the Gaffney Manufacturing Company (1892), and the Limestone (1900), Irene (1905), Globe (1905), and Hamrick (1907) mills provided investment and employment opportunities. In 1901 the Merchants and Planters Bank was formed to manage the city’s investments.
In 1896 Gaffney, in conjunction with Limestone Springs and Blacksburg, rallied dissent in their respective areas in order to create a separate county. Their effort was endorsed by Governor John Gary Evans, approved by the electorate, and recognized by the General Assembly in January 1897. The result was Cherokee County with Gaffney as its county seat.
Plummeting cotton prices in the 1920s and the Depression of the 1930s slowed the city’s growth, as many citizens moved away in search of work because of curtailed mill production. World War II reinvigorated the Gaffney textile mills with war contracts, sparking a renewed population boom in the city as well as its unincorporated mill suburb, East Gaffney. Between 1940 and 1970, the population of Gaffney nearly doubled from 7,636 to 13,253. Growth in the ensuing decades, however, lay in the suburbs. Suburbanites outnumbered city dwellers in 1990 and outstripped them even further in the decade when Cherokee County’s eighteen percent growth rate exceeded that of South Carolina as a whole.
Cherokee County. Gaffney, S.C.: Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce, 2000.
Moss, Bobby G. The Old Iron District: A Study of the Development of Cherokee County: 1750–1897. Clinton, S.C.: Jacobs, 1972.
150th Anniversary Souvenir Program. Gaffney, S.C.: Gaffney Sesquicentennial, 1954.