Greenwood escaped most of the ravages of the Civil War. While no armies plundered its towns and farms, many men entered Confederate service and no resident was spared the war’s economic dislocations.
(456 sq. miles; 2020 pop. 71,074). Located in the lower Piedmont southwest of the Saluda River, Greenwood County was created in 1897. Its boundaries were carved out of Abbeville and Edgefield Counties. Following a contentious struggle against interests in Abbeville, residents approved the formation of Greenwood County, named for the town selected as the county seat, by a margin of 1,019 to 84. Thus Greenwood joined four other new counties, all established in 1897 to strengthen the rural base of Ben Tillman’s political machine.
The new county possessed a rich heritage. In the colonial era, about 1750, Robert Goudy built a store and plantation on the Cherokee Path near Ninety Six. Goudy’s establishment became an assembly area and supply depot for British military operations against Cherokee villages during the French and Indian War. After 1769, when the province enlarged its judicial system, Ninety Six became the courthouse town for a huge backcountry district of the same name. Greenwood County also includes the sites of two significant Revolutionary War battles near Ninety Six. From November 19–21, 1775, patriots commanded by Andrew Williamson successfully defended their “rustic fortification” made of “old fence rails joined to a barn,” and held off a Loyalist army in the first land battle of the war south of New England. Several years later, in 1781, General Nathanael Greene led Continental and militia units in a lengthy but unsuccessful siege of a British outpost at Ninety Six.
Greenwood escaped most of the ravages of the Civil War. While no armies plundered its towns and farms, many men entered Confederate service and no resident was spared the war’s economic dislocations. The Reconstruction era brought several positive changes with the establishment of two new educational institutions for local freedmen, the Brewer Normal and Industrial School (1872) and the Payne Institute (1870), the latter of which relocated to Columbia in 1880 and became Allen University.
Railroads played a vital part in the county’s transformation from an agricultural to an industrial economy. The first line through the future Greenwood County, completed in 1852, was the Greenville and Columbia Railroad. Four other lines served the county by 1929 and several towns (Bradley, Hodges, Troy, and Verdery) sprang up along the tracks.
As a “New South” emerged from the region’s drive for industrial development, William L. Durst founded the Greenwood Cotton Mill and it began production in 1890. Plagued by inefficient equipment and limited capital, the venture nearly failed in the early 1900s. Only the selection of James Cuthbert Self as president and a generous contract with the Draper Corporation of Massachusetts for new machinery saved the struggling company. By 1935 Self had purchased all the company’s stock and made Greenwood Mills a privately held corporation. Several other successful textile mills were launched before 1930, including Grendel Mill (chartered 1896), Ninety Six Cotton Mill (chartered 1902), and Panola Mill (chartered 1910). John Pope Abney acquired the Grendel Mill in 1917 and marked the beginning of Abney Mills, a textile chain that included twenty-seven factories in three states before the corporation was dismantled in the 1970s. On the northern border of the county, future U.S. Senator Nathaniel Dial attempted to develop Ware Shoals Manufacturing Company, expecting to drive its looms with hydroelectric power generated from the Saluda River. When Dial encountered financial difficulties in 1905, he persuaded a New York businessman, Benjamin Riegel, to invest. Riegel moved to South Carolina where he developed Riegel Mill and its model industrial village of Ware Shoals.
The Great Depression reshaped both the economy and the landscape of the county. Agricultural production and the number of farms declined. Textile companies struggled to survive and fought efforts to unionize employees. The most significant New Deal project was the construction of Buzzards’ Roost Dam on the Saluda River to impound Lake Greenwood and generate electricity with a county-owned power plant. Completed in 1940, the dam provided jobs and cheap power, while Lake Greenwood created recreational facilities and an abundant supply of water for new industry.
Faced with disappointing growth in the decade after World War II, the chamber of commerce launched a campaign to attract more diverse industry. The initial success came in 1959 when Chemstrand Corporation (later Solutia) built a multimillion-dollar nylon plant on Lake Greenwood. The county’s industrial payroll grew as other major companies (Westinghouse, Kemet, Velux America) chose Greenwood for manufacturing facilities. The most dramatic economic advance came in 1988 when Fuji Photo Film located its North American headquarters in Greenwood County. Its factories produced offset printing film, videotape, photography film, and QuickSnap cameras.
Greenwood County is home to two institutions of higher education, Lander University and Piedmont Technical College. The Greenwood Genetic Center is an internationally acclaimed medical research facility and Self Memorial Hospital, established after a devastating 1944 tornado, serves regional health care needs.
Residents of Greenwood County who achieved national recognition include Francis Salvador (ca. 1747–1776), the first Jewish member of the South Carolina legislature and the first in America to die in the Revolutionary War. The Reverend Samuel Lander, founder of Lander University, was an early champion of higher education for women. Two young boys who lived in the county when it was formed became national figures by midcentury: Louis Booker Wright, author and editor of works on colonial America and Elizabethan England, was director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.; Benjamin Elijah Mays won national praise as an influential civil rights leader and president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.
Bowen, Ann Herd. Greenwood County: A History. Greenwood, S.C.: The Museum, 1992.
Watson, Margaret J. Greenwood County Sketches: Old Roads and Early Families. Greenwood, S.C.: Attic Press, 1970.
Wright, Louis Booker. Barefoot in Arcadia: Memories of a More Innocent Era. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1974.