The region’s antebellum economy was dominated by agriculture, and Lancaster served as the district’s central market for farm produce, especially cotton. By 1920 more than three-fourths of the crop value in the county came from cotton, with a similar percentage of county farms worked by propertyless tenants.
(Lancaster County; 2020 pop. 9,156). Originally called Barnetsville, Lancaster was established as the seat of government for Lancaster County. Prior to 1791 court sessions were held near Hanging Rock, but they were moved after Kershaw County was created from the southern part of Lancaster. Since Hanging Rock was no longer at the center of the reconfigured Lancaster County, the new site was chosen. The citizens of Lancaster petitioned the General Assembly in 1801 to incorporate the village, but no action was taken because the local landowner William McKenna sued to prevent the expropriation of his property for town streets. The case was settled in 1824 in favor of the town, and the legislature incorporated Lancaster in 1830. The architect Robert Mills designed the jail and courthouse (completed in 1823 and 1828 respectively). In 1835 the Lancaster Presbyterian Church became the first religious building constructed in the town, and the noted theologian James H. Thornwell was the congregation’s first minister.
The region’s antebellum economy was dominated by agriculture, and Lancaster served as the district’s central market for farm produce, especially cotton. Most Lancaster residents were Unionists during the 1840s and 1850s but supported secession in 1860. In February 1865 Union cavalrymen under the command of Judson Kilpatrick occupied the town of Lancaster for five days, setting fire to the courthouse, jail, and other buildings. The fires were extinguished before much damage was done.
Sharecropping replaced slave labor on area farms after the Civil War, and cotton was cultivated more extensively than ever. By 1920 more than three-fourths of the crop value in the county came from cotton, with a similar percentage of county farms worked by propertyless tenants. Poverty in the rural areas was alleviated somewhat by the opening of the Lancaster Cotton Mill by Leroy Springs in 1896, the first of many cotton factories to be built in the area. Many local farmers sought work in the mills and congregated in the unincorporated mill villages of Midway and Brookland, just beyond the Lancaster town limits. The cotton textile industry gradually replaced agriculture as the economic foundation of the Lancaster area and continued to anchor the town’s economy for the rest of the twentieth century.
Between 1940 and 1970 the population of Lancaster more than doubled and educational and medical facilities improved. In 1959 a branch campus of the University of South Carolina was opened, and by 1970 construction of the eight-story Elliott White Springs Memorial Hospital was complete. In the last half of the twentieth century, Lancaster’s economy diversified beyond its reliance on Springs Mills. In particular, a nearby Duracell battery plant employed one thousand people and produced one billion alkaline batteries annually. Other town and county residents made the forty-mile commute to jobs in Charlotte, North Carolina. From 1990 to 2000 the city’s population dropped slightly from 8,914 to 8,177 while the county’s increased by 6,835 people. The 2000 census showed that African Americans made up almost half of the city’s population, which also included a small but growing number of Hispanics.
Beaty, Ernest A., and Carl W. McMurray. Lancaster County: Economic and Social. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1923.
Floyd, Viola C., comp. Historical Notes from Lancaster County, South Carolina. Lancaster, S.C.: Lancaster County Historical Commission, 1977.
Pettus, Louise. The Waxhaws. Rock Hill, S.C.: Regal Graphics, 1993. Pettus, Louise, and Martha Bishop. Lancaster County: A Pictorial History. Norfolk, Va.: Donning, 1984