The opening of the Lexington Textile Mill in 1890 brought some 150 manufacturing jobs to the area, but the commerce of Lexington remained in the shadow of Columbia to the east and the twin towns of Leesville and Batesburg to the west. In 1894 and 1918 disastrous fires gutted Main Street.
(Lexington County; 2020 pop. 22,716). Lexington, named for the Revolutionary War battle in Massachusetts, was founded in 1820 to replace Granby (now Cayce) as the Lexington District seat. Two acres were purchased from Barbara Drafts Corley in the center of the district on a high sandy ridge, which was deemed healthier than low-lying, flood-prone Granby. Construction of a courthouse and jail soon followed, but the town remained little more than a village for most of its early existence. In the mid-1820s the architect Robert Mills counted just fifteen houses and eighty residents. The town was called Lexington Court House until 1900.
Early settlers were of German and Swiss stock, who became tradesmen, farmers, and artisans known for their industrious habits and Lutheran faith. The first newspapers appeared in 1853, the Lexington Telegraph and the Lexington Flag. Incorporation came in 1861. At the time the town boasted two churches, a Lutheran seminary (which later moved to nearby Columbia), the private Lexington Academy, a carriage factory, a saw-and gristmill, blacksmiths, two newspapers, a tannery, and a livestock yard. Still too small to be a significant trade center, Lexington instead served as a retail market for manufactured goods from nearby Columbia.
The scorched-earth policy of General William T. Sherman during the Civil War included Lexington, which was all but destroyed by Union troops in February 1865. Especially detrimental was the burning of the Lexington courthouse records.
Small farms with varied crops and a developing lumber industry aided in the postbellum recovery, as did the completion of the Columbia and Augusta Railroad. The Lexington Dispatch began in 1871 and merged with the Lexington County Chronicle in 2001. The opening of the Lexington Textile Mill in 1890 brought some 150 manufacturing jobs to the area, but the commerce of Lexington remained in the shadow of Columbia to the east and the twin towns of Leesville and Batesburg to the west. In 1894 and 1918 disastrous fires gutted Main Street. The brick buildings that replaced those lost in the fires survive to form the core of the town’s historic downtown.
The tiny courthouse town sprang to life in the final decades of the twentieth century, thanks to the sprawling population of the Columbia metropolitan area. Growing from a population of just 969 in 1970 to almost 10,000 in 2000, Lexington became one of the fastest-growing towns in South Carolina. This growth was encouraged by the town’s excellent school system, easy access to major highways, and its proximity to Lake Murray, which experienced phenomenal residential development during the 1990s.
Scott, Edwin J. Random Recollections of a Long Life, 1806 to 1876. 1884. Reprint, Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1969.