Attracted by the commercial activity around the station, a few residents built houses nearby. These first homes were scattered, with no indication of forming an orderly town. Slow initial growth increased rapidly once the fledgling town began to develop. In 1878 only seventy-five residents and three stores occupied Mullins. Twelve years later the population figure had jumped to 282.
(Marion County; 2020 pop. 4,139). The railway depot in the center of downtown Mullins has been associated with the town since its inception. Mullins did not exist when the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad arrived in 1854, but the town grew up around the railway station. The town was named for William Sydney Mullins, who moved into Marion County from North Carolina in the early 1800s after earning a law degree at the University of North Carolina. As a member of the state House of Representatives in 1852, Colonel Mullins helped plan the railroad and determined that its route would cross Marion County. The station was called Mullins Depot to honor him. The popular legislator later served as president of the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad.
Attracted by the commercial activity around the station, a few residents built houses nearby. These first homes were scattered, with no indication of forming an orderly town. Slow initial growth increased rapidly once the fledgling town began to develop. In 1878 only seventy-five residents and three stores occupied Mullins. Twelve years later the population figure had jumped to 282. Within a few more years other stores opened and, of more significance to the establishment of a community, two churches and a school, Mullins Academy, had been built.
In 1891 Dr. C. T. Ford planted an experimental tobacco plot to determine if quality tobacco could be grown in the area. Others followed his lead, receiving good prices for their yield at the Virginia markets. Production of this new agricultural staple expanded with remarkable speed. The first tobacco sales building in Mullins, Planter’s Warehouse, was completed in 1894, and the first auction sale was held that same year. Additional warehouses followed. Throughout the twentieth century Mullins remained the largest tobacco market in the state.
The town’s development kept pace with the growth of its profitable money crop. Attractive homes appeared, new schools and churches opened, and a weekly newspaper, the Enterprise, commenced publication. Several industries were attracted to the area. Mullins Hospital was built in the 1920s through the influence of Dr. Lon McMillan. The Mullins Civic League established a small public library in the early 1900s, and in 1941 the Mullins Library opened in an attractive building on North Main Street. On January 2, 1945, Governor Ransome J. Williams, a local resident, was inaugurated on the steps of the building. John L. McMillan had a long, distinguished career as a congressman from the area. Other Mullins men who held state offices were O. Frank Thornton, secretary of state, and Bill Harrelson, secretary of agriculture.
Tobacco remained the economic and cultural center of Mullins at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The South Carolina Tobacco Museum, located in the old depot, attracted thousands of annual visitors. Tobacco also took center stage in Mullins each September, when the town held its annual Golden Leaf Festival.
Sellers, W. W. A History of Marion County, South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1902.