Newberry County was formed in 1785 when the General Assembly divided Ninety Six District into six counties. In 1789 John Coate gave two acres for public buildings and a plan was drawn for a county seat. A decade later, Newberry Court House was a small village with postal service, a courthouse, a jail, residences, and a few taverns and small stores.
(631 sq. miles; 2020 pop. 38,445). Newberry County lies between the Broad and Saluda Rivers in the lower Piedmont. The origin of its name is uncertain. Some believe it was the name of an early settler, although no such name exists in surviving records. County historian Judge John Belton O’Neall suggested that the earliest settlers considered the area “as pretty as a new berry.”
Nomadic Shawnee Indians lived on the Saluda River in the seventeenth century. Europeans from northern colonies arrived around 1744, with the first inhabitants settling by 1749. German and Swiss immigrants occupied the area between the Broad and Saluda Rivers, later called the Dutch Fork (deutsch volk, or German folk), which included the eastern portion of Newberry. By 1749 Dutch Fork had a population of 423. Abundant waterways attracted additional immigrants, and settlement expanded along the Enoree and Little Rivers. Although residents served on both sides of the Revolutionary War, Newberry’s overall experience was limited compared to other regions of the state. The region was the site of several skirmishes, the most notable of which was a defeat of British major Patrick Ferguson and a Tory detachment near Whitmire.
Newberry County was formed in 1785 when the General Assembly divided Ninety Six District into six counties. In 1789 John Coate gave two acres for public buildings and a plan was drawn for a county seat. A decade later, Newberry Court House was a small village with postal service, a courthouse, a jail, residences, and a few taverns and small stores. Reorganized as a district in 1800, Newberry’s population stood at 12,906, including some 3,000 slaves.
Although Newberry remained overwhelmingly rural throughout the nineteenth century, several nodes of settlement evolved into villages and towns. Whitmire’s first settler, John Duncan, arrived from Pennsylvania in 1752. Thomas Chappell came in 1756 and soon after established a Saluda River ferry and what became the town of Chappells. The Prosperity Meeting House gave its name to the postbellum town of Prosperity, which originated as the village of Frog Level. The town of Peak near the Broad River was named for Greenville and Columbia Railroad superintendent H. T. Peak. Pomaria, originally known as Countsville, was renamed in 1840 after the famous horticultural nursery operated by William Summer.
Like much of the state, Newberry experienced destruction during the Civil War. Homes, businesses, and a portion of the fledgling Newberry College campus were destroyed or damaged by Union troops late in the war. The county experienced economic hardship during Reconstruction, with poor whites and newly freed slaves relegated to sharecropping. Widespread tenancy and an over-reliance on cotton depressed Newberry’s agricultural sector for the remainder of the century.
The Newberry Cotton Mill was the largest in the state when it began operating in 1884. Additional mills followed, including Mollohon (1902) and Oakland (1912) in Newberry, and Glen-Lowry (1902) in Whitmire. Textile manufacturing remained the county’s primary industrial employer for most of the twentieth century. After World War II, pulpwood became an important factor in the county economy, as did a revitalized agricultural sector. Cotton gave way to dairy and poultry production. Textile plants continued to appear as well, including those opened by the Prosperity Manufacturing Company (1947) and Old School Manufacturing (1958) in Prosperity.
After peaking in 1930 at 34,681, Newberry County’s population experienced a progressive decline that did not reverse until 1980. Part of this decline was due to the departure of African Americans, thousands of whom left South Carolina for better opportunities in the North. The Newberry County Development Board was chartered in 1957 to promote industrial development. Economic diversification efforts continued into the 1960s, spurred by the completion of Interstate 26. New manufacturers included Shakespeare Co. in 1965, Owens-Illinois, Inc. in 1966, and Louis Rich Co. in 1966. By the 1990s major products in the county’s economy included fiberglass, automobile wheel covers, eggs, poultry feed, and hosiery.
Education in the county went through rapid changes in the late twentieth century. Among the last wave of counties in the state to integrate, Newberry schools achieved racial integration in 1970. Two-party competition arrived with the election of Republican Eugene C. Griffith of Newberry to the state senate in 1966. However, Democrats continued to dominate most local elections through the end of the century. In presidential elections and many statewide elections, Newberry County is a bellwether county, often voting for the winner in the now two-party competitive state. Notable Newberrians of the twentieth century included Governor and U.S. Senator Coleman Blease, state Speaker of the House Thomas H. Pope, Jr., and state Comptroller General James Lander.
Throughout the last half of the twentieth century, Newberry County achieved modest growth. Like most of the state, agriculture declined in importance, as did the increasingly volatile textile industry. By 1990 manufacturing was still the predominant employment sector despite substantial gains in the service sector. The county no longer experienced out-migration. The city of Newberry retained its rural, small town character while building an industrial park to position itself for economic development. In 1999 the town completed a multimillion-dollar renovation of the Newberry Opera House. The facility once again became a performing arts center attracting nationally renowned musicians, providing cultural and artistic offerings, and revitalizing downtown development.
Farley, M. Foster. Newberry County in the American Revolution. Newberry, S.C.: Newberry County Bicentennial Commission, 1975.
Newberry County Historical Society. Bicentennial History of Newberry County. Dallas, Tex.: Taylor Publishing, 1989.
O’Neall, John Belton, and John A. Chapman. The Annals of Newberry. 1892. Reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1974.
Pope, Thomas H. The History of Newberry County, South Carolina. 2 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1973–1992.