Although the most important district town, Newberry remained quite small through most of the antebellum era. In 1826 Robert Mills counted between twenty and thirty dwellings and stores that carried on “considerable business” during court sessions. By 1840 the population stood at just three hundred, and Columbia was the principal market for most district planters.
(Newberry County; 2000 pop. 10,580). Newberry is the county seat of Newberry County. In 1785 the General Assembly created the county from the Ninety Six Judicial District. In 1789 the county accepted John Coate’s donation of two acres as a courthouse site. The first brick courthouse was built between 1799 and 1801 and torn down in 1850. Jacob Graves designed a replacement courthouse that was first used in 1853. After the Civil War, Osborne Wells repaired the old courthouse and added a symbolic frieze to the entablature of the front gable. The design shows an uprooted palmetto tree (the government of the state of South Carolina) clasped in the beak of an eagle (the United States of America).
Although the most important district town, Newberry remained quite small through most of the antebellum era. In 1826 Robert Mills counted between twenty and thirty dwellings and stores that carried on “considerable business” during court sessions. By 1840 the population stood at just three hundred, and Columbia was the principal market for most district planters. The 1850s, however, marked the start of considerable growth. The influential Bank of the State of South Carolina established an agency in Newberry in 1851, and the Bank of Newberry was chartered the following year. Town merchants invested in the Greenville and Columbia Railroad, which was completed in 1853 and whose line ran through Newberry. Newberry College was chartered in 1856 and opened in 1859. Between 1850 and 1870 the population almost quadrupled, from 509 to 1,891.
Newberry’s prosperity continued throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. In 1873 the Newberry Herald claimed that the town was the second largest cotton market in South Carolina, shipping some 24,000 bales annually. That same year the General Assembly approved the incorporation of the Newberry Cotton Mill, which commenced operations in 1884. Two railroads received charters as well, the Newberry and Chester (1873) and the Newberry and Augusta (1874). An opera house opened in 1882, a symbol of the town’s prosperity. In 1910 Newberry boasted, among other commercial establishments, two hotels, seven furniture stores, five hardware stores, and four banks. Two new cotton mills, the Mollohon Mill and Oakland Mill, commenced operations respectively in 1902 and 1912.
The 1920s and 1930s brought hard times to Newberry. The arrival of the boll weevil decimated area cotton farms, and town merchants suffered accordingly. Two banks failed, and a third was forced to merge. Workers in Newberry’s cotton mills, protesting against the hated “stretch-out,” carried out bitter strikes in 1934 and 1936 that divided residents for years.
Following World War II, there was a return to prosperity. Newberry’s first radio station, WKDK, went on the air in 1946. New, locally owned businesses included orchid growers Carter and Holmes and Senn Trucking Company. The opening of Interstate 26 and new industries swelled Newberry’s population by 12.7 percent between 1960 and 1970. The 1980s brought two natural disasters: a killer tornado on March 28, 1984, and a flood on August 18, 1986.
The renovation of the Newberry Opera House as a performing arts center, completed in 1999, sparked a renaissance of downtown Newberry. Newberry celebrates its past with its historic districts; its diversified economy and revived cultural base suggest a bright future.
Carwile, John B. Reminiscences of Newberry. 1890. Reprint, Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1970.
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.