Ridgeland might never have existed had the citizens of the village of Grahamville, about one mile east, not objected to the railroad being routed through their community. The small railroad station began to attract homes and small businesses. The community was first named Gopher Hill for the “burrowing” tortoise that inhabited the area.
(Jasper County; 2020 pop. 3,868). The town of Ridgeland grew around a depot established by the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, which was completed in 1860. Ridgeland might never have existed had the citizens of the village of Grahamville, about one mile east, not objected to the railroad being routed through their community. The small railroad station began to attract homes and small businesses. The community was first named Gopher Hill for the “burrowing” tortoise that inhabited the area.
The depot was burned during the Civil War and was rebuilt almost a mile north of its initial location. Because the station was on the highest ridge between Charleston and Savannah, the railroad named it Ridgeland. The small town was incorporated on December 24, 1894, with a population of 271. The railroad separated Beaufort and Hampton Counties, with Ridgeland astride that line. The charter stipulated that the town limits included all property within a one-mile rectangle surrounding the railroad depot. When Jasper County was formed by the state in 1912 from parts of Beaufort and Hampton Counties, Ridgeland, the largest and most central town in the new county, became the county seat. Its courthouse was completed in 1915 and remained in use at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The town’s city limits have been extended several times over the years by annexations.
After the Civil War, Ridgeland and the surrounding area were left in abject poverty. Most former rice and indigo plantations passed into “yankee” ownership and became hunting preserves, while small farmers began raising cotton and corn. Ridgeland catered to both the hunting clubs and area farms. Sawmills contributed to the early growth of the town, but the railroad, by then the Atlantic Coastline Railroad, remained at the center of town. As the automobile became more prevalent, Ridgeland’s location on U.S. Highway 17, the main route between New York and Florida, made the town a natural stopping place for travelers. The railroad dwindled in importance after World War II, and the Ridgeland depot closed in 1972. Railroad-related businesses, such as the cotton gin, sawmills, and the small hotels that faced the tracks, have long since disappeared.
The 1970s brought Interstate 95, while the 1980s brought a new interchange and shopping center. Ridgeland’s three interstate exits attracted motels, restaurants, service stations, and numerous small businesses. In the 1990s several new industries came to Ridgeland along with an expansion of Palmetto Electric Cooperative’s offices and maintenance facility. Major beautification projects costing in excess of $500,000 revitalized Main Street. The short commute from Ridgeland to Beaufort, Hilton Head, and Savannah made Ridgeland an increasingly popular location for many to live. The 1995 opening of the Ridgeland Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison, added some one thousand residents to Ridgeland’s population in the 1990s. New projects in the Ridgeland vicinity at the start of the twenty-first century, such as the SCANA Generating Plant, a planned University of South Carolina campus on the Beaufort-Jasper county line, a new hospital, and a proposed new seaport at the mouth of the Savannah River, promised additional growth.
Harvey, Bruce G. An Architectural and Historical Survey of Jasper County, South Carolina. Atlanta: Brockington and Associates, 1996.
Perry, Grace Fox. Moving Finger of Jasper. [Ridgeland, S.C., 1962].