Rock Hill began in 1852 as a depot and watering station on the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad. The name came from a notation on a construction supervisor’s map marking a spot where the road encountered a small, flinty knoll.
(York County; 2020 pop. 76,318). Rock Hill began in 1852 as a depot and watering station on the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad. The name came from a notation on a construction supervisor’s map marking a spot where the road encountered a small, flinty knoll. The railroad had planned to run its line through nearby Ebenezer, the second-largest settlement in York District.
However, Ebenezer citizens objected to the smoke and noise a train would produce and forced the railroad to be built elsewhere. A plantation owner, Alexander Templeton Black, allowed the railroad to pass through his property and consequently became known as the founding father of Rock Hill. The original town plan encompassed twenty-three lots laid out along a single street labeled “Main.” The establishment of a post office on April 17, 1852, became the unofficial birth date of Rock Hill. In 1869 a group of citizens petitioned the legislature to incorporate the town, stating that Rock Hill contained “over three hundred inhabitants, two churches, eleven stores, two bar rooms, two hotels, one male and one female school.” Opponents protested, arguing that Rock Hill was only a railroad town with half of its population “of a transient and floating character.” The debate postponed the incorporation of Rock Hill by the General Assembly until February 26, 1870.
Through the efforts of the local entrepreneur James Morrow Ivy in the 1870s, Rock Hill developed into a booming cotton market. In 1872 Ivy founded a newspaper, the Lantern, which became the Herald two years later. He was also active in the drive that established the first steam-powered textile mill in the upcountry, the Rock Hill Cotton Factory, in 1880. Rock Hill had four cotton mills by 1890 and added two more in 1896, the Arcade Mills and Manchester Mills. The corporate limits of Rock Hill were extended in 1890, and it was rechartered as a city on December 24, 1892. The 1890s also saw the city make a successful bid to become the new home of the Winthrop Normal and Industrial College, which opened in Rock Hill in 1895. Two black junior colleges were established in the same period: Friendship in 1891 and Clinton College in 1894. In 1915 Rock Hill became the second town in South Carolina to adopt the city-manager form of government.
In the early twentieth century Rock Hill expanded its industrial base beyond the cotton textile industry. In 1916 the carriage maker John Gary Anderson organized the Anderson Motor Company, which produced as many as thirty-five automobiles per day before its failure in 1924. In 1929 the Lowenstein Corporation of New York converted the automobile plant into its Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Company (known locally as the Bleachery). Other major industries to locate in Rock Hill were the fiber maker Celanese Corporation of America in 1948 and the paper manufacturer Bowaters Carolina Corporation in 1959. The presence of these three giants–a bleachery, a major acetate yarn plant, and one of the world’s largest paper mills–helped Rock Hill weather the departure of several textile plants in the early 1970s.
During the 1970s, in an effort to revitalize the city center, officials roofed over a block of the downtown and converted it into a mall. But most local shoppers continued to shun downtown in favor of a new shopping complex on Cherry Road (U.S. Highway 21), the city’s main connector with Charlotte, North Carolina. The expanding metropolis just across the state line also attracted a growing number of Rock Hill shoppers and commuters, an attraction accelerated by the completion of Interstate 77 in 1982.
In 1986 Betty Jo Rhea, a former councilwoman, became Rock Hill’s first woman mayor. Her twelve-year tenure initiated numerous changes that beautified Rock Hill. The roof was removed from downtown, and major revitalization projects began. The Downtown Rock Hill Association was formed in 1993. A gateway to the city was incorporated into Dave Lyle Boulevard (named for a former mayor), and city boundaries were enlarged through annexation. During the 1990s Rock Hill experienced an influx of new business and industry, including the chemical producer Atotech in 1996 and Tyco Electronics in 1997. The Rock Hill Industrial Park, established in 1963, continued to thrive and eventually contained twenty businesses employing some fourteen hundred people. The city’s remarkable success in attracting foreign investment and promoting economic growth prompted former governor Carroll Campbell to proclaim, “Every city in this state should look to Rock Hill to see the formula for success in action.”
Brown, Douglas Summers. A City without Cobwebs: A History of Rock Hill, South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1953.
Hildebrand, Jack D. Rock Hill: Reflections. Chatsworth, Calif.: Windsor, 1989.
Lee, J. Edward, and Anne E. Beard, eds. Rock Hill, South Carolina: Gateway to the New South. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 1999.
Shankman, Arnold, et al. York County, South Carolina: Its People and Its Heritage. Norfolk, Va.: Donning, 1983.
We the People . . . E Pluribus Unum: A Study in the Processes of Local Government. Rock Hill, S.C.: Rock Hill School District No. 3, 1971.