Little expansion or alteration of the downtown area occurred in the twentieth century, and Main Street continued to look much as it had in the late nineteenth century. By 2000, however, Union’s historic downtown had become a cherished asset.
(Union County; 2020 pop. 7,535). Although European settlers first arrived in the 1750s to the area that became Union, it was not until the General Assembly created the county in 1785 that the town of Union began to take shape. Colonel Thomas Brandon, the area’s greatest Revolutionary War hero, donated two acres to locate a courthouse and jail on the top of what came to be known as Jail Hill. Brandon was held in such high regard that there was a movement to name the county seat Brandonburgh in his honor. But nothing came of the effort, and the town was named Unionville. The original 1789 brick courthouse was replaced in 1823 with a stone building designed by Robert Mills. It was demolished in 1911 to make room for the current courthouse, but Mills’s 1823 stone jail next door survived and continued to be used for government offices. In 1817 the first church (Presbyterian) was built in the village, and by the 1830s a business district had grown up on Jail Hill around the courthouse. Through the decades the business district stretched eastward away from the hill, reaching Church Street four blocks away by the end of the century. The town was incorporated in 1837 as Union, although Unionville continued in popular usage until the 1870s.
Starting in the 1890s, Union began a transition from small farming town to industrial city. The first textile mill was Union Mill, built a block behind the courthouse in 1893 by Thomas Duncan. Expanded in 1896, Union Mill was joined by Excelsior Mill in 1897, which produced knitwear in the undeveloped southwestern part of town. Together the two mills employed 1,317 workers by 1900, almost ninety percent of whom were from nearby rural areas. In 1890 there were 1,609 people living in Union. By 1900 the population had grown to 5,400. The trend continued through the next decade with the development of two mill village suburbs: Buffalo (built by Thomas Duncan three miles northwest of Union in 1900) and Monarch Mills (founded by John A. Fant just east of town in 1900).
Union’s rapid growth stalled by 1910. Little expansion or alteration of the downtown area occurred in the twentieth century, and Main Street continued to look much as it had in the late nineteenth century. By 2000, however, Union’s historic downtown had become a cherished asset. Most of the new development that occurred in the city took place on the U.S. Highway 176 bypass. Constructed in 1955, the route was widened to five lanes in the early 1970s and soon became a clogged artery. By the early 1990s there were four shopping centers, a six-screen theater, and many separate stores and offices lining the bypass. Although the population of the town had grown little since 1910, the burgeoning businesses along the bypass demonstrated that modern Unionites were much better off per capita than those of their grandparents’ day.
Charles, Allan D. The Narrative History of Union County, South Carolina. 3d ed. Greenville, S.C.: A Press, 1997.
Mabry, Mannie Lee, ed. Union County Heritage, 1981. Union, S.C.: Union County Heritage Committee, 1981.