(Oconee County; 2020 pop. 4,460). Founded in 1850, Walhalla was a carefully planned German settlement that became the seat of Oconee County. Its settlers were members of the German Colonization Society, formed in Charleston by John A. Wagner, a German immigrant who had become a successful newspaper editor and businessman. Society members wanted suitable land to pursue their agrarian avocation. After advertising, the group was approached by Colonel Joseph Grisham of Pickens District, who offered to sell a tract of land. On December 24, 1849, the society purchased 17,859 acres from Grisham for $27,000. The town remained distinctly German until it became the courthouse seat in 1868. Its name, pronounced “Valhalla,” was taken from Norse mythology and means “Garden of the Gods.”
The town was laid out on a ridge at the foot of Stumphouse Mountain in eight four-acre sections on either side of a long and wide Main Street. Each society member received a half-acre lot on Main Street and an acre on either North or South Broad Street. Opposite those streets fifty-acre farms were laid out, and a meeting to draw lots for the property was held in Charleston on March 26, 1850. The first German immigrants arrived shortly thereafter. By 1854 Walhalla had a German population of some four hundred. The town was incorporated on December 19, 1855. One of the first structures was what became St. John’s Lutheran Church, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
At the outset of the Civil War, the Walhalla Riflemen, first organized in 1852, was among the first militia units to volunteer for Confederate service. During the war the town became a haven for lowcountry refugees, and nonresidents had to have certificates issued by the town council to remain within the town limits. The relative isolation of the region surrounding Walhalla attracted deserters and other men attempting to avoid military service. After the Confederate surrender, a small contingent of federal troops occupied the town.
After Walhalla was selected as the seat for Oconee County in 1868, the predominant German population was diluted by an influx of new settlers, including many from Pickens Court House, the former seat of the old Pickens District. The Keowee Courier likewise migrated from Pickens to Walhalla in 1868.
Walhalla had three colleges in its early history. Newberry College moved to Walhalla in 1856, remaining until 1877 when it returned to the town of Newberry. Citizens then organized Adger College under the Presbytery of South Carolina, which was discontinued in 1886. Walhalla Female College opened in 1877 but failed ten years later.
Known as the gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Walhalla has maintained a steady population, but the German influence is all but gone. Drawing on its heritage, however, the town has held an annual Octoberfest celebration since 1979. The German Colonization Society no longer exists, and newer arrivals have been attracted to the town’s growing manufacturing sector. Twentieth-century industries included Avondale Mills, Nason (which manufactured electrical switches), Oxford Industries, and Torrington Bearings.
Shealy, George Benet. Walhalla: A German Settlement in Upstate South Carolina, “The Garden of the Gods.” Seneca, S.C.: Blue Ridge Art Association, 1990.