Despite a short boom in phosphate mining from the 1880s through 1910s and the rise of more durable forest industries, prosperity proved elusive. In the 1880s, when house lots were still fenced to contain livestock and baseball and brass bands were the rage, the town got a railroad spur that connected Walterboro to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.
(Colleton County; 2010 pop. 5,398). Just after the Revolutionary War, rice planters along the Edisto, Combahee, and Ashepoo Rivers, tired of an annual summer jaunt of fifty miles to Charleston, created an alternate refuge from the malarial swamps closer to home. By the 1790s, among local forests and freshwater springs, they built a village of about twenty log houses, which they called Walterboro, after two brothers whose retreat was prominent among them. A parish house for the conduct of public business was authorized in 1796, a sign that the healthy landscape had attracted permanent residents. Owing to the skill and labor of black slaves and the profits from rice and indigo, the planters and town both prospered. In 1817 centrally located Walterboro succeeded Jacksonboro as the Colleton District seat. An elegant brick courthouse designed by Robert Mills entered service in 1822, followed in quick succession by stores, a tavern, and a library. In 1826 Walterboro was incorporated, with boundaries extending “w of a mile in every direction from the Walterborough Library” and a municipal government consisting of an elected council and intendant (mayor).
Walterboro was a hotbed of states’ rights sentiment in the antebellum years when the North and the South dueled over tariffs, western expansion, and slavery. In 1828 Robert Barnwell Rhett launched the nullification movement at the Walterboro Courthouse. In 1861 the white men of Walterboro shouldered rifles and went to war to defend their beliefs and interests. Four years later the vanquished remnant came home to find slavery dead, agriculture in decline, whites poorer, and freed slaves accounting for more than half the Walterboro population of 834. Despite a short boom in phosphate mining from the 1880s through 1910s and the rise of more durable forest industries, prosperity proved elusive. In the 1880s, when house lots were still fenced to contain livestock and baseball and brass bands were the rage, the town got a railroad spur that connected Walterboro to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Town councils passed laws protecting pine trees and Sundays and also installed oil lamps before switching to electric lights in 1915, about the time gasoline cars appeared. The two primary streets were paved in 1921.
In the latter decades of the twentieth century, Walterboro added population and wealth as it developed jobs in construction and light industry as well as public services, such as the $28 million Department of Veteran’s Affairs Nursing Home. The high school was integrated and established itself as a football power in the 1970s, just as Colleton County was traversed by a new federal highway, Interstate 95. But if the old town was fading, links to the past survived. The farmers’ market was still a central institution. Townspeople held fast to traditional ties of family and church. Hunting was a favored pastime.
Glover, Beulah. Narratives of Colleton County. N.p., 1963. Jordan, Laylon Wayne, and Elizabeth Stringfellow. A Place Called St. John’s. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1998.