(Anderson County; 2020 pop. 4,298). Around 1842 West Allen Williams discovered the mineral spring on his property that gave rise to the town named for him. Stories of the spring’s healing properties attracted people to try the waters. By 1845 an article in the Anderson Gazette on “Williams’ Spring” reported visitors living in tents around the spring, with a boardinghouse almost completed by Mr. Williams and plans to construct cabins. Another catalyst for development came in 1849 when the Greenville and Columbia Railroad announced plans to run near the famous spring. The first post office for the new village was established in 1850 as “Mineral Spring” but was changed to Williamston on February 9, 1852. By 1851 the population was 275. The town’s charter was granted on December 16, 1852.
By 1852 W. J. Cobb’s Williamston Hotel was completed, the first of several catering to the visitors attracted by the spring. Williamston seemed well on its way to becoming a fashionable resort, but a fire in 1860 destroyed the hotels and leveled most of the business district. Difficult years during the Civil War and Reconstruction further slowed the town’s development. One of the last skirmishes of the Civil War took place near Williamston on May 1, 1865, when cadets from the Arsenal Academy at Columbia had a brush with Stoneman’s Raiders.
At the start of the twentieth century, Williamston businesses included a variety of shops as well as a lumber mill, a cottonseed oil and fertilizer company, the Bank of Williamston, and the Gossett Cotton Mill (originally the Williamston Print Cloth Mill). Ransom’s Williamston Carbonating Company produced 2,400 bottles of spring-based celery cola and ginger ale daily. Development in the second half of the twentieth century included Duke Power’s Lee Steam Plant, built near the town in 1951. The cotton mill changed ownership, becoming Textron-Southern in 1946 and one of the Mount Vernon Mills in 1957. In the early 1950s Textron built the Cushman Plant, which housed a variety of textile operations. Later, as part of the Milliken Company, Cushman became the largest employer in Williamston, supplying filament yarns to thirty Milliken locations and used in more than twenty-five businesses.
Between the World Wars, a city waterworks was built, roads and bridges were improved, and a new high school was constructed. In 1947 Battery D of the South Carolina National Guard began calling Williamston home. A variety of small businesses came to town during the last decade of the twentieth century. Dr. Dwight Smith came to Williamston in 1949 and established a sixteen-room clinic that expanded to become the Williamston Hospital, classified as a “general hospital” by the State Board of Health in 1958. Sold to the Anderson Hospital System in 1988, it became a substance-abuse treatment center in 1989. And although visitors could still take a sip from the historic spring, Williamston State Park became more famous as the annual decorated Christmas Park, attracting thousands of visitors each holiday season for the past fifty years.
Welborn, Gene. A Town Springs Forth: The Story of Williamston, South Carolina. Bountiful, Utah: Family History Publishers, 2000.