(Barnwell County; 2020 pop. 2,912). Williston, located on U.S. Highway 78 in Barnwell County, is named for early settlers, the Willis family. In 1830 the railroad from Charleston to Hamburg was begun, and small towns grew up along its route. In 1832 Elijah Willis, a well-to-do planter, donated land for a church, a post office, and a depot. On December 21, 1858, the South Carolina General Assembly issued a charter for Williston.
A private school was opened in 1853. A second private school was established and operated until after the Civil War. In 1873 Elijah Willis donated land on which to build a school. The Williston Graded School District received a charter from the General Assembly in 1888. Because of its strategic location on the railroad line, in February 1865 federal troops under General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick occupied Williston, destroying the railroad tracks and burning more than thirty homes.
Agriculture and associated businesses helped Williston to recover from the Civil War. Cotton, a chief crop, continued to fare well, although local farmers discovered that the climate and soil were also well suited for growing asparagus. The town experienced moderate growth throughout the first half of the twentieth century, including the establishment of a telephone system (1905), a water system (1917), and electricity provided by the Edisto Public service Company (1919). In 1921 Austin Lattimore established a newspaper, the Williston Way, which continued publication until 1989, when it merged with the Barnwell People-Sentinel.
On November 8, 1950, the Atomic Energy Commission announced the coming of the Savannah River Site. The population of Williston rose from 869 in 1950 to an estimated 10,000 or more for the town and outlying area during the peak of “The Bomb Plant” construction. The population decreased to 2,722 in 1960, with many construction workers remaining to work for DuPont in operating the plant.
Williston enjoyed a blend of old and new entering the twenty-first century. Though some downtown storefronts have been destroyed and the railroad tracks removed, new buildings and industries helped the town maintain its vibrancy. Industries have filled the industrial park developed by Williston and the Barnwell County Economic Development Commission. In July 2001 the Economic Development Commission bought 161 acres for a second industrial park. The old railroad bed paralleling Main Street has undergone a beautification project, and the town’s annual celebration, Wonderful Williston Weekend, draws visitors from around the state. The festival begins with a beauty pageant and continues with events in the town park and a street dance at night.
Barnwell County Heritage Book Committee. Barnwell County Heritage, South Carolina. Marceline, Mo.: Walsworth, 1994.
Chapman, Mrs. C. C., Mrs. F. L. Harper, and Mrs. M. F. Maxon. “History of Williston.” South Carolina Tricentennial Edition. Barnwell People-Sentinel, June 25, 1970, pp. 22–26.