Industry arrived in earnest at the end of the nineteenth century. Winnsboro merchants financed various industries, including the Fairfield Cotton Mills in 1896. Later renamed the Winnsboro Cotton Mills, this plant became an economic mainstay of the town throughout the twentieth century.
(Fairfield County; 2020 pop. 3,130). Winnsboro, the seat of Fairfield County, lies in the Piedmont on a ridge between the Broad and Wateree Rivers. In 1768 John Winn began acquiring the land that would become Winnsboro. At the time of the Revolutionary War, Winnsboro was a small village with few residents and only twenty houses. The British general Lord Cornwallis occupied the town from October 1780 through early January 1781. Prior to 1785 Winn had a master plan drawn for Winnsboro, and he sold more than one hundred lots between 1785 and 1787.
Incorporated in 1832 and named for the Revolutionary War hero Richard Winn, Winnsboro became a religious and educational center. During the 1780s the Mount Zion Society opened a school for boys, which enjoyed a reputation for educational excellence and eventually became a public school by 1878. Furman Academy and Theological Institution operated near Winnsboro from 1837 until 1850. This institution produced both Furman University in Greenville and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The Reverend James Jenkins and John Buchanan, a Revolutionary War veteran, established First United Methodist Church in Winnsboro in 1808. An Associate Reformed Presbyterian church, Bethel, was incorporated in 1823.
Cotton brought prosperity to Winnsboro and Fairfield County. Many lowcountry planters came to Winnsboro in search of healthier environs. Construction of the Winnsboro courthouse began around 1822 under a design by William Jay, but the structure was later redesigned by Robert Mills. Another striking architectural feature of Winnsboro is the town clock, a two-story rectangular brick structure built between 1835 and 1837.
During the Civil War many lowcountry planter families sought refuge in Winnsboro. On February 19, 1865, Confederate forces under General P. G. T. Beauregard moved through Winnsboro after abandoning Columbia. Shortly afterward, on February 21, the Union general John W. Geary, commanding the left wing of William T. Sherman’s Union army, arrived at Winnsboro. An earlier wave of “bummers” had already ravaged the town and set fire to some of its buildings. Federal troops destroyed twenty to thirty buildings. When federal troops left on February 22, Geary detached two mounted troopers to guard the town against stragglers.
After the Civil War, Winnsboro recovered more quickly than did the countryside. Most of the refugees returned home, trade resumed, and merchants prospered. Reconstruction, however, was a time of economic and social adjustment for Winnsboro. In 1869 northern Presbyterians established Fairfield Institute, a school for newly freed African Americans. Kelly Miller, later a nationally known African American educator, attended the institute. Fairfield Institute closed in 1888 to merge with Brainerd Institute in Chester. In 1873 African Americans organized their first church in Winnsboro, St. Paul Baptist Church.
Industry arrived in earnest at the end of the nineteenth century. Winnsboro merchants financed various industries, including the Fairfield Cotton Mills in 1896. Later renamed the Winnsboro Cotton Mills, this plant became an economic mainstay of the town throughout the twentieth century. Additional factories opened after World War II, including plants operated by Salant Corporation, Mack Trucks, and Fuji-Copian Corporation. Uniroyal Goodrich, the successor of the Winnsboro Cotton Mills, celebrated the centennial anniversary of the Winnsboro plant in 1998, but layoffs at the plant and the departure of Mack Truck challenged Winnsboro at the start of the twenty-first century.
Bellardo, Lewis. “A Social and Economic History of Fairfield County, South Carolina, 1865–1871.” Ph.D. diss., University of Kentucky, 1979.
Chappell, Buford S. The Winns of Fairfield County: Colonel John Winn, William Winn, General Richard Winn. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1975.
McMaster, Fitz Hugh. History of Fairfield County, South Carolina: From “Before the White Man Came” to 1942. 1946. Reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1980.