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American History
Laurens County, South Carolina


Location Map Native Americans, or American Indians, were the first known inhabitants of the area now known as Laurens County. The Cherokee Indians, members of the Iroquois nation, lived and hunted in the western and central piedmont of South Carolina. Many Indian artifacts have been unearthed in the areas along the Enoree River, Bush River, and Rabon Creek. William MacPherson settled on Rabon Creek, in the late 1700’s with his family. Pioneers  to the western piedmont area of the Carolinas came down through the backcountry of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia  then through North Carolina on  to the South Carolina are. These people were the Scotch Irish. The first known white settler to arrive in what is now Laurens County was John Duncan in 1753. From Aberdeen, Scotland, Duncan spent a few years in Pennsylvania before moving south. He liked the lush vegetation and abundant wildlife he found in this area and settled around a creek in the northeastern section of the county not far from the present city of Clinton. John Duncan built a rustic house, a few outbuildings, a distillery, and organized a church. He brought the first African slave and the first horse-drawn wagon into the area. Of course, the creek near which he settled is known today as Duncan's Creek, and the church, still in existence, is the Duncan's Creek Presbyterian Church, the oldest church in Laurens County and one of the oldest Presbyterian Churches in the backcountry

Lakeside HousesIt is difficult to locate exact spots in the county where Revolutionary War military skirmishes took place. Important ones recorded include those at Lindley's Fort, the Battle of Musgrove's Mill on the Enoree River, and Hayes Station.

Part of the old Ninety-Six district, Laurens became a separate county in 1785 being named for the Revolutionary War era patriot Henry Laurens of Charleston. The town of Laurens (known as Laurensville well into the nineteenth century) became the county seat, and the first courthouse was erected in 1786. The current courthouse was built in 1840 and enlarged in 1857. By 1820, the town had become known for its trade of tailor-made clothes. Andrew Johnson, a future president of the United States, and his brother came to Laurens in 1824 and established a tailor shop.

Laurens Court House By 1840, Laurens was booming with establishments including medical practitioners, a fancy confectionery and fruit store, carriage, buggy, and wagon shops, tailoring establishments, building contractors, flour and corn mills, and eighty-one registered whiskey distilleries.

The 1888 BUSINESS DIRECTORY OF LAURENS stated that with the rapid growth of the city and with the excellent railroad connections, "Laurens can well be termed the Atlanta of South Carolina".

The town of Clinton, named for local attorney and representative to the South Carolina Legislature Henry Clinton Young, built up around Holland's Store which in 1809 housed the only post office in the eastern part of Laurens County.

In 1864, William Plumer Jacobs, a young minister, came to Clinton and found "a mud hole surrounded by barrooms". He crusaded for temperance, and the bricks from the last barroom to be demolished were used to build a chimney for Jacobs' new home on South Broad Street. Dr. Jacobs is one of the most prominent men in the history of Laurens County in that both Presbyterian College and Thornwell Home and School are products of his vision and effort.

River WalkNo military action occurred in Laurens County during the Civil War though many native sons who went off to war became casualties of the conflict.

Cotton became an import crop in Laurens County with the invention of the cotton gin. Along with the expansion of cotton came the expansion of slavery. The number of slaves grew from 1,919 in 1800 to more than 13,000 in 1860. The desire to grow more and more cotton depleted forests as land was cleared, and poor agricultural practices depleted the fertileness of the soil.

By the end of the nineteenth century, textiles were becoming very important in Laurens County and the upstate. The Laurens Cotton Mill was established in 1895, Mercer Silas Bailey built the first cotton mill in Clinton in 1896, and the year 1902 saw the establishment of both Lydia Mill and Watts Mill.

The means of transportation over the years has caused life in the county to change. With the building of railroads in the last half of the nineteen century, the towns and communities of Cross Hill, Mountville, Waterloo, Ora, and Lanford grew. But, with the advent of the automobile and the construction of roads in the twentieth century, these areas lost vitality. Even today, our interstate highways make people very mobile causing local merchants and service providers to lose business to surrounding larger communities.

LAURENS COUNTY INFORMATION & HISTORY

  1. ORIGIN OF NAME:
    Laurens County is named for the South Carolina patriot from Charleston, Henry Laurens. For a time, Laurens was President of the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War. He was captured by the British while on his way to Europe to gain support for the colonies' cause, was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and, after his release at the end of the war, was sent to Paris to help negotiate the peace.

  2. POPULATION:
    1990 CENSUS: 58,092 1995 ESTIMATE: 60,800

  3. AREA:
    713 Square Miles

  4. CLIMATE:
    Temperate, with a mean annual temperature of 61.5 degrees F. Average seasonal temperatures are: January, 43.2; July, 79.5. Average daily relative humidity: 75% at 1 AM; 79% at 7 AM; 51% at 1 PM; and 60% at 7 PM. The mean annual precipitation is 47 inches, and the average growing season is 229 days.

  5. PRINCIPAL GEOGRAPHIC FEATURES:
    Laurens County is relatively level in its eastern and southern portions, with rolling, wooded hills dominating the northern and western sections. Located in the Piedmont area of the state, it is bounded on the northeast side by the Enoree River, and by Lake Greenwood and the Saluda River on the southwest side. Counties adjoining Laurens are: Abbeville, Greenville, Greenwood, Newberry, Spartanburg, and Union. Laurens County lies between the 34th and 35th parallels of latitude, and the 82nd meridian of longitude passes near the center of the county. The elevation of the highest point in the county is 751 feet and the lowest point 400 feet. The elevation of the county seat, Laurens is 589 feet.

  6. COUNTY SEAT:
    Laurens.

  7. MAJOR TOWNS WITH 1990 POPULATIONS:
    Clinton - 7,987 Laurens - 9,694

  8. PRINCIPAL INDUSTRIES AND AGRICULTURE:
    Industries: Textiles, plastics, metal bearings, ceramics, cardboard containers, pipes and commercial valves, printing, automotive parts and supplies, and warehouse distribution centers. Agriculture: Timber, cattle, soybean, pork, poultry, apples, peaches, and grain.

  9. EDUCATION:
    Presbyterian College, founded in 1880 and located in Clinton, is a coeducational, liberal arts college with an enrollment of approximately 1,100. For several years, US NEWS & WORLD REPORT has listed PC as one of the top small colleges in the nation. In addition to its excellent academic reputation and well-rounded sports program, the college is a key cultural and entertainment resource for Laurens County. Thornwell Home and School in Clinton, founded in 1875, is widely known for the cottage plan it pioneered. A beautiful campus of stone buildings, many trees, and landscaping with roses and azaleas, the School division provides the area with the opportunity for private education, grades K-12. The institution is owned and controlled by the Presbyterian Synods of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Whitten Center, founded in 1918, is a state institution for the mentally retarded. The institution is located in the City of Clinton. The Laurens County Library operates a 23,000 square-foot Headquarters Facility in Laurens, a full-service branch in Clinton, and a small branch in Joanna. There is a bookmobile, and deposits of large-type books are maintained at residential facilities for senior citizens. The library system has 110,000 volumes and maintains an extensive local history and genealogy collection in the Laurens Library.

  10. RECREATION:
    For recreation, excellent YMCA facilities with indoor swimming pools, tennis courts, health clubs, weight and workout rooms, craft rooms, and handball and racquetball courts are located in modern, up-to-date facilities in both Clinton and Laurens. The cities of Laurens and Clinton and Laurens County operate parks with tennis courts, baseball and softball fields, and other recreational facilities. Lake Greenwood is an excellent recreational resource, and Lake Rabon, a county water reservoir, provides water recreational opportunities including limited boating. There are three golf courses in the county, and the Sumter National Forest provides public hunting and hiking areas.

  11. HISTORIC SITES:
    The James Dunklin House in Laurens, built in 1812, is an outstanding example of "up-country architecture of the Federal period". It is open to the public. Duncan's Creek Presbyterian Church is the oldest church organization in the upper part of the state. Founded in 1753, the current building, located off Highway 72 a few miles northeast of Clinton, was erected in 1842. The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Laurens, erected in 1846, is the oldest church building still in use in the City of Laurens. The Home of Peace at Thornwell Home and School, Clinton, was erected in 1874 and was the first building of the institution. Today, it is a museum. The Duckett House in Laurens was the home of Charles H. Duckett, a prominent black businessman who died in 1947 at the age of 87. For many years, he was the only African- American in the Southeast operating a retail lumber business. Efforts are underway to restore this home located in Laurens. The Laurens County Courthouse was built 1835-1840. It was enlarged and remodeled in 1911. Located in the Public Square in Laurens, it is of the Greek Revival style.

  12. HISTORY:
    Laurens County is a part of the original Ninety Six District. In 1785, nine years after Independence, the General Assembly passed an act creating six counties (Laurens, Newberry, Abbeville, Edgefield, Spartanburg, and Union) from the District. The county was settled by Scotch Irish with many of their descendants still residing in the area. After the county was created, a nucleus of a town was started as the county seat. Eventually to become known as Laurens, a charter was issued for Laurensville in December 1845. The first record of the town being officially called Laurens appears on a charter issued in 1873. The other major city of the county, Clinton, grew up eight miles east of the county seat. The settlement started at the intersection of the main roads between Greenville and Columbia, and Spartanburg and Augusta. Named for Laurensville lawyer Henry Clinton Young who helped lay out the first streets, Clinton was first granted a charter in 1852. Dr. William P. Jacobs moved to Clinton in 1864, and he was responsible for the formation of Thornwell Orphanage and Presbyterian College in the town. The 1890's saw the town being served by two railroads and the growth of the community boomed. During the early 1900's, the county became a large textile center with several major cotton mills being constructed in Laurens, Clinton, and Joanna. More recently, as dependence on cotton declined, industry and agriculture has diversified. The 1970's brought little industrial development to the county, but since 1980, several new industries and distribution centers have located here.

  13. IMPORTANT PEOPLE:
    Anne Pamela Cunningham of Laurens County organized the movement for the acquisition and restoration of Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. She is entitled to the full credit for the preservation of this home of our country's first president as a national shrine. She is a member of the South Carolina Hall of Fame. Charles H. Duckett was a prominent black farmer, carpenter, contractor, and funeral home proprietor and for many years was the only African-American in the Southeast operating a retail lumber business. Dr. Wil Lou Gray initiated a program of adult, night education in the Young's community of Laurens County. Her program was adopted on a state-wide basis, and she became recognized nationally as an effective leader in the campaign against illiteracy. She is a member of the South Carolina Hall of Fame. Henry McDaniel, a noted Black politician from Laurens County, served in the South Carolina Legislature from 1868 until 1872. He proposed several bills to in- corporate churches throughout the county and was responsible for getting several roads established. Admiral Sam McGowan served as Paymaster General of the Navy during World War I and, after his retirement, served as Chief Highway Commissioner for the State of South Carolina. Thomas Sanders, 1860-1945, was an educator and humanitarian. His parents had been slaves, but he obtained an education and came to Laurens in 1895 to teach. Sander's achievements included bringing education for Laurens' black citizens from almost nothing to a very organized system. Well respected, one of the public schools in Laurens today bears his name. Sanders was featured in Ripley's "Believe It or Not" for not missing a day of school for 53 years. Pratt S. Suber, 1843-1929, was a former slave who became Laurens County's first county school Commissioner of Education when the office was established in 1871. Suber also served Laurens County in the South Carolina House of Representatives. From 1874 until 1876, he served as the first county Superintendent of Education. Columbus White, 1857-1945, was a leading contractor, architect, and builder. Two structures he designed and built in the City of Laurens, Bethel AME Church and the Brown-Franklin Building, are still standing and are on the National Register of Historic Places. Two of South Carolina's governors have been from Laurens County: Robert A. Cooper and William D. Simpson.

  14. RETIREMENT INSTITUTIONS:
    The Martha Franks Baptist Retirement Center, located in Laurens, is operated by the South Carolina Baptist Church. The focal point of the campus is the Villa, a home built in 1859 of the Italian villa style, which houses offices and serves as a social center. Residential facilities include individual cottages, patio homes, apartments, dormitory rooms, and an eighty-eight bed skilled nursing unit. The Presbyterian Home of South Carolina operates two campuses in Clinton. The Clinton Home has cottages, apartments, rooms, and the sixty-six bed Kerr-Johnson Infirmary. Frampton Hall is centrally located in town and has apartments and rooms.

  15. HEALTH CARE:
    The Laurens County Hospital, constructed in 1989, is a modern, well-equipped, all private room hospital. Approximately forty physicians practice at the hospital, and specialties represented include family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery, urology, orthopedics, ophthalmology, radiology, emergency medicine, and anesthesiology

  16. FOR FURTHER READING:
    Jacobs, William P., ed. LAURENS COUNTY SCRAPBOOK. Laurens County Historical Society, 1982. Bolick, Julian Stevenson. A LAURENS COUNTY SKETCHBOOK, Clinton, S. C., Jacobs Press, 1973.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
Laurens County Chamber of Commerce
P. O. Box 248
Laurens, S. C. 29360
Phone: 864-833-2716

Laurens County Historical Society
P. O. Box 292
Laurens, S. C. 29360

Below are Historic Maps from 1853: on the left Laurensville and on the right Waterloo.