Fairfield County, South Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2020)



Lord Cornwallis's Exclamation:
"What Fair Fields!"


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1745 / Scots-Irish from PA & VA,
then French Huguenots from Coast

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started

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Coming Later

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Airports in Fairfield County

Maps of Fairfield County

Books About Fairfield County

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A History of Fairfield County

Fairfield County Court House

The origin of the name Fairfield is not known, but local legend attributes it to a remark by Lord Cornwallis about the "fair fields" of the area. However, there is evidence that the name Fairfield was used to describe this part of South Carolina long before Lord Cornwallis arrived in 1780. For example, there was a militia regiment named the Fairfield Regiment as early as 1776, and some say it was established in February of 1775 by the First Provincial Congress.

The county was formed in 1785 as a part of Camden District. The town of Winnsboro, which was settled around 1755, is the county seat. Fairfield County lies between the upcountry and the lowcountry areas of the state, and it was settled both by Scots-Irish immigrants from colonies to the north and by English and French Huguenot planters from the lowcountry.

In the colonial period this area was a center for the Regulator movement, which sought to bring law and order to the backcountry. During the Revolutionary War, Lord Cornwallis made his headquarters in Winnsboro from October of 1780 to January of 1781; the county was also invaded by General William Tecumseh Sherman's troops during the U.S. Civil War.

Cotton production was the major economic activity of the area, but the county also produced Winnsboro Blue Granite. Some prominent residents of the county were Regulator leader Thomas Woodward (d. 1779), Revolutionary War officer Richard Winn (1750-1818), and artist Laura Glenn Douglas (1886-1962).

Fairfield County is rich in history. From the longest running clock in America to colonial buildings, the county has many historical attractions.

Located in the upper piedmont region of South Carolina, Fairfield County, with its rolling hills and fertile valleys, is well-known for its picturesque scenery. The county is also known for its "pines, ponds, and pastures" and as a place for people to enjoy living in a serene country atmosphere. The county is steeped in history and populated by people proud of their heritage. Fairfield County has over one hundred historical buildings, churches, and homes. And scattered throughout the picturesque county are monuments and memories that speak of the unique traditions and culture of the area and the upcountry.

Situated between the Broad River on the west and the Wateree River (now Lake Wateree) on the east, the area was hunting grounds for several Indian tribes. Arrowheads and pieces of Indian pottery can still be found on the banks of these bodies of water.

The name of the county seat was changed from Winnsborough to Winnsboro and incorporated in 1832. The first settler to come to the area was Thomas Nightingale. His love of horses drew him in 1740 to a "cow-pen" establishment about five miles from where a town began. Other settlers came in the middle of the eighteenth century.

These were primarily Scots-Irish, a proud, religious people with a strong belief in education, but also included Germans, English, and French Huguenots. Winnsboro, settled on land owned by the Winn family, had about twenty houses when it was occupied during the Revolutionary War by British soldiers under Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis. The British camped in the town from October of 1780 to January of 1781. Richard Winn, John Winn and John Vanderhorst led Winnsborough to be chartered in 1785 and made the seat of justice for the Fairfield District. Mount Zion Institute in Winnsboro was the first school to be established in the South Carolina upcountry. Begun in 1777, Mount Zion was the forerunner of other schools in evidence until public schools were mandated by law in 1878.

The occupation of Winnsboro by Lord Cornwallis during the Revolution only interrupted classes. A granite marker on the campus is a reminder of his encampment. Mt. Zion did not close during the War Between the States, but classes were relocated to the Baptist Church and other buildings when it was taken over for a military hospital. Federal troops occupied the building late in the war. The school continued in operation as an elementary and high school for many years and later as an elementary school. The facility was closed in 1991.

South Carolina's General Assembly authorized Winnsboro's town fathers to build a market house that "shall not be of greater width than 30 feet" to allow thirty feet of wagon travel on either side. The narrow building was modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia and built on the site of a duck pond. A clock was added in 1837, and the building has since been known as the Town Clock. Residents boast the clock is the longest continuously running clock in the United States.

The county court house, across from the Town Clock, has watched Winnsboro's daily activities since 1823. Designed by South Carolina architect Robert Mills, the court house contains records dating as far back as the middle 1700s.

Fairfield County has numerous churches, some of which have been in existence for over two hundred years. Perhaps the most famous church, built in 1788, is the Old Brick Church, where the Synod of the Carolina for the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church was organized in 1803. A note penciled on the wall of the Old Brick Church is testimony to a Union soldier's regret at the church's floor boards being taken up to build a crossing over the nearby river for General William Tecumseh Sherman's troops.

The second largest town in the county, Ridgeway, was originally know as "New Town." The name was changed when the owners of Charlotte & South Carolina Railroad decided not to build their railroad on the Camden route but to use the "ridge way."

Until the early 1900s, agriculture was the primary economy. The early settlers in the mid-1700s brought cotton to the county, and it remained the main crop until depletion of the soil and boll weevil called the industry to a halt in the 1920s. Granite deposits in the County led to the early development of quarrying. Winnsboro blue granite, "The Silk of the Trade," is used worldwide in buildings and monuments. The excellent hunting and fishing that the Indians enjoyed still exist today. Fairfield County, with an abundance of deer and wild turkeys, is a focal point for sportsmen.

Industry has been a part of Fairfield County life since a cotton mill was put in to operation in the late 1800s in the southern area of Winnsboro. The mill became a part of US Rubber Company and is now Uniroyal-Goodrich, owned by Michelin Tire Company. The economy has been given a boost in recent years by other industries like Plastech, Mack Trucks, and Fuji Copian. The Fairfield County Council purchased land near Interstate 77 for industrial development. Facilities for Lang Mekra, isola USA, Maka USA, all based in Germany, and Gividi USA are located in the Walter B. Brown Industrial Park.

Fairfield County's Court House was built in 1823, Robert Mills architect, perhaps one of the oldest court houses in the upper part of the state, constructed with English ballast brick brought to Charleston. It was remodeled in 1939, retaining the Mills design. Then it had no piazza or steps in front nor was it overcast or plastered on the outside.

The Brick Church

This house of worship was erected by the people of the Little River section of Fairfield County in 1788. Members of the congregation molded the bricks with their own hands and cut the timber to provide the woodwork. The church is small and rectangular in plan as were most all the upcountry churches of its day, reflecting the sturdy, proud spirit of the Scots-Irish whose love for their religion was always uppermost.

The interior of the church is classic in simplicity with long straight-back wooden pews, a slave gallery, and a stately old fashioned pulpit, which in reality, is merely a Bible stand built into the front railings of the church.

The small church began making history when its first pastor, Reverend James Rogers, acting as first moderator organized the Associate Reformed Synod of the Carolinas in 1803 from his humble pulpit. Today it is known as the Associate Reformed Synod of the South. His church grew in numbers and prosperity and soon became a potent force in the religious life of South Carolina. Rev. Mr. Rogers' death in 1830 came as a blow but the church continued to go forward until the outbreak of the War Between the States when its young manhood of the congregation joined the Confederate Army almost en masse. The casualty lists form the battlefront were large, bringing much sorrow to the folks of Old Ebenezer.

In 1864, the drums of war began to draw near this little community. Late in February 1865, this historic little church, located not far from the banks of the swift flowing Little River, became the locale of some swift-moving action. Units of Kilpatrick's Union Cavalry arriving at the river and finding the Confederates had destroyed the bridge and were occupying the high ground beyond, tore out part of the flooring and woodwork of the church to construct a bridge to allow the heavy guns and equipment to cross. A written apology was inscribed on the woodwork which reads "To the citizens of this county - Please excuse us for defacing your house of worship. It was absolutely necessary to effect a crossing over the creek. Signed, A Yankee." It is furnished with a number of rare and interesting antiques and heirlooms.

Century House (aka Brick House)

The Century House is one of the most-imposing buildings in the town of Ridgeway. It is a massive, well-proportioned, two-story, solid brick house located almost in the center of the town. The large and ancient trees on the grounds give it a distinctive beauty and dignity.

The house was built in 1853 by James Buchanan Coleman, an extensive landowner. His properties were scattered from Blythewood, in the lower section of the county, to the Devil's Race Track community in the upper section. On locating in Ridgeway, he purchased the Rosborough home and a large tract of land from his friend, James Thomas Rosborough, M.D., some time before 1842 when Dr. Rosborough moved to Texas. Coleman family records indicate that this "two-story (Rosborollgh homestead) wooden house was near the Brick House on the same level . . . with beautiful pink climbing roses on the piazza . . . large rooms on both floors and silver doorknobs and walnut stair-rails . . . built before 1800 by Dr. Rosborough's father, Mr. John Rosborough." The older Coleman children were born in the Rosborough house before Mr. Coleman built the Brick House. The Colemans were hospitable and fond of company and entertaining; this is evidenced by the large and gracious home that they erected.

Situated on the new Charlotte & South Carolina Railroad, which hauled freight and passengers in 1856, the Colemans' commanding brick house became the center of social and business life in the newly developing community of Ridgeway.

With the coming of the War Between the States, the Brick House entertained many visitors and travelers passing through Ridgeway, who came by train, stagecoach, wagon train, on horseback, and afoot. Refugees from the lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia, as well as others from Virginia and North Carolina, became almost daily visitors in the Colemans' hospitable and well-provisioned home.

The Century House is currently home to Fairfield County Library Branch and the Ridgeway Garden Club.

McCrieght House

This interesting and picturesque old home has the distinction of being the first frame structure built in Fairfield County. Built in 1774 by William McCrieght, one of this section's well-known cabinet makers, it definitely reflects the spirit of the Scots-Irish settlers in simple, utilitarian aspects whose homes were built for comfort and usefulness. The framework, walls, and floors are of hand-hewn, handplaned old pine boards, mostly pegged together. The few nails that were used are hand wrought. The house stands three stories high with two rooms on each floor. The kitchen and dining room on the first floor, living and bedrooms on the others. The original kitchen on the first floor has a quaint hand-made corner cupboard built in the wall with butterfly shelves. It originally had panes of blown glass. The mantels are all high and very wide. The windows have the old twelve-pane sash and still have the original shutters.

"What Fair Fields," Lord Cornwallis is said to have exclaimed, when he was making "Wynnesborough" his headquarters from October of 1780 to January of 1781. Hence, the origin of the name of Fairfield County.

His lordship, speaking to Walter Robertson of that day, added; "I can conceive no finer region, taking into consideration its fertile soil, its mild climate, its long drawn beautiful valleys, and glorious highlands."

Let the home seeker of today ponder his lordship's words.

Thirty-five years before Cornwallis was there, the first white settlers came to this land, then a part of Craven County, of the royal province of South Carolina. John and Ephraim Lyles settled on Beaver Creek near the Broad River on the west, in 1745, and about the same time Richland Kirkland settled near Peay's ferry, Wateree River, on the east. All came from Virginia. Winn's Borough, as he called it, was settled about ten years later by Richard Winn, afterwards captain and colonel in the war of the Revolution.

The first settlers found this territory used by the Catawbas, Waterees, and probably other small tribes of the Sioux. It was not part of the lands given over to the whites by the Cherokees in 1755. Eswaw Huppedaw, or Broad River, was the line river.

After the American Revolution, it was a part of Camden District, and was erected into Fairfield County in 1785. Its lines have remained unchanged to this day except for a small portion ceded to Richland County in 1913.

Mills' Statistics says that buffaloes, elks, bears, panthers, and wolves abounded in the county. James Newton, living in 1824, is said to have killed the last elk. Its antlers were shipped to England. James Phillips is said to have killed a rattlesnake of such size that it was found to contain a fawn. Jesse Gladden, father of General Gladden, is quoted as saying that he had seen droves of wild horses in the county. Exports to Charleston in those days were droves of cattle; beaver, panther, and bear hides; buffalo tongues, and hogsheads of tobacco.

"Yon beacon light on the hill," is a historic saying that Mt. Zion Academy had had a great influence on the life of the county. John Rutledge signed its charter on February 13, 1777. Closed during the occupation by Cornwallis, it reopened in 1785, somewhat under Presbyterian influences, with a minister at its head, and Howe's History tells of thirteen Presbyterian ministers educated there. It was largely patronized by Charleston folk. The names of Porcher, Gaillard, Porter, Couturier, DuBose, Dwight, Clark, Barker, and other prominent low country families are upon its rolls. Many of these established homes in Fairfield. General William Moultrie had a home there.

Illustrious teachers of Mt. Zion were James W. Hudson, Edward Maturin, Ilenri Narrise, J. Wood Davidson, R. Means Davis, and Patterson Wardlaw.

Fairfield is noted for its inexhaustible supply of outcropping grey and blue granite. The principal quarries are the Rion and Anderson of the Winnsboro Granite company. Immense quantities of this stone are shipped all over the United States for building and ornamental purposes.

The county has sixty-one miles of railroad. The main line of the Southern railroad from Columbia to Charlotte follows the ridge in the centre of the county. The other line of railway parallels the Broad River on the western edge of the county.

One of the great cotton mills of the country, at Winnsboro, is owned by New England manufacturers.

The attractions mentioned by Cornwallis induced planters who prospered there and built up great trains of slaves. Though far north of the black belt today it is the third county in the state in proportion of negroes to whites. Its population in 1920 was 27,159, of which 20,672 were negroes and 53 foreign born. In 1820, there were 9,378 whites, 7,748 slaves, and 48 free born colored. Its area is 705 square miles.

Winnsboro is the county seat with a population of 1,822, which does not include the mill village. Other towns are Ridgeway, Blackstock, White Oak, Monticello, Wallaceville, Jenkinsville, and Strother.

Immediately above, published in "South Carolina: A Handbook," prepared by The Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industries and Clemson College, Columbia, South Carolina, 1927. In the Public Domain. [with minor edits]


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