Lancaster County SC Genealogy
The Town of Kershaw
by Louise Pettus
The town of Kershaw, barely inside the southern boundary of Lancaster County, did not come into existence until 1887. That year, the Charleston, Cincinnati, and Chicago Railway (popularly known as the "3Cs") made a deal to locate a depot on some cut-over timber land owned by Capt. James Vergil Welsh in exchange for every other lot in the town's business section.
The first building in town was the railroad depot which served not only lumber, turpentine and farming trade but also the nearby Haile Gold Mine, the largest gold mine in the eastern United States.
Business boomed. People moved in faster than houses could be built.
By 1900, there were 1,500 inhabitants, 27 stores, 2 banks, 5 churches, a large planing mill and numerous shops. The citizens regularly brought in clay "packing it down securely and nicely till they have made them [streets and sidewalks] as good as macadamized streets."
The town's all wood store buildings went up in flames on the night of November 14, 1917. A majority of the buildings in a 4-block area burned to the ground.
The 1917 fire was not the first disaster faced by the town of Kershaw. In 1908 there was a boiler explosion at Haile Gold Mine, followed by a series of disasters that caused the closing of the mine in 1912. By that time, most of the timber had been cut. The town cast around for a replacement industry.
Kershaw's leading citizens decided to build a cotton mill, but couldn't finance it on their own. Leroy Springs of Lancaster already had a large cotton mill and was a long-time partner of Kershaw's John T. Stevens in a number of business interests. They owned the large Stevens-Springs Mercantile Company, one of the banks, and a cotton oil mill together. Colonel Springs bought a large amount of stock in the new company and became the Kershaw Cotton Mills' president, with Stevens becoming the vice-president.
The Kershaw Cotton Mill employed around 800 people who lived both in company housing and on nearby farms. The mill prospered until the Great Agricultural Depression began in 1921. In spite of the long depression era, the mill never closed and boomed again when World War II created a demand for its products.
The town was named for a Civil War general, Joseph B. Kershaw, and straddled the boundary line of Lancaster County and Kershaw County (named for an earlier Joseph Kershaw who was a Revolutionary War hero).
When Kershaw and Lancaster County were created in 1785, the boundary line between the two was a considerable distance to the south of its placement in 1791 when the legislature enacted a law stating the boundaries of Kershaw's county court.
In 1905 some Kershaw citizens, unhappy with Lancaster County's higher taxes, contended that the boundary line was inaccurately surveyed and the town of Kershaw should all be inside Kershaw County. After several years of fighting among the legislative delegations, a compromise was made. In 1907 each county got about one-half of the business section.
Over the years more business (including cotton mill properties) and the schools were built on the Lancaster side of the line. Starting in 1954, Lancaster County began a drive to annex all of the town.
In 1977, 90 years after Colonel Welsh made his deal with the 3Cs railroad, the state legislature enacted a law changing the boundary line which gave Lancaster County 66 additional square miles and placed all of the town of Kershaw in Lancaster County.