Chester County Historical Collection, 1739-1997

South Caroliniana Library, South Caroliniana Library

Situated in the eastern South Carolina Piedmont between the Catawba and Broad Rivers, on land once inhabited by the Catawba and Cherokee, Chester County was created in 1785 from parts of the old Camden Judicial District. Like other Backcountry portions of the state, the area that would become Chester saw an increase of Scots-Irish immigration from Pennsylvania and Virginia in the 1750s. By 1800, Chester’s economy centered on cotton grown by an enslaved workforce, and by 1850 the population of the District was majority African-American. Economic activity in the nineteenth century peaked after the completion of the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad in 1852, but emancipation of the enslaved workforce brought this short-lived economic boom to a halt. The opening of the Chester Manufacturing Company in 1888 signaled the shift away from an economy based around cotton growing to one centered on textile manufacturing. This shift would intensify following the construction of hydroelectric power plants on the Catawba River in the early twentieth century, and throughout most of that century textile manufacturing would dominate the county’s economy. This digital collection contains correspondence, family papers, business records, and church records from Chester County. Dated from 1739 to 1997, these items document the history and culture of the people who lived and worked in the county. For images of people and places in Chester County see the South Carolina Postcard collection here and photographs from the county taken by individuals hired as part of the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) Federal Writers’ Project here.

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