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Union County, South Carolina

Union County, South Carolina
Map of South Carolina highlighting Union County
Location in the state of South Carolina
Map of the United States highlighting South Carolina
South Carolina's location in the U.S.
Founded 1785
Seat Union
Largest city Union
 • Total 516 sq mi (1,336 km2)
 • Land 514 sq mi (1,331 km2)
 • Water 1.9 sq mi (5 km2), 0.4%
 • (2010) 28,961
 • Density 56/sq mi (22/km²)
Congressional district 5th
Time zone Eastern: UTC-5/-4
Website .org.countyofunionwww

Union County is a county located in the U.S. state of South Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 28,961.[1] Its county seat is Union.[2] The county was created in 1785.[3]

Union County is included in the Spartanburg, SC Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is also included in the Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson, SC Combined Statistical Area.


  • History 1
  • Geography 2
    • Adjacent Counties 2.1
    • National protected area 2.2
  • Demographics 3
  • Education 4
  • Communities 5
    • City 5.1
    • Towns 5.2
    • Census-designated places 5.3
    • Unincorporated communities 5.4
  • Notable people 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


The area that includes Union County was once controlled by the Cherokee Indians and they used it as a hunting ground. Up until recent years, one could find numerous arrowheads with little effort throughout the county.[4]

The first European settlers in Union County came from Virginia and Pennsylvania and over three-fourths were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. It has been suggested that the first group of pioneers arrived as early as 1751. They settled in the northwestern section of the county near a small river that would later be named Fairforest Creek. According to tradition, a member of the party looked out at the thick woodlands and exclaimed, "What a fair forest!" At the time of their arrival, wild buffalo and horses abounded as well as panthers and cougars that were called "tigers" or "tygers" by the settlers. This may be where the Tyger River got its name.

The early settlers established Fairforest Presbyterian Church, the first house of worship in Union County. Around 1754, the Brown's Creek area was first settled, about four miles northeast of the present city of Union. A log church was established and shared between several denominations that could not afford their own separate structures. The county and county seat were named for this "Union" church. Quakers arrived in the mid 1750s and settled the southern portion of the county, establishing Cane Creek Church in the Santuc community, and Padgett's Creek Church in the Cross Keys community. The Quakers left in the early 1800s because of their opposition to slavery. Baptists entered the county in 1759 and established the first Baptist church in the South Carolina upcountry. Many Baptist churches throughout the county are descended from this original congregation.

Rose Hill Plantation. The home of South Carolina "Secession Governor" William Henry Gist.

During the first part of the American Revolution, the South Carolina backcountry was fairly quiet. Following the fall of Charleston in 1780, the British began focusing their attention on the Carolinas. At least five battles were fought in or near Union County, including Musgrove Mill, Fishdam, and Blackstock. The county also produced many notable heroes including Lt. Col. James Steen. The war saw the population divided between Loyalists and Patriots. This resulted in churches splitting up and settlers moving out of the area and personal property was damaged by both sides.

Following the war, the county seat was established at Unionville (now Union) and a courthouse was constructed. In 1791, the South Carolina Legislature established a district court that included Spartanburg, Union, Chester, and York Counties. The area was called the Pinckney District and its headquarters was established at a central location in Union County. Land was cleared and streets were laid out for a new town that would be called Pinckneyville. A courthouse and jail were built for the new judicial district and a college was to be established in the town. Local tradition states that Pinckneyville was to be home to the United States Military Academy, but lost to West Point by one vote in Congress. Instead, local historians contend that Pinckneyville was considered as the site for a federal arsenal. This was likely the source of the legend. In 1799, the General Assembly decided to restructure the state court system. Subsequently, the Pinckney District was abolished and Pinckneyville became a ghost town.

The early 1800s saw the advent of large scale cotton growing in the fertile soil of southern Union County and along with it, an increase in the slave population. There were numerous plantations in the county, several that are still standing, such as Rose Hill Plantation and the Cross Keys house. Rose Hill was the home of South Carolina's "Secession Governor," William Henry Gist. The northern section of the county was mostly home to poor farmers. The county grew steadily during the antebellum period but remained almost fully agrarian. Stores and other businesses were established in Unionville and a new courthouse and jail were designed for the town in 1823 by famed architect Robert Mills, designer of the Washington Monument. The courthouse was demolished in 1911, but the jail is still standing and in use by the City of Union. It is located beside the present courthouse, constructed in 1913.

Union County Jail (1823) designed by Robert Mills

The Civil War brought a standstill to the county's growth and progress. Many local men rushed to enlist in the Confederate Army and numerous units of Union County soldiers served on battlefields across the South. On April 20, 1861 a strange object appeared in the sky above the Kelly-Kelton community of northeastern Union County. A large hot air balloon called the Enterprise descended to the ground, piloted by Professor T.S.C. Lowe, who had left Cincinnati, Ohio the day before. He had attempted to fly from Ohio to Washington, D.C. but instead was swept southward across Virginia into South Carolina. The locals crowded around this mysterious object, many insisting that Lowe be "shot on the spot," as they believed him to be a Northern spy. Local tradition states that Professor Lowe gave a Masonic distress sign and his life was saved by the Masons in the crowd. Eventually he would make it back to the North and work with the Union Army on aerial reconnaissance projects during the war. At the close of the war, Confederate President Jefferson Davis came through Union County following the fall of Richmond in 1865. He dined at the William Wallace house on East Main Street in Union and the Cross Keys house in southern Union County before his capture in Georgia.

Following the war, a system of sharecropping and tenant farming was established to take the place of slavery. Union County's history parallels the history of much of the South during Reconstruction. It was a time of great change that transformed the economy and culture of the area. The Industrial Revolution hit the county in the 1890s as local businessmen and Northern industrialists began investing in Union County textile mills. The first cotton mill was built at Lockhart around 1894 and it was shortly followed by another in Union and Jonesville. Around 1900, a mill was built west of Union and the town of Buffalo sprang up around it. Workers, or operatives as they were called, lived in company-owned housing and obtained their food and other household goods from the company store. Many workers came from the mountains of North Carolina, where farming was difficult and outside work scarce.

Cross Keys House in the Cross Keys community. Built around 1812-14.

In 1897, the Draytonville and Gowdeysville townships were removed from Union County to form part of Cherokee County.

The turn of the century saw continued progress, as improvements were made in the city of Union and throughout the county. Roads were being paved and the automobile was introduced as new businesses appeared along the Main Street area.

The Great Depression brought difficulties to the mill village, as pay decreased for workers. Meanwhile, in the county's rural areas, farmers suffered much less than those living in the city since they grew most of what they consumed. In the 1930s, the federal government bought large portions of poor quality land in southern Union County and established the Sumter National Forest. This land had been planted in cotton for many years and was overworked. Government programs like the CCC, PWA, and WPA put many Union County residents back to work, and government money helped improve the county's water and sewage plants and public roads. Many Union natives enlisted in the Second World War while developments continued in both urban and rural areas of the county. Cotton production and agricultural acreage was steadily declining and by 1944 Union County was 53 percent "forest land." The automobile had changed the lifestyle of mill workers because now they could drive to work and were no longer required to live in the proximity of the mill villages.

Buffalo Mill, Buffalo, SC

The post-war years saw the introduction of new industries to the county, such as Torrington and Sonoco. Despite this, the county's economy remained 94 percent textile-related in 1970. In 1955, the U.S. 176 bypass (Duncan Bypass) was constructed, along with other road improvements that followed in later years. The Bypass became the center for much of Union's new business, including shopping centers and restaurants. In 1984, work on a four-lane connector to Spartanburg began which would become the Furman Fendley Highway (U.S. 176).

Beginning in the 1980s, many of Union County's textile industries began closing and moving to other countries. The final departure of the textile industry was complete by the 1990s and this left a hole in the county's economy and cultural identity. In recent years, new specialty industries have taken the place of agriculture and textiles; two things that characterized the early history of Union County.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 516 square miles (1,340 km2), of which 514 square miles (1,330 km2) is land and 1.9 square miles (4.9 km2) (0.4%) is water.[5]

Adjacent Counties

National protected area


As of the census[11] of 2010, there were 28,961 people, 14,153 households, and 8,497 families residing in the county. The population density was 58 people per square mile (22/km²). There were 13,351 housing units at an average density of 26 per square mile (10/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 66.6% White, 31.3% Black or African American, 0.15% Native American, 0.3% Asian, 0.00% Pacific Islander, 0.16% from other races, and 0.61% from two or more races. 1.0% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 12,087 households out of which 29.40% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.80% were married couples living together, 16.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.70% were non-families. 26.80% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.90% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 2.93.

In the county, the population was spread out with 23.80% under the age of 18, 8.20% from 18 to 24, 27.90% from 25 to 44, 24.40% from 45 to 64, and 15.60% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 89.00 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.30 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $31,441, and the median income for a family was $37,661. Males had a median income of $29,371 versus $20,701 for females. The per capita income for the county was $15,877. About 11.10% of families and 14.30% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.70% of those under age 18 and 15.90% of those age 65 or over.


Students residing in the county are served by Union County Schools, which operates seven public schools that serve about 4500 students. There is one high school, three kindergarten through 5th grade schools, two kindergarten through 8th grade schools, and one 6th through 8th grade school.[12]

For some time, the county had three high schools, Union High School, Jonesville High School, and Lockhart High School. As of a council ruling, the three high schools have been consolidated. Jonesville High School and Lockhart High School were closed, and the students were reassigned to Union High School, which has been renamed Union County High School.

Union County High School's Yellow Jackets Football team has seen great success in recent past. They won the 4A State Football Championship in 1990 and 1995, and won the 3A State Title in 1999, 2000, and 2002. They were also state runner-up in 2001. The Yellow Jackets were led to their three most recent championships by former head coach and current State Representative Mike Anthony.[13] He retired following the 2004 season. He was succeeded by Tommy Bobo, former Union High School Offensive Coordinator who left following the 1999 season to become the head football coach at Wren High School. Bobo led the Jackets to the region championship and the state semi-finals in 2005. Bobo resigned in 2007 after the school board decided to consolidate the three high schools. He accepted a position as an assistant at Spartanburg's Dorman High School. Jonesville High School Coach David Lipsey was hired to replace Bobo and be the first coach of Union County High School.

Union County High School's Junior ROTC program is only one of three teams in the nation to ever go four years in a row to The George C. Marshall Leadership and Academic Bowl in Washington, DC. Members of that team included Michael Leigh, Tommy McKelvey, Micheal Stewart, Lucas Kelley, Ollie Burns, and Mitchell Ward.

The county is also home to a Satellite campus of the University of South Carolina. The University of South Carolina campus at Union was opened in 1965 and was once home to the USCU Bantams, a junior college basketball team that saw some success at that level before the team was ended in the 1980s. Since 1965, USC-Union has provided low-cost, fully accredited courses that satisfy the degree requirements at the University of South Carolina and at other colleges and universities. The University of South Carolina at Union enrolls between 300 and 400 students each semester. In addition to associate degrees, USC-Union provides special opportunities such as teacher preparation and access to baccalaureate degrees in interdisciplinary studies.[14]

Union county's Carnegie Library was named Best Small Library in America by Library Journal for 2009.[15]




Census-designated places

Unincorporated communities

Notable people

See also


  1. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 25, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  3. ^ "South Carolina: Individual County Chronologies". South Carolina Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. The Newberry Library. 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2015. 
  4. ^ Charles, Allan D. "The Narrative History of Union County South Carolina" (The Reprint Company, Publishers, 1987)
  5. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014". Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  7. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  8. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  9. ^ Forstall, Richard L., ed. (March 27, 1995). "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. April 2, 2001. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  11. ^ "American FactFinder".  
  12. ^ "Union County Schools". Retrieved 26 November 2012. 
  13. ^ "SC State House of Representatives". Retrieved 26 November 2012. 
  14. ^ "University of South Carolina at Union". Retrieved 26 November 2012. 
  15. ^ "Best Small Library in America 2009: Union County Carnegie Library, SC—Carolina Dreaming". Library Journal. 1 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-05. 

External links

Geographic data related to Union County, South Carolina at OpenStreetMap

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