“The modern era had arrived and Darlington was in step with the times.”
Darlington as a municipality came into being as a direct result of an Act of the South Carolina Legislature dated March 24, 1785, which created, the County of Darlington. The passage of this Act initiated a search for a centrally-located site on which to erect a court house and jail for the newly-created County. After a lengthy controversy between two influential families of the County, a compromise was reached and a point on the plantation of John King, Sr., astride a trail leading to Camden, was finally selected.
The first settler in the immediate Darlington area was Abraham Ener; he arrived in the year 1758,having received a Land Grant from George III of Great Britain. His land lay on both sides of Swift Creek, and embraced much of what are now the west-central sections of the city. Most of the eastern areas of Darlington were granted to Emanuel Cox by the King in the year 1770. About the time of the American Revolution, John King, Sr., purchased these two Royal grants, and secured his own grant for the vacant land between.
When it was finally determined that the new court house should be on his land, John King gave the necessary lot, and then proceeded to have the surrounding lands laid, off by a surveyor into lots, anticipating the emergence of a village. However, available evidence indicates that growth was slow, and that for years, there was little more in the village other than the court house, the jail and John King’s house.
According to tradition, Thomas Knight, a merchant, is said to be the first person to erect a dwelling in the recently laid-out village, at the same time building a store on a corner lot. He was followed in short order by Joseph Woods, District Sheriff; Col. John Smith, Justice of the County Court; Jesse DuBose and Moses Sanders. Sanders’ choice of a home site extended the village westward beyond the original lots surveyed for John King. Of these pioneer settlers, only Woods has descendants still in the city.
For a number of years, James Ervin was the only resident attorney in the village. Shortly after the War of 1812, the court house at Darlington was made the seat of justice for the huge Cheraw Equity circuit; thus the importance of the village as a regional court was assured. This caused more attorneys to locate in the town. Long before the Civil War, the Darlington Bar was one of the largest and most highly respected in the entire upper Pee Dee region.
By 1818, the population of the town had increased, sufficiently to warrant the founding of a school; that year, the “Darlington Society” — a group of influential men of the neighborhood — were instrumental in the organization of the Darlington Academy which later became St. John’s School.
Until 1827, there was no church edifice in the village; services for the various denominations had been held, regularly in the court house for years, and, it was not until 1827 that a successful movement got underway to build a church in
Darlington. It was completed in 1827 by the Presbyterians, but all denominations contributed, to the effort with the understanding that each had free access to the facility, By 182.9 the Baptists had organized officially into a church but did not have their own meeting house until 1831. Methodists acquired their lot and built their first sanctuary in 1830.
Although Darlington is shown in 1820 as the “head of navigation” on Black Creek, no serious attempts were made to navigate that stream, and Darlington merchants for generations hauled their goods from landings on the Pee Dee River; stages passed through town at regular intervals, giving excellent connections to the outside world.
Darlington is described in 1826 as “….the seat of justice of the district situated near Swift Creek, which waters two sides of the village the public buildings are a handsome new brick court house and jail, besides several private homes and the requisite taverns.” The village was incorporated December 19, 1335, with an intendant –warden system of government. By 1836, a Library Society flourished, and in 1849, a warrant was issued to organize a Lodge of Ancient Free Masons, which is functioning to this day. An earlier Lodge, organized, in 1822, withered and died after less than five years in existence.
In 1854, a railroad connecting Wilmington with the interior of South Carolina was completed; it passed ten miles South of the village of Darlington. A horse-drawn hack service was immediately inaugurated from the Court House down the Ebenezer Road to a passenger platform built alongside the tracks on the Beaverdam plantation of W. E. James, where the daily trains were met. It is said that several prominent Darlington citizens refused to allow the tracks to be laid any closer to the town to prevent a feared influx of undesirables. Many of the same persons quickly modified their views and worked to get a spur line extended to Darlington and on to Cheraw. Such a connection was completed during 1855.
As the great American Civil War began, Darlington’s militia company, the “Darlington Guards”, was the first to respond to Gov. Pickens’ urgent call for volunteers; they arrived at the scene of action in Charleston ahead of any other unit. The village of Darlington escaped the ravages of the war, but did not come out unscathed. During the final days of the conflict, enemy forces passed through the town, en route to liberate prisoners of war in Florence, S.C. Only the railroad depot, cotton platform and newspaper office we burned by these passing troops. Immediately after the end of the war, Darlington became regional headquarters for the U. S. Army occupational forces in eastern South Carolina; matters from Cheraw to Georgetown were handled through the office.
After a disastrous fire swept through the town in 1866, the Phoenix Fire Company, a group of volunteer fireman, was organized; the town has had continuous fire protection since that time.
Starting in 1873 and continuing for many years, a large regional fair was held annually in Darlington, representing most of the counties of the upper Pee Dee region. It is said to have compared favorably with the State Fair in Columbia; backing and motivation for this fair came primarily from the Darlington Agricultural Society.
The first banking house was opened in Darlington in 1881, with a capital stock of $50,000.00. The town had not previously been without banking services, however, since both the Bank of Cheraw and the Bank of Georgetown had maintained agencies here as early as the 1840’s.
The first industry of any consequence arrived in Darlington after the Civil War; a newcomer, John Siskron, opened a wagon manufacturer. Then, in 1883, a major industry came in the form of a cotton mill founded by local businessmen utilizing to a large degree local capital. Cultivation of tobacco on a large scale came to the region in the mid-l880s, and within a little more than a decade, Darlington became the largess tobacco market in the state, with several tobacco related industries as well.
By the early 1890’s Darlington had the benefit of centrally-supplied running water and electric lights; and several new industries, including a fertilizer plant; a phosphate plant; a compress company; a canning factory and a marble works. Nor were leisure activities overlooked: The Darlington Driving Association, a group of horsemen, built a race track near town, where races were held regularly for years. After the turn of the century, motorcycles supplanted horses on an oval south of town. A small, wooden opera house had been in operation for years, and the Darlington Baseball Association held regular games.
The first decade of the Twentieth Century was one of unparalleled growth. A magnificent city hall-opera house, modern in every respect, and designed by famed architect Frank P. Milburn, was completed in 1901; a beautiful new court house of the latest and most fireproof design was completed in 1905; the first three-story brick office building was completed in 1908; many expensive new homes were begun, in the residential section; and subscriptions were taken for a four-story hospital. Concrete sidewalks were laid in the business section; Bell took over the localized phone service and waterworks were modernized and expanded.
The modern era had arrived and Darlington was in step with the times.