York’s history spans a period from its first settlement of the area by the Catawba Indians to the present participation in the Metrolina boom.
The first English contact with the Catawba was in 1673 when a delegation from Charles Town sought help from the Indians in subduing a hostile Indian tribe. The Catawba Indians, always friendly to the white man, played a great part in South Carolina’s, as well as York’s history.
The county of York was established March 12, 1785 by dividing the district of Camden into seven counties, three of which were named Lancaster, Chester and York, with York County having 685 square miles.
The first white settlers came here in the early 1750’s having migrated south from Pennsylvania and Virginia. Of the three major groups settling Pennsylvania, the English came first, then the Deutsch (German), and then the Scots. The first Scots in Pennsylvania appear to have come directly from Scotland. Later it was those from Ulster, Ireland, that made up the larger portion of the Scots. In the early 1700’s the Ulster Scots, who were Calvinist Presbyterians, became dissatisfied with the Irish-Catholic persecutions and royal legislation that restricted their religious and personal freedom. During time of hunger and famine, they began migrating by the thousands to America.
The names of Lancaster, Chester and York had been brought from England to Pennsylvania, and then on to South Carolina by the early settlers.
In 1755, Indian troubles from the French and Indian War brought many more people down to York county. Yorkville, in its earlier days was known as Fergus Crossroads. Two brothers, William and John Fergus, owned a tavern where the road from Rutherfordton to Camden and the road from Charlottesburg (Charlotte) to Augusta crossed. When York County and thirty three other counties were established in 1785, it was stipulated that each of these counties should erect courthouses and public buildings in the most convenient part of each county with a tax to be levied to cover the cost of “building the court houses, prisons, pillories, whipping posts and stocks.” Being nearest the center of the county, Yorkville was chosen as the county seat and remains so today.
In 1823 there were 451 people living in Yorkville–292 whites and 159 negroes. There were 80 houses in the town, 52 mechanics, 8 lawyers, 2 physicians and one clergyman. There were 8 stores, 5 taverns, one male and one female academy and a printing office.
Yorkville was officially incorporated as a Town on December 7, 1841. W.I. Clawson was the first Mayor, with Stanhope Sadler, F.M. Galbraith, T.H. Simril, and B. T. Wheeler as Wardens. The population of the town at that time was about 800.
It was inevitable that the intersection of the two main wagon roads of the up-country would soon outgrow the name of Fergus Crossroads to become the busy city of Yorkville.
Yorkville’s population swelled to 2,000 in the decade between 1850 and the outbreak of the War Between the States. During this time of prosperity the King’s Mountain Railroad connecting Yorkville to the main line was built. Cotton was king, and was grown throughout the county. This crossroad town had become a prosperous cotton center.
The Rose Hotel was built in 1852 by Dr. E.A. Crenshaw. It was referred to in the low country as one of the most palatial hotels in the upcountry. Its architecture and its well-known services to this court house town makes for a rich history. It has been restored to its original elegance and is now serving as lovely apartment homes for local residents.
In 1854, the Yorkville Female Academy was established on East Jefferson Street. This building was later used as a portion of the McCelvey Elementary School, which has been remodeled over the years. Now known simply as the McCelvey Center, it is managed by the Culture & Heritage Museums.
In 1855 Micah Jenkins and Asbury Coward, young Citadel graduates, established the King’s Mountain Military Academy. It was closed while they served in the War Between the States. Col. Jenkins was killed in the war, but Col. Coward returned to Yorkville and reopened the school. This building no longer stands, but it was the main building of the Episcopal Church Home for Children, an orphanage.
This institution, no longer an orphanage, continues today as a treatment center for emotionally disturbed children and is named York Place.
In 1860 a gas works was installed on West Liberty Street near the recently built recreation center, below the old county jail. Yorkville was the first town in the upcountry to have gas lights. The Old Chronicler column in the newspaper, THE YORKVILLE ENQUIRER, wrote that the town was lighted as London was.
The present courthouse was completed in 1914; the new annex built in 1955 completes the present structure, which is the fourth courthouse to occupy the site. The third courthouse, which was torn down in 1912 to make way for the present one, was designed by the noted architect, Robert Mills of Charleston, the designer of the Washington Monument and other outstanding buildings. He was the first American born and American trained architect.
Many historic homes and buildings still stand in York. (An election was held in May, 1915, and voters approved dropping the “ville”.) Some existing structures were built before 1800 and many are over a century old.
York has many historic and beautiful churches. The first church established in York was the Independent Presbyterian Church in 1821. It was dissolved in 1854. The oldest denomination that still exists is the Trinity Methodist organized in 1824. First Presbyterian Church was organized in 1842, the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in 1852, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in 1853, the First Baptist Church in 1866, the Divine Saviour Catholic Church in 1938, and the Abiding Presence Lutheran Church in 1957.
In 1976, as a part of the National Bicentennial, the inner-city area of York was designated an Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of the largest Historic Districts in the state, consisting of 340 acres and containing over 180 historic structures and landmarks. York is truly an historic and beautiful town of which all can be proud.
York’s people know a sense of place because it is a southern community built by the sweat of many brows and the brilliance of many minds. York is inhabited by descendants of slaves, slave owners and Indians. The streets honor presidents named Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Madison, and Roosevelt. A prominent street named Liberty is reminiscent of York’s heritage.
For nearly a century, Cotton was King in York. Proof of this are remaining textile buildings that once were: Neely’s Manufacturing Company; Cannon Mill Plant; Lockmore; and Travora, all of which used cotton grown in the area. The York Oil Mill was also a thriving industry in this cotton growing area.
Compiled by Anne T. Allison.