10 Oldest Cities In South Carolina

We scoured the internet to determine the towns and cities in South Carolina that have been around the longest.

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You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.

That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.

That’s older than America for those playing at home.

So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in South Carolina? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?

Because even if your South Carolina city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.

And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.

These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Palmetto State according to their ‘date of foundation’:

  1. Columbia (Photos)
  2. Camden (Photos)
  3. Greenville (Photos)
  4. Florence (Photos)
  5. Bluffton (Photos)
  6. Gaffney (Photos)
  7. Port Royal (Photos)
  8. Newberry (Photos)
  9. Georgetown (Photos)
  10. Bennettsville (Photos)

For being 232 years old, Columbia doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in South Carolina? That would be James Island — a brand spanking 25 years old.

Read on for a look at the oldest places in South Carolina or feel free to check out the best places to live in South Carolina or the safest.

How We Determined When A City Was Founded In South Carolina… Or Is It Settled?

Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.

So what did we do instead?

Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!

For the majority of cities in South Carolina, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):

  • Founded
  • Settled
  • Incorporated
  • Approved
  • Chartered

And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.

If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.

All in all, we were able to collect data on 53 out of 97 in South Carolina with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 54.6% completion rate.

We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Columbia turning out to be the matriarch of South Carolina at the ripe old age of 232.

Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.

1. Columbia

Columbia, South Carolina

Population: 132,236
Founded: 1786
Age: 232
At the time of European encounter, the inhabitants of the area that became Columbia were a people called the Congaree. In May 1540, a Spanish expedition led by Hernando de Soto traversed what is now Columbia while moving northward. The expedition produced the earliest written historical records of the area, which was part of the regional Cofitachequi chiefdom.

From the creation of Columbia by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1786, the site of Columbia was important to the overall development of the state. The Congarees, a frontier fort on the west bank of the Congaree River, was the head of navigation in the Santee River system. A ferry was established by the colonial government in 1754 to connect the fort with the growing settlements on the higher ground on the east bank.

2. Camden

Camden, South Carolina

Population: 7,000
Founded: 1786
Age: 232
Camden is the oldest inland city and fourth oldest city in South Carolina. It is near the center of the Cofitachequi chiefdom that existed in the 1500s. In 1730, Camden became part of a township plan ordered by King George II. Kershaw County’s official web site states, ‘Originally laid out in 1732 as the town of Fredericksburg in the Wateree River swamp (south of the present town) when King George II ordered eleven inland townships established along South Carolina’s rivers, few of the area settlers chose to take lots surveyed in the town, choosing the higher ground to the north. The township soon disappeared.’ In 1758, Joseph Kershaw, from Yorkshire, England came into the township, established a store and renamed the town Pine Tree Hill. Camden became the main inland trade center in the colony. Kershaw suggested that the town be renamed Camden, in honor of Lord Camden, a champion of colonial rights in the British Parliament.

3. Greenville

Greenville, South Carolina

Population: 64,061
Founded: 1831
Age: 187
The land of present-day Greenville was once the hunting ground of the Cherokee which was forbidden to colonists. A wealthy settler from Virginia named Richard Pearis arrived in South Carolina around 1754 trading with Cherokee. Pearis had a child with a Cherokee woman and received about 100,000 acres (40,000 ha) from the Cherokee around 1770. Pearis established a plantation on the Reedy River called the Great Plains in present-day downtown Greenville. The American Revolution divided the South Carolina country between the Loyalists and Patriots. Pearis supported the Loyalists and together with their allies the Cherokee attacked the Patriots. The Patriots retaliated by burning down Pearis’ plantation and jailing him in Charleston. Pearis never returned to his plantation but Paris Mountain is named after him. The Treaty of Dewitt’s Corner in 1777 ceded almost all Cherokee land, including present-day Greenville, to South Carolina.

4. Florence

Florence, South Carolina

Population: 37,840
Founded: 1890
Age: 128
The City of Florence was chartered in 1871 and incorporated in 1890:7 following the 1888 creation of Florence County. Prior to its charter, the city was part of one of the original townships laid out by the Lords Proprietors in 1719. The area was gradually settled through the late 19th and early 20th century. Early settlers practiced subsistence farming and produced indigo, cotton, naval stores and timber, which were shipped down the Great Pee Dee River to the port at Georgetown and exported. In the mid-19th century two intersecting railroads were built, the Wilmington and Manchester, and the Northeastern. Gen. W. W. Harllee, the president of the W & M, built his home at the junction, and named the community ‘Florence’, after his daughter.

5. Bluffton

Bluffton, South Carolina

Population: 17,164
Founded: 1904
Age: 114
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the area comprising southern Beaufort County was known as Granville County of St. Luke’s Parish. The Yamasee people were invited to settle in the area by Lord Cardoss, leader of the nearby Scottish settlement in Beaufort. The Yamasee established ten towns with over 1,200 inhabitants in the area. In 1715, the Yamasee War broke out, and after several years of fighting, the Yamasee migrated to Florida, opening the ‘Indian Lands’ to European settlement. In 1718, the Lords Proprietors carved the area into several new baronies, including the Devil’s Elbow Barony that contained the future town of Bluffton. The first titled owner of the land was the Barbadian planter Sir John Colleton. Following the departure of the Yamasee people, colonists began building plantations in the Bluffton area in 1728. The Colletons prospered by growing cotton, corn and indigo.

6. Gaffney

Gaffney, South Carolina

Population: 12,756
Founded: 1904
Age: 114
Michael A. Gaffney, born in Granard, Ireland, in 1775, emigrated to the United States in 1797, arriving in New York City and moving to Charleston, South Carolina, a few years later. Gaffney moved again in 1804 to the South Carolina Upcountry and established a tavern and lodging house at what became known as ‘Gaffney’s Cross Roads’. The location was perfect for growth because of the two major roads which met here, one from the mountains of North Carolina to Charleston and the other from Charlotte into Georgia. Michael Gaffney died here on September 6, 1854.

7. Port Royal

Port Royal, South Carolina

Source: Public domain

Population: 12,218
Founded: 1904
Age: 114
Port Royal takes its name from the adjacent Port Royal Sound, which was explored and named by Frenchman Jean Ribault in 1562. Ribault founded the short-lived settlement of Charlesfort on Parris Island. The area later became the site of a Spanish and still later Scottish colony during the 17th century.

8. Newberry

Newberry, South Carolina

Population: 10,257
Founded: 1904
Age: 114
European settlers (primarily German, Scots-Irish, and English) began arriving in great numbers in the 1750s. Newberry County was formed from the Ninety-Six District in 1785. Because of its central location, the town of Newberry was chosen in 1789 as the county seat for Newberry County, which was part of an extensive area of cotton plantations. County and town politics were dominated by planters. By the coming of the railroad in 1851, Newberry had become a thriving trade center. This remained the case until the 1860s.

9. Georgetown

Georgetown, South Carolina

Source: Public domain

Population: 8,960
Founded: 1904
Age: 114
Georgetown occupies a unique place in American history. Some historians[who?]claim that American history began in the town in 1526 with the earliest settlement in North America by Europeans with African slaves. It is believed that in that year the Spanish, under Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, founded a colony on Waccamaw Neck called San Miguel de Guadalupe. The colony failed for multiple reasons, including a fever epidemic and a revolt of the African slaves, who fled to join the Cofitachiqui Indians in the area. Having failed as farmers, the surviving Spanish built a ship from local cypress and oak trees and sailed to the Spice Islands in Maritime Southeast Asia.

10. Bennettsville

Bennettsville, South Carolina

Population: 8,493
Founded: 1904
Age: 114
The city of Bennettsville was founded in 1819 on the Great Pee Dee River and named after Thomas Bennett, Jr., then governor of South Carolina. The area was developed for short-staple cotton cultivation, dependent on the labor of enslaved African Americans. Many were brought to the upland area from the Lowcountry, carrying their Gullah culture with them. Others were transported from the Upper South by slave traders. This shift to cotton cultivation in the uplands was based on the development of the cotton gin, which made short-staple cotton, cotton with relatively short fibers, profitable. The advent of the gin in turn led to development of large cotton plantations throughout the Deep South.[citation needed]

Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In South Carolina

So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in South Carolina. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in South Carolina.

And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Palmetto State.

And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to South Carolina:

  1. James Island (Founded in 1993)
  2. Powdersville (Founded in 1993)
  3. Spartanburg (Founded in 1993)
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  • Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In South Carolina

    City Rank Age Year Founded
    Columbia 1 232 1786
    Camden 2 232 1786
    Greenville 3 187 1831
    Florence 4 128 1890
    Bluffton 5 114 1904
    Gaffney 6 114 1904
    Port Royal 7 114 1904
    Newberry 8 114 1904
    Georgetown 9 114 1904
    Bennettsville 10 114 1904
    Union 11 114 1904
    York 12 114 1904
    Lake City 13 114 1904
    Cheraw 14 114 1904
    Clover 15 114 1904
    Walterboro 16 114 1904
    Lexington 17 114 1904
    Conway 18 114 1904
    Beaufort 19 114 1904
    Abbeville 20 114 1904
    Summerville 21 114 1904
    Mount Pleasant 22 114 1904
    Mauldin 23 114 1904
    Anderson 24 114 1904
    Socastee 25 114 1904
    Charleston 26 114 1904
    Rock Hill 27 113 1905
    Piedmont 28 113 1905
    Seneca 29 113 1905
    Darlington 30 113 1905
    Laurel Bay 31 113 1905
    Batesburg-Leesville 32 113 1905
    Sumter 33 113 1905
    Burton 34 113 1905
    Goose Creek 35 113 1905
    Hilton Head Island 36 113 1905
    Clinton 37 113 1905
    Taylors 38 113 1905
    St. Andrews 39 113 1905
    Lancaster 40 113 1905
    Aiken 41 113 1905
    Moncks Corner 42 113 1905
    Myrtle Beach 43 113 1905
    Irmo 44 113 1905
    Greer 45 113 1905
    Central 46 113 1905
    Fort Mill 47 113 1905
    Orangeburg 48 113 1905
    West Columbia 49 113 1905
    Easley 50 113 1905
    Spartanburg 51 113 1905
    Powdersville 52 113 1905
    James Island 53 25 1993

    About Chris Kolmar

    Chris Kolmar has been in the real estate business for almost ten years now. He originally worked for Movoto Real Estate as the director of marketing before founding HomeSnacks.

    He believes the key to finding the right place to live comes down to looking at the data, reading about things to do, and, most importantly, checking it out yourself before you move.

    If you've been looking for a place to live in the past several years, you've probably stumbled upon his writing already.

    You can find out more about him on LinkedIn or his website.