Pickens County History
Pickens County bears the name of General Andrew Pickens, Revolutionary War hero, Brigadier General, U.S. Congressman and Commissioner of Indian Affairs. But the county's fascinating history begins far before the general's arrival in the area.
The pictoglyphs, or rock art, found throughout the county speak of a prehistoric people who preceded the Cherokee, leaving behind little trace of their civilization except the mysterious rock markings that are so cherished in our county. More than 40 rock carvings etched centuries ago include 17 rare human figures. The South Carolina Rock Art Center, on the grounds of Hagood Mill works to showcase and preserve these carving for future generations.
After these prehistoric people came the Cherokee. Traces of their civilization are readily found in the names of towns throughout the county: Keowee, Jocassee, Toxaway and Seconee are just a few of the names that tie our region to the Cherokee. They were known for vast farms and beautiful orchards, and the Cherokee trading paths into Tennessee and other states can still be traced today.
Then came the American Revolution, and the Cherokee sided with the area's British sympathizers, often going on raids with local Tories and fighting in brutal battles that left bloodshed and lingering animosity. After their defeat at the hands of the young nation, the Cherokee were forced to surrender their lands, which were folded into the Ninety-Six Judicial District encompassing Greenville, Anderson, Oconee and Pickens Counties. The area then became the Pendleton District, with the first town of Pickensville, a stage coach stop, clustered near present-day Easley.
In 1828, the area was divided into Pickens and Anderson Counties, and a new courthouse built on the west bank of the Keowee River. The state legislature named one of the new counties Pickens, in honor of Gen. Andrew Pickens, whose plantation Hopewell was at the area's southern border.
By 1860, the Pickens population exceeded 19,000, 22 percent of those people slaves working in the district's many farms. Sawmills, gristmills, and a few shops producing were the extend of the area's industry. There were plenty of churches, but very few schools, and the Blue Ridge Railroad arrived in 1860, along with the Civil War, bringing marauders, deserters and guerilla fighters into the area.
As with many rural areas, the war brought economic devastation. The South Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1868, changed the name district to county throughout the state. The Convention also established Oconee County out of the portion of Pickens District west of the Keowee and Seneca rivers.
Pickens County built a new courthouse, and many of the residents of Old Pickens on the Keowee moved to the new town, some bringing their dismantled homes with them to be near the seat of county government and commerce.
The Atlanta and Charlotte Air Line Railroad (later called the Southern Railway) came to Pickens in the 1870s. New towns grew up along its route, including Easley, named for General W. K. Easley, in 1874, along with Liberty and Central.
Cotton was still king in South Carolina. The textile industry brought the first modern cotton mill to Cateechee in 1895 and changed the face of the local economy. By 1900, the county had two railroads, three cotton mills, three banks, three roller mills, four brickyards, ten shingle mills and 37 sawmills.
By 1940, the Pickens County population may have reached 37,000, but it was still a one-crop economy. Most of its citizens grew cotton, wove it into cloth, or worked to transport it to other areas.
Manufacturing has spurred economic development since World War II, bringing nearly 100 manufacturing plants and attracting new industry and new residents to Pickens County to take advantage of the mild climate, business opportunity, and scenic beauty.