Present day Blackville was considered part of the Backcountry in the 1700's. Transportation was by horseback, wagon, and possibly boat, and was slow and tiring. There was a need for an easier, faster way to travel and transport items.
To enable Charles Town to remain a business center and port of importance, a group of businessmen formed the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company in 1827. They made plans to build a railroad from Charles Town (Charleston) to Hamburg. Hamburg is near present day North Augusta. A steam engine was purchased and brought by ship from New York to Charleston. The engine was named the “Best Friend” and made the first passenger run on Christmas Day of 1830 on the short six-mile portion of the track which had been completed.
The “Best Friend” engine exploded after only six months due to carelessness of the fireman. Parts were salvaged from the wreckage and another engine was built and named “The Phoenix” after the bird of Egyptian legend which was consumed by fire and rose anew from its ashes.
In October, 1833, the railroad was completed. It was then the world’s longest railroad. The track was 126 miles long from beginning to end. The train reportedly could run between 15 and 25 miles an hour, but had to stop every 10 miles for fuel and water.
Mr. John Alexander Black was head of the railroad’s Committee of Inquiry, and was given the responsibility of choosing the sites for fuel and water stops. Since the location of present-day Blackville was as far as they could travel in one day, it was designated the overnight stop. A village began to grow around the railroad tracks and became a town which was named for Mr. Black.
The train burned wood so a bright glow could be seen down the track when the train approached. As the darkness came earlier during the winter months, often a fire was built of pitch pine on layers of dirt on a flatcar in front of the engine so the engineer could see the track immediately ahead.
A place was needed to house the travelers overnight, so a rough building was erected near the railroad. Following is an excerpt from the book Centennial History of South Carolina Railroad by Samuel M. Derrick, who rode one of the first trains: “...Stopping, then going fast, then slow again - we arrived at two or three log houses, and one half built ‘tavern’ amid a half burnt forest of pitch pine. Here was Blackville. A few fires glimmered on the ground: a square rough boarded fabric stood by the roadside that was the ‘storehouse.’ Here was to be our tarrying place for the night.Â” Five rooms were available to be shared by twenty-five to thirty passengers, both men and women.
Having begun, the town continued to grow and people of several different nationalities, German, Irish, Scots and others, settled in the community. The town was chartered as the village of Blackville in 1837. It is not clear why the name was changed to Clinton in 1849, and changed back to Blackville by late 1851.
The railroad was of vital importance during the Civil War. Since it was used by the South to transport troops and supplies, it was a special target of Sherman’s Army. Thousands of Union troops camped in Blackville in early February of 1865 near what is now Hilda Road on the edge of town. While here, they destroyed the railroad, made large bonfires and heated the metal rails and twisted them until they could not be used again. This was done in numerous places up and down the rail line. It is said that General Sherman met here with his officers during this time. On February 12th the army marched out of Blackville, leaving a trail of smoke behind them. A few homes and other buildings survived due to the vigilance and fast work of the villagers.
Blackville has been called the “Town of the Phoenix” since it survived several sweeping fires in the main part of town during the 1800's. There were many fires during the time wood and coal burning train engines were operated. A fire might begin from cinders which have fallen near the tracks and ignited debris or grass. Sometimes buildings burned before the grass fires could be extinguished.
After the Civil War, homes, churches and
businesses were slowly rebuilt. There were some
political changes and Blackville became the county
seat in 1869. Court was held in the Baptist Church building, among other places, until a
two-storied court house was erected. The political
climate changed again and the county seat was
moved back to Barnwell in 1874.
The Charleston-Hamburg railroad was rebuilt through Blackville after the war and a railroad running north and south was constructed. These two tracks crossed at the west end of Main Street. Freight sheds and docks were built as well as side-tracks which made it possible for trains to leave freight cars to be filled or emptied and picked up on a later trip. This allowed shipping in all directions.
Some trains carried passengers, some transported freight, and some carried both. Salesmen, often called “drummers,” rode the trains from town to town selling their wares. Many of them spent the night in Blackville. The town grew with the railroads, becoming a marketing and transportation center, especially for farm products. Farming had become the major source of income for the area. Produce was brought to the downtown area by wagons, trucks and even cars. They would park all along the tracks up and down Main Street. They also parked in back lots behind the stores, waiting to sell their produce to buyers who would ship it by train to markets in cities across the country.
Business thrived and Blackville had several hotels, the Shamrock being the largest. Blackville was well known for the quantity of watermelons, cucumbers, cantaloupes and asparagus grown and shipped. In 1917, the town’s railroad sidetrack held more than a hundred railroad cars.
The automobile became a familiar sight in the early 1900's. With the improvement of paved roads, large trucks began to be used to transport most of the farm products. Businesses in town thrived. During the 1930's, 40's, and 50's every store building on Main and Clark Streets was occupied by a thriving business.
After World War II, the use of cars and trucks increased and the trains were used less. The coal engines had been replaced by diesel engines that were cleaner burning and not as hazardous.
The Farmers’ Market was built on Jones Bridge Road during the 1950's and the growers no longer gathered downtown to sell their produce. Many of the smaller farms were sold to owners of larger farms and the trucks began going to the fields to buy a truckload of produce from one farm. The small farmers remaining began taking their crops to the FarmersÂ’ Market in Columbia. This caused additional loss to the businesses of the town.
The depot or train station, which was built circa 1910, was moved to Court House Square in 1985 and renovated. The Blackville Library is now housed there. Almost all the tracks of the Charleston to Hamburg railroad line were removed by 1994 and the whistle of the train can no longer be heard in Blackville. The walkway and shrubbery in the center of Main Street is all that remains to show that a busy railroad and shipping center once operated here. The citizens of Blackville are proud of its history and look with hope to the future.