Abbeville (population 6,000) brings to life a bygone era through its mixture of Old South charm and European heritage. Scots-Irish settlers who came from Pennsylvania by way of Virginia were among the first settlers around 1758, followed by French Huguenots. Abbeville County was created in 1785, and the village of Abbeville was incorporated in 1832, serving as the county seat. Abbeville became the regional center of agriculture, commerce, and culture.
The community played a key role during the Civil War and is called the “Birthplace and Deathbed of the Confederacy.” The first mass meeting calling for the state’s secession from the Union took place here in November 1860, and in 1865 Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his war cabinet met for the last time in Abbeville’s National Historic Landmark Burt-Stark Mansion and dissolved the Confederacy.
Following the difficult Reconstruction years, the 1800s ushered in a period of prosperity, due in large part to the building of the Georgia, Carolina & Northern Railroad around 1890, when Abbeville became an overnight stop on the New York-Atlanta route. The construction of Abbeville Mills marked the city’s first venture into industrialization.
Abbeville evokes a sense of times past, with a restored square, many preserved 19th century homes, commercial buildings, and churches, and its attractions also include an arts center, recreational areas, state parks, and lakes. Within the recent past, many Mennonite families have moved to the area to take advantage of its rural setting and culture. Abbeville also attracts an increasing number of retirees attracted by a slower pace of day-to-day living.
Among the city’s numerous historical sites is the Abbeville Opera House, which has been restored to its 1908 glory and continues to produce shows. The Abbeville County Museum is in an 1853 jail and currently undergoing restoration. It houses the town’s first printing press and other artifacts. The 1839 Creswell Cabin, relocated to the museum grounds, illustrates life in the backcountry during the mid-19th century.
Local residents whose families have lived in Abbeville for generations share their stories with visitors through the Historic Abbeville Tour Service (HATS). HATS began with a two-hour walking tour for visiting groups and now offers varied tours of historic Abbeville and the surrounding county. These include a Historic Fitness Walk, a step-on guided bus tour, and a ghost tour. A Black Heritage Tour is currently being developed with seed money donated by descendants of local slaves.
Abbeville is also an active participant in the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor, a regional effort that encourages teachers, students, and families to explore the historical, cultural, and nationally significant resources of the state. The corridor offers a Passport Program through which the visitors get a passport booklet stamped when they visit featured destinations.
Since 2003, Abbeville has hosted an Olde South Christmas celebration featuring living history re-enactors and period craftspeople demonstrating their crafts and selling their wares along the square. Carriage rides, storytellers, a parade, and an exhibit on the H.L. Hunley, an excavated Confederate submarine, all add to this event, which is capped by a ball in the Civic Center.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2008.
For more information
Abbeville County Historical Society