Walterboro, South Carolina, (population 5,900) was founded by two rice planters, brothers Paul and Jacob Walter, who were looking to find higher, dryer ground for their families during the summer months. The village, named for the brothers, began in 1783, was named the county seat in 1817 and incorporated in 1826. Walterboro is the seat of Colleton County, one of three original Carolina counties on the Atlantic seacoast granted by King Charles II to his supporters in 1663.
Agriculture was the earliest economic engine in Walterboro and the surrounding county. At one time there were more than 200 working plantations in Colleton growing indigo, rice, and cotton. Rice remained a major product of Colleton County until the early 1900s. With the advent of automobiles and the railroad, Walterboro became the center for nearby farming communities. Thanks to its location, Walterboro also established itself as “the place” to spend the night for travelers going between New York and Florida.
Great Swamp Sanctuary is a recent conservation project that preserved a historic road. The Great Swamp Sanctuary is located in the heart of Walterboro, and consists of three waterways that form the headwaters of Ashepoo River. In order to protect this important natural feature, the city of Walterboro together with non-profit organizations and state and local agencies, created an 842-acre reserve that includes walking, biking, and canoe trails, and observation stations. The reserve contains a portion of the Old Savannah Road, which began as a narrow path used by the Natchez Kusso (or Edisto) Indians and early trappers traveling from South Carolina to Georgia. The Savannah Road led to the county courthouse in Walterboro, and became the primary road from Hampton, Allendale, Jasper, and Beaufort Counties, as well as Savannah, Georgia, into Walterboro. The city of Walterboro, assisted by a state grant, renovated the roadbed and bridges throughout the swamp for pedestrian use and added interpretive signage about the road’s history. The final portion of the Great Swamp Sanctuary project is a $2.5 million learning facility currently in development. The area is open to visitors now, and studies forecast that when a new learning facility is completed, the sanctuary will draw in 150,000 people each year.
In addition to protecting its natural resources, Walterboro also has measures in place to protect its historical resources. The Walterboro Historic Preservation Commission was established and authorized in 2000 to oversee the development and protection of the city’s historic districts and historic buildings.
Walterboro has three museums that share different chapters in the city’s history. The Colleton Museum is located in the old jail and explores the region’s history from pre-historic times to the early 1900s. The Bedon Lucas House is one of Walterboro’s five remaining “high houses” designed and built high off of the ground to escape mosquitoes and catch cool breezes. It is a good example of the houses early Walterboro residents built as summer escapes and is furnished with antique pieces gathered from the area. Finally, the Slave Relic Museum is dedicated to documenting, preserving, interpreting, and celebrating the history and culture of people of African descent. It is the first African American history museum of its kind in the area and is a part of South Carolina’s African American Heritage Trail.
Although agriculture is no longer the predominant industry in Walterboro, the crop that was once the main staple for the area is celebrated each year during the Colleton County Rice Festival. Held each April, the festival features a parade, arts and crafts sale, concerts, fireworks, story telling, and rice-related events, including a rice cooking contest and the “world’s largest pot of rice.”
Designated a Preserve America Community in May 2008.