Georgetown – Georgetown, South Carolina
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Both Georgetown and Georgetown County were named for Prince George, who later became King George II of England. Colonial planters and their slaves began settling the area in the early 1700s, focusing on the crops of indigo, and later, rice, cotton, and lumber.
The city started to take shape in 1721 when a petition to establish Prince George Winyah Parish was granted. The parish was based at the Prince George Winyah Church along the Black River, just north of modern-day Georgetown. In 1734, the parish split and the Prince Frederick Parish was created, taking over the initial position on the Black River. As a result, Prince George Parish relocated to the Georgetown’s current location along the Sampit River.
Shortly before the relocation, in 1729, Georgetown’s roads and street names were laid out by Elisha Screven, who is considered the town’s founder. In Screven’s initial plan, areas were reserved for Anglican, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches. The four-by-eight block grid is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is flanked by Wood Street, Church Street, Meeting Street, and Front Street.
In 1765, Georgetown was decreed a “pretty little Town” by a traveling Englishman, though in fact the city sits on two other rivers as well – the Waccamaw and PeeDee. (In addition, the Black River and the North and South Santee flow into the surrounding county.)
When the American Revolution began in 1775, it all but stopped the indigo trade out of Georgetown, which primarily exported to England. Luckily for Georgetown, the transition from indigo to rice was an easy one, as the field structures require many of the same types of water distribution. Merchants and plantation owners quickly became rich on “Carolina Gold,” the nickname for rice at the time.
The Civil War and the end of slavery brought a crushing blow to rice production in Georgetown. Competition had already begun in non-slavery-based economies like Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and California. These western states benefited from modern harvesting equipment, but coastal South Carolina’s wet, muddy soil couldn’t support the heavy machines. In the face of these obstacles, rice could no longer sustain Georgetown, and the area harvested its last commercial rice crop in 1919.
Aided in no small part by the rivers that surround it and flow into the Atlantic Ocean, Georgetown was able to rebound by attracting new industries. Timber, paper, and steel industries flourished for much of the twentieth century.
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