Hamburg — South Carolina's Lost Places

South Carolina SC History SC Lost Places Hamburg County History

History of Hamburg, South Carolina

For a little over a century – from 1821 until 1929 – the now-extinct town of Hamburg occupied a portion of present-day North Augusta, located between the 5th Street Bridge and 13th Street Bridge. Though once home to a thriving inland port – the largest in South Carolina – Hamburg has now vanished almost completely. In its latter years, following the Civil War, it was also the site of a successful freedmen's village. Sadly, it is remembered today primarily as the setting for the Hamburg Massacre, one of the bloodiest race riots in South Carolina's history. In this violent battle, at least six black men were murdered without cause, purely for the sake of "provok[ing] a row."

In the sections below, we will help you explore each of Hamburg's remaining landmarks (there are only four), as well as the events that led to the Hamburg Massacre. First, however, we present this quick overview of Hamburg's history.

Hamburg History – An Overview

Hamburg was founded by businessman Henry Shultz from neighboring Augusta, Georgia – just across the Savannah River. Shultz established the town (which he named for his birthplace of Hamburg, Germany) as a commercial port that could compete against Augusta. The settlement flourished as cotton and tobacco merchants shipped their wares down river to Savannah and Charleston. Indeed, trade there became so successful that the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company made Hamburg its western terminus. This line, completed in 1833, stretched 136 miles and was, at the time, the single longest rail line in the world.

(Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

For over 30 years, Hamburg enjoyed its status as one of the state's economic bulwarks, but in 1853, the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company decided to extend its line over the Savannah River and into Augusta. Almost immediately, Hamburg became obsolete. By the outbreak of the Civil War, the town had been nearly abandoned by white merchants and their families.

During Reconstruction, freed African-Americans settled in vacant Hamburg and established their own municipality and state-sanctioned militia. Despite the fact that the rail bridge now bypassed the town, Hamburg still offered some important advantages, primarily in that it was situated next to three fresh-water springs and provided excellent access to the river.

For roughly a decade, this freedmen's community afforded former slaves a safe place to build new lives for themselves and their families. The restored Hamburg even served as a home base for several key leaders, including Prince R. Rivers, a literate slave who escaped and joined the Union army, was both a magistrate and a South Carolina legislator.

Tragically, this haven was destroyed on July 8, 1876, when between one and two hundred "Red Shirts" – members of a Southern paramilitary group dedicated to white supremacy – surrounded roughly forty black men hiding in a local armory and engaged in a shootout that left three dead – one white and two black. Anger did not dissipate with this bloodshed, however, and five black men were then captured and executed.

Future South Carolina governor Ben "Pitchfork" Tillman participated in this massacre and later stated, "The leading white men of Edgefield" had decided "to seize the first opportunity that the Negroes might offer them to provoke a riot and teach the Negroes a lesson." Tillman further described the massacre as an opportunity for "the whites [to] demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable."

Hamburg Depot + SC Rail Road & Canal Company

This humble yellow building may look dilapidated and forlorn, but it signifies a remarkable achievement of modern industry and civil engineering. Tucked behind a fence on private property in North Augusta sits the depot for the Charleston-to-Hamburg line of the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road. When the line was completed in 1833, it was the longest in the world – stretching a whopping 136 miles!

(Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

The South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company was incorporated in 1827 with cotton merchant William Aiken serving as its first president. Towns such as nearby Aiken - founded in 1835 and named for the rail company's leader - were laid out as stops along the tracks from Charleston to the once-burgeoning town of Hamburg.

Learn more about the Hamburg Depot.

Hamburg-to-Augusta Rail Bridge

For 20 years, Hamburg thrived as cotton and tobacco were shipped to the port cities of Charleston and Savannah. However, the South Carolina Railroad built a rail bridge connecting Hamburg to Augusta in 1853, rendering the trading town and its shipping industry irrelevant. Concrete pilings from this rail bridge, seen below, remain visible in the river.

(Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

The old railroad bridge was dismantled in 1908 and replaced with the Sixth Street Bridge in 1912, now operated by Norfolk Southern Railroad. Its pilings are one of the last remaining vestiges of Hamburg.

Learn more about the Hamburg-to-Augusta Rail Bridge.

Rutherford Brickyard

These brick ruins are also remnants of the former town of Hamburg. They once comprised the W.J. Rutherford and Company, established here in 1895.

(Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

Hamburg and other areas along the Savannah River banks such as Edgefield took advantage of clay deposits in the local soil to develop brick and pottery factories. While not as lucrative as the shipping industry, the brick and clay businesses allowed residents to maintain a livelihood.

Learn more about the Rutherford Brickyard.

First Providence Baptist Church

First Providence Baptist Church in North Augusta was founded in 1860 in the now-extinct community of Hamburg. Although this port town initially thrived – even attracting a line from the South Carolina Canal and Railroad – it lost its competitive value in 1853 when the Hamburg-to-Augusta rail bridge opened.

(Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

This new bridge diverted commerce from Hamburg and led to a near-exodus of white merchants and their families. During this upheaval, just one year before the outbreak of the Civil War, African-Americans from Thankful Baptist Church across the Savannah River in Augusta formed a church in the evaporating town, calling it Providence Baptist Church.

Learn more about First Providence Baptist Church.

The Hamburg Massacre

The town was the site of the 1876 Hamburg massacre, during which seven men were killed - one white and six black. The tragic event was the result of a standoff between the black state militia of around forty men and a mob of white men numbering more than 100, demanding that the militia disarm.

(Larry Gleason of Aiken, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

When the militia refused, gunfire erupted. Two men were killed during the shooting, one man was killed while attempting to run to safety, and four members of the militia were later singled out and executed by the mob.

Learn more about the Hamburg Massacre.

Learn More about Hamburg, South Carolina

  • Henry Shultz and the Dead Town of Hamburg, SC
    This superb website offers the most comprehensive look at historic Hamburg, from its origins under Henry Shultz to its eventual demise.

  • Hamburg's Honkey Tonk Hell
    This fascinating account tells of an old concrete honkey tonk located in the vicinity of Hamburg. Author and photographer John Mulhouse walks us through the site in all its haunting and macabre detail. The building, which dates from the 1950s, was later converted into a mission. Since it postdates Hamburg by roughly three decades, it is not considered an associated landmark.

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