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Incorporated in 1911, the City of Hardeeville has changed much in its near century of existence. The city moved from a logging town to a tourist town but the history of this vibrant community goes back much further than its incorporation as a municipality.
Native Americans first inhabited the shores of the Savannah River near present day Millstone Landing. Later Swiss Huguenots briefly settled the area but the settlement of Purrysburg only lasted a decade as residents were drawn away by Oglethorpe’s nearby Savannah.
The city now known as Hardeeville was founded by a family of pioneering North Carolinians sometime around 1800, when Isaac Hardee brought his family to the sand ridges of St. Peter’s Parish. Rice plantations along the Savannah River fueled the community until the construction of the Charleston and Savannah Railroad brought greater opportunity to the rural settlement. According to area historian Barbara Pinckney, the Hardee’s plantation stood north of the existing city’s limits, in the U.S. 321 neighborhood known as Raymond’s Hill.
Hardee’s descendant, White William Hardee, took advantage of the railroad by founding Hardee’s Station on the Charleston & Savannah Railroad. The rail line followed the same path as the current CSX railroad through town and the station was located just behind present day St. Anthony’s Catholic Church on Highway 17. The new station spurred growth in the surrounding city and the name Hardee’s Station was soon changed to Hardeeville.
The early part of the 20th century found timber king in Hardeeville as the Argent Lumber Company opened for business on September 1st, 1916. Argent operated four railroad engines and the Hardeeville Mill becoming the leading employer of the city until 1959, when the lumber mill and railroad cars closed down. Right by the Old City Hall on Main St, sits the Argent train No. 7, which stands as a testament to Argent Lumber’s influence on the city. Timber companies continued to own much of the land around Hardeeville but the timber and jobs were shipped elsewhere.
After Argent closed down, the city relied on tourism from motorists passing through on U.S. Route 1 and then Interstate 95. Hotels and restaurants served travelers with a good nights rest, home cooking, and southern hospitality. The hotels evolved from individually operated hotels of the fifties, to the national franchise chains we have today, but the focus stayed on serving people passing through Hardeeville.
Hardeeville as a waypoint instead of a destination began to change in the late 1990’s. The timber industry became more efficient and the land they owned around Hardeeville grew in value due to its closeness to Savannah and Hilton Head. Realizing they could make more by selling the land than growing trees on it, the timber companies sold it in large tracts to various developers. These five tracts became the backbone of the sustainable growth that Hardeeville is now experiencing.
As Hardeeville moves into this new century it is primed to become a leading city in South Carolina. The future of Hardeeville will be written with a sharp eye on its history. As the population doubles, then triples, and then quadruples, citizens and city planners will work to ensure that the small town roots and strong sense of community continue to be its cornerstone.