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Ridgeland, the Heart of the Lowcountry. Many towns in the southeast owe their genesis to the presence of a railroad during the 1800’s. When the railroad was being planned, the nearest town to today’s Ridgeland, was Grahamville, a quiet village about one mile east. Grahamvillians, not wanting the noise, smoke, and smell of a railroad, turned “thumbs down” on routing the “line” through their settlement, never dreaming that they would one day be a suburb of the town that formed as a result of the railroad and its “depot.”
Originally named Gopher Hill by the Plant System, which built the railroad in the mid 1800’s from Charleston to Savannah, and incorporated under that name in 1894, the town officially became Ridgeland in 1902 when the Atlantic Coastline Railroad took over the “line” and built a new depot about one mile north of the original “station.” The name, Gopher Hill, was derived from the “gopher tortoise”, which was once indigenous to the area but that name was not considered good enough for a new railroad station. Since the town was located on the highest hill between Charleston and Savannah it was renamed Ridgeland.
The Town, which is near the geographic center of Jasper County today, and is its county seat, straddled the county lines of Beaufort and Hampton Counties when it was first settled. Jasper County was formed in 1912, with Ridgeland selected as its County Seat. A Courthouse was built in 1915. (This large and beautiful structure is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.) Of course, prior to the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans inhabited the area. Artifacts, such as arrow heads and pottery shards, are still often found. These are attributed to the Coosaw and Yemassee tribes which were here when the Europeans arrived. Native Americans migrated out of this area soon after the Yemassee Uprising of 1712.
Thomas Heyward, Jr. was one of the most famous citizen this area has produced. A signer of the Declaration of Independence, he was raised and buried at Old House about 5 miles east of present day Ridgeland. His father, Daniel, and brother, Nathaniel, were also entrepreneurs of their time. However, the county is named for a non-resident, Sgt. William Jasper, a hero of the Revolutionary War. Ridgeland is also the birthplace and current home of General Jacob Edward Smart. Gen. Smart was the second South Carolinian to earn a fourth star. A highly decorated Air Force veteran the General is a true American hero. Well known and loved by all, he celebrates his 93rd birthday on May 31st.
Ridgeland had just begun to develop when the Civil War devastated the area. Although the “Battle of Honey Hill” was fought just a few miles from town, and the Confederate troops won the battle to protect the railroad, Sherman’s Army was not far behind, and almost everything was “put to the torch.” Only a few churches and buildings used by the dreaded Yankees were left standing. Holy Trinity Episcopal in Grahamville, and the Gillisonville Baptist in Gillisonville, are both antebellum churches that have been well reserved.
An economy based on agriculture, particularly rice farming had brought prosperity to the community in the early and mid 1800s. The Civil War devastation left the entire area in poverty. Wealthy outsiders bought up the land and many hunting clubs and absentee owned timber companies moved in. Local citizens developed businesses and small industries and were making an excellent “comeback” when the depression of 1929 hit. As we came out of the depression and tourism developed, Ridgeland’s location on U.S. Highway 17, the main route between Miami and New York, opened up opportunities, and Ridgeland began to grow again. We even learned to love those “damn yankees” because they brought money. Around 1980, when 1-95 opened, the location of Ridgeland’s two interchanges were such that traffic bypassed the town. Main Street began to “dry up.” It was not until politicians saw fit to put an interchange at U.S. 278 and 1-95 (Exit 21) that Ridgeland began to really benefit from the proximity of the Interstate. Several motels, restaurants, service stations, a major super market, and numerous small businesses soon developed.
The 1990’s saw great things happen for Ridgeland. The Town began its downtown redevelopment effort with Main Street receiving new sidewalks, parks, lighting and palmetto trees. New businesses moved in. The old downtown and the new business section at I-95 were united with a common development theme. Additional commercial development followed and made for a much stronger economy. Ridgeland is the “residence of choice” for much of the work force that serves Hilton Head, Sun City, and other new and developing resort, residential, and commercial areas springing up in the southern part of the county.
Ridgeland has turned itself into one of the prettiest and most charming small towns in South Carolina. With its proximity to excellent hunting grounds, good salt and fresh water fishing, and numerous golf courses within easy driving distance, it is a highly desirable place to live, work and play. It is truly the Heart of the Lowcountry, not only geographically, but in its people, culture, history, recreation, and economic opportunity.