EDGEFIELD — The Edgefield County Historical Society, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, is one of the oldest organizations of its kind in South Carolina.
It held its first meeting on June 27, 1939, at the home of Agatha Abney Woodson on Church Street.
The purpose of the Historical Society, which has approximately 200 members, is to study, teach and preserve the history of the Old Edgefield District, which included all or parts of Edgefield, Saluda, Aiken, Greenwood and McCormick counties.
“We know where we came from, and we are very proud of our rich history,” said Bettis Rainsford, who is the Historical Society's historian. “We have an extraordinary wealth of people who have played major roles not only in Edgefield, but also at the state and national levels.”
The area, which is known for its colorful and sometimes violent past, has produced 10 South Carolina governors, including Strom Thurmond, who served for nearly 50 years in the U.S. Senate.
It also has been the home of many individuals who fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
In addition, some of the key leaders in the civil rights movement can trace their roots to Edgefield.
To make sure that the contributions of Edgefield's residents aren't forgotten, the Historical Society has published numerous pamphlets, booklets and books on a variety of subjects. It also has created living history sites and restored homes and other buildings.
The Historical Society operates the Joanne T. Rainsford Discovery Center, which is filled with exhibits about Edgefield's early days, and a house museum at Magnolia Dale, which is the organization's headquarters.
The Historical Society has a history class that meets every Sunday ato work on a book about Edgefield's involvement in the Revolutionary War.
“We're about two-thirds of the way through that project,” said Billy Benton, who is the Historical Society's president.
The organization also has been focusing recently on its effort to preserve Horn's Creek Baptist Church, which was constructed in the 1700s.
Edgefield has been known since the 1800s for its stoneware pottery, and the Historical Society wants to do more to preserve that tradition.
“We have the Old Edgefield Pottery, and we built a groundhog kiln,” Rainsford said. “Next, we'd like to recreate a little potters' village, but we need some significant funding to do that.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013.