Take a trot through history in one of South Carolina’s oldest inland cities. Established in 1733, Camden started as a small backwoods settlement along the banks of the Wateree River, which was about as far west as most Europeans would venture. The county’s namesake, Joseph Kershaw, arrived in 1758 and opened a mercantile called “Pine Tree Hill.” This gave the area a boost and fostered trade by convincing others to settle in what we recognize today as the “Olde English District.”
What made Camden a hot spot for commerce also enticed the English to use it as an outpost during the Revolutionary War. After occupying the town for almost a year, the Redcoats built ramparts around Camden. Some of them have been recreated at Historic Camden. The Kershaw-Cornwallis house, with its majestic architecture, served as the central hub for General Cornwallis. In the Battle of Hobkirk Hill, the English suffered many losses and finally surrendered their hold on the town.
After the turbulence of independence, Camden went on to flourish into one of South Carolina’s most prosperous towns. The trading of wheat, milling and later cotton helped provide Camden with an abundance of riches and resources. New locks and canals were built along the Wateree River to further ease trade with Charleston.
During the Civil War, the town served as a supply point and hospital stop. Among those volunteering to help the cause was surgeon Dr. G.R.C. Todd, President Abraham Lincoln’s brother-in-law. Like many other towns in the Palmetto State, Camden did not escape General Sherman’s fury. In February 1865, many of Camden’s historic buildings were burned down. But in true Camden spirit, the town and its people persevered and rebuilt.
Camden was later to be discovered as a popular place to winter by moneyed northerners. The passion for equine sports remained for many years and continues to this day. Springdale Race Course, home of the annual Carolina Cup, the first steeplechase race in America, continues to strengthen Camden’s legacy of horse racing.
Today, Camden thrives through its strong tourism, inviting lifestyle, recreational opportunities and close proximity to the state capital. With more than 60 buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places, downtown Camden is as big a draw as ever.