Belton, South Carolina (Population: 4,461)
The Piedmont area of South Carolina prior to its settlement by European and American immigrants was inhabited by the Cherokee Indians. During the Revolutionary War, the Cherokees sided with the British, and with the signing of the Hopewell Treaty in 1785, the Indian population was forced to leave the Piedmont and relocate in North Carolina. The area that was to become Belton was granted to three Revolutionary soldiers, Joseph Brown, Charles Clemments and Christopher Williman. From 1785 until the mid-1840’s, the area developed a rural agrarian economy yet was isolated from the main centers of trade both within the state and the nation.
A meeting of citizens from Greenville, Anderson, Abbeville, Laurens, Clinton, Ninety-Six, Columbia and Charleston in 1845 was of major importance to the future development of Belton. The group formed "The Greenville and Columbia Railroad" and set as its goals to connect the Piedmont Region to the existing rail system from Columbia to Charleston. The original route planned would have passed by the courthouse in Anderson, yet a more direct route proposed by the chief engineer for the railroad was followed, and this followed the natural ridge west of the Saluda River where Belton was to develop. The development of the town on its present site was further enhanced by the building of a spur line from the main line, which ran west to Anderson. Because of these developments, the town of Belton grew into a lively and productive "railroad junction" town and a center for both cultural and commercial activities.
Most of the land surrounding the railroad junction was owned by Dr. George Brown, and in 1849 his brother-in-law, John West, surveyed the land and laid out a plan for the town. A public auction was held for various commercial and residential lots. Dr. Brown sold land to the railroad as a site for the local depot. Dr. Brown donated lots for a church and school. A town square was laid out east of the depot, which was to become the main business district. The depot was built in 1853, and the railroad from Columbia to Greenville was completed in the same year. In 1855 the state issued a charter of incorporation to Belton and set as its town limits the area within a one-half mile radius from the railroad depot.
Belton’s earliest structures were wooden and consisted of various stores, residences, a school, a hotel, and the train depot. The hotel, built in 1853, was an important center of activity as passengers stopped at Belton awaiting the departure of the train. In 1868-1870 two brick mills were built on Crayton Street which later became Brown Avenue. The first brick store was built on the square in 1877 by A. J. Stringer with its second and third floors being made into an opera house. The Belton Dramatic Club was soon organized and performances began. Enoch and Joel Rice built a row of brick buildings on the north side of the square in 1882, which housed a large cotton gin.
The local economy developed around its main agricultural crop, cotton. Besides the gin mill, a mill that processed cottonseed oil was built. In 1899 the Belton Mill was founded to process cloth, and in 1908 E. Blair Rice founded Blair Mill which manufactured terry cloth. Rice first located his machinery over his father’s stores on the north side of the square. Other manufacturing businesses developed including The Belton Bottling Company, which was also located in the "Rice Block" on the square. The Taylor and Cox Fire Extinguisher Company was founded in 1884 and sold gin whets as well as fire extinguishers.
In 1899 Belton’s charter was renewed and amended with its corporate limits being extended to a mile from the train depot in all directions. A municipal water system was begun in 1908, which included the construction of a 155 feet concrete tower with a capacity for 165,000 gallons of water. In response to a study of the downtown area in 1923, the area within the square was paved to better accommodate automobile traffic. In 1927 municipal bonds were issued for the construction of a sewer system which serviced those areas within the original one-half mile boundaries. Between 1910 and 1940, Belton experienced very little growth with its population rising from 1,652 in 1910 to 2,119 in 1940. The growth of Belton during the 1940’s and 1950’s was due largely to the location of several new textile mills in the area. Both Delta Textiles and the Dixie Textile Company began production in 1946: Mimosa Plastics was added in 1957 and the Beacon Manufacturing Company in 1959. Other manufacturing industries have been attracted to the city and have contributed to the increase of Belton’s population to its 1970 level of 5,257 persons. Census figures in 2000 indicate a Belton population of 4463 and Belton's position as a bedroom community for metropolitan areas of Anderson, Greenville, and Greenwood.