Town of Marion
People who were traveling from North Carolina on their way to the beaches of South Carolina, called the town of Marion “that pretty little town we go through on the way to the beach.” One reason for its attractiveness is the tree-shaded public square in the center of town. In 1798 Thomas Godbold, son of the pioneer settler John Godbold, exchanged four acres of land “for the public good” for a dollar and then sold lots surrounding the square. Initially the square was not a beauty spot but the “hitching post” where farmers tied their teams and peddlers hawked their wares. In the 1880s Mrs. C. A. Woods organized the Civic Improvement League, which converted the area into a park.
Originally named Gilesborough in honor of local war hero Colonel Hugh Giles, by 1826 the town was being called Marion after General Francis Marion and the name became official in 1847 when the town was incorporated. A weekly newspaper was established in 1846, and the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad arrived in 1854. The Great Pee Dee River prevented Sherman’s army from visiting Marion in March 1865. Marion was spared from destruction by General Sherman’s army on their way to Columbia in March of 1865 because the Great Pee Dee River prevented Sherman from making it to Marion.
Marion thrived in the decades following the war and Reconstruction. From 1870 to 1910 the population grew from 2,490 to 6,354. Agriculture remained important to the Marion economy, but the town also turned to industry. By the mid-1930s a lumber mill, a veneer and brick plant, an oil mill, along with an ironworks operated on the outskirts of town. Many buildings from this era survived into the twenty-first century, situated along streets lined with ancient oaks draped in Spanish moss. The Marion Academy (1886) became the Marion County Museum in 1981. Since 1983 the restored Town Hall and Opera House (1892) has been shared with the Chamber of Commerce. The Carnegie library building (1906) provided a permanent home for a public library organized in 1898, the first tax-supported library in the state. The Marion Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
To learn more about the history and the people of Marion please read W. W. Sellers, A History of Marion County, South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1902.