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Rock Hill, South Carolina
City of Rock Hill
Downtown Rock Hill
Downtown Rock Hill
Official seal of Rock Hill, South Carolina
Seal
Nickname(s): 
The Gateway to South Carolina; Football City USA
Motto(s): 
Always On.
Location of Rock Hill in South Carolina
Location of Rock Hill in South Carolina
Country United States
State South Carolina
County York
Founded 1852
Incorporated 1892
Government
 • Type Judicial
Area
 • Total 43.16 sq mi (111.8 km2)
 • Land 43.16 sq mi (111.8 km2)
 • Water 0.16 sq mi (0.4 km2)  0.4%
Elevation
676 ft (206 m)
Population
 (2014)
 • Total 69,967
 • Density 1,532.8/sq mi (591.8/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (Eastern)
ZIP codes
29730-29733
Area code(s) 803
FIPS code 45-61405
GNIS feature ID 1250417

Rock Hill is the largest city in York County, South Carolina and the fifth-largest city in the state. It is also the fourth-largest city of the Charlotte metropolitan area, behind Charlotte, Concord, and Gastonia (all located in North Carolina, unlike Rock Hill). The population was 66,154 as of the 2010 Census.

Rock Hill is located approximately 25 miles (40 km) south of Charlotte and approximately 70 miles (110 km) north of Columbia.

History

U.S. Post Office and Courthouse (Rock Hill, South Carolina) 1933
Historic post office in Rock Hill

Pre-colonization

Succeeding cultures of indigenous peoples lived in the Piedmont for thousands of years. The historic Catawba Indian Nation, a traditionally Siouan-speaking tribe, was here at the time of European encounter. Currently the only tribe in South Carolina that is federally recognized, its members live near Rock Hill.

Early colonization

Although some European settlers had already arrived in the Rock Hill area in the 1830s and 1840s, Rock Hill did not become an actual town until the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad Company made the decision to send a rail line through the area. Originally, the railroad had hoped to build a station in the nearby village of Ebenezerville which was squarely between Charlotte, North Carolina and Columbia, South Carolina. When approached, however, the locals in Ebenezerville refused to have the railroad run through their village since they considered it dirty and noisy. Instead, engineers and surveyors decided to run the line two miles away by a local landmark. According to some accounts, the engineers marked the spot on the map and named it "rocky hill."

Some of Rock Hill's early founding families—the White family, the Black family, and the Moores—believed that having a rail depot so close to them would be advantageous, so they decided to give the Columbia and Charlotte Railroad the right of way through their properties. As the three largest landowners in the area, this settled the matter. George Pendleton White contracted with the railroad to build a section of the line. Construction began in 1848. The first passenger train arrived on March 23, 1852. A few weeks later, on April 17, 1852, the first Rock Hill Post Office opened.

Now that Rock Hill had a name, a railroad station, and a post office, it began to draw more settlers to the area. Captain J. H. McGinnis built a small general store near the station in 1849 or 1850 to provide supplies for the construction and railroad workers. Templeton Black, who had leased the land to McGinnis, decided to devote some of his other adjacent land to building a larger town. He hired a local surveyor, Squire John Roddey, to organize a main street. Black sold his first plot of land along that street to Ira Ferguson for $125 a few weeks before the post office opened; other businessmen bought plots quickly after that.

Rock Hill Academy, the first school in Rock Hill, opened in September 1854. Despite its official name, most residents referred to it as the Pine Grove Academy after the pine grove it was located in. Ann Hutchinson White, wife of George White, donated the land to the school after her husband's death. The school had 60 male pupils in 1856; a school for girls was later opened in the same place.

Other significant facts and dates

  • Pre-December 1857: The Indian Land Chronicle, Rock Hill's first newspaper, begins publishing. After a change in ownership, it was renamed The Rock Hill Chronicle in 1860.
  • Pre-1860: Rock Hill had at least two doctors: Robert Hervey Hope and William Barron Fewell

During the American Civil War

Shortly before the American Civil War began a census had been taken of the population in York County, where Rock Hill is located. Half of the district's 21,800 residents were slaves, integral to local cotton production. The 4,379 white males in the county formed fourteen infantry companies; some of the men joined cavalry or artillery units instead. By the end of the war, 805 of these men were dead, and hundreds more were wounded. Men from Rock Hill and York County were involved in many of the major Civil War battles.

Due to its position on the railroad, Rock Hill became a transfer point for Confederate soldiers and supplies moving to and from the front. Since there was no local hospital, townspeople nursed sick and wounded soldiers in their homes. Refugees fleeing the coastal blockade or General Sherman's troops also came to Rock Hill.

Beginning in the spring of 1862, local area farmers switched from cotton to corn in order to produce more food. Records show that prices in Rock Hill changed frequently during the war, reflecting both shortages and the inflation of the Confederate paper money.

Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard set up a temporary headquarters in Rock Hill on February 21, 1865. He ordered the roads to Charlotte blocked to try to prevent General Sherman from reaching the city; Sherman ultimately went in a different direction.

When General Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Court House, it was actually a future Rock Hill resident who was responsible for waving the white flag. Captain Robert Moorman Sims, a farmer from Lancaster County, was sent by General James Longstreet to inform Union troops that the Confederate troops wanted a truce.

Post-Civil War

The Civil War changed the social, economic, and political situation in Rock Hill tremendously, as it did elsewhere in the South. Rock Hill grew as a town, taking in war refugees, widows and their families, and the return of the men who had left to fight the war. The formerly wealthy elite sold off their land to stay afloat financially. Town life began to become more important than rural life.

Most of the merchants in Rock Hill around 1870 were former Confederate soldiers; many were entrepreneurs who were new to town, trying to start over. In 1870, even the largest stores in Rock Hill were only one story tall, and there were no sidewalks on the roads. The first drug store in Rock Hill opened in the 1870s. In 1881 and introduced the town's first paved sidewalk was made.

Incorporation

The town was not officially incorporated until 1870, on the third try.

The first attempt to get Rock Hill incorporated was made in 1855. A petition, signed by major landholders and businessmen from the Rock Hill area, was presented to the General Assembly on October 19, 1855. No action on the matter was taken by the General Assembly.

The second attempt was in 1868. In their petition, the townspeople claimed that Rock Hill had over 300 residents, "eleven stores, two churches, two bars, two hotels, two carriage shops, three blacksmith shops, three shoe shops, one tannery, one cabinet shop, and elementary schools for white girls and boys." The petition was signed by 48 men, most relative newcomers to Rock Hill, with only a few members of the old, established, landed families. The larger landholders opposed incorporation because of the taxes it would bring. They filed a counter-proposal which claimed that there were only 100 residents, many of them temporary. The situation was a strong indication of the changes Rock Hill experienced as it transitioned from mostly farms to a business community. Ultimately, the state legislature did not act on either petition and Rock Hill was still not incorporated.

The third, successful petition was made in 1869, only one year after 1868's failed petition. This time there were 57 signers in favor of incorporation, with only seven opponents. The opponents collectively owned 80% of the land that would be incorporated into Rock Hill if the petition was successful. They were unsuccessful at preventing incorporation this time; Rock Hill was officially incorporated on February 26, 1870.

Twentieth century

Group of men and girls working in the Aragon Mill. Rock Hill, S.C. - NARA - 523538
Child laborers at Aragon Mill in Rock Hill, 1912. Photo by Lewis Hine.

Rock Hill celebrated its centennial in 1952 and its sesquicentennial in 2002.

Four unincorporated communities of York County have been annexed to the city: Boyd Hill in the late 1940s, Ebenezer and Mexico in the 1960s, and Oakdale in the 1980s.

Civil Rights Movement

Rock Hill was the setting for two significant events in the civil rights movement. In February 1961, nine African-American men went to jail at the York County prison farm after staging a sit-in at a segregated McCrory's lunch counter in downtown Rock Hill. Their offense was reported to be "refusing to stop singing hymns during their morning devotions." The event gained nationwide attention as the men followed an untried strategy called "jail, no bail." Rejecting bail was a way to lessen the huge financial burden which civil rights groups were facing as the sit-in movement spread across the South. As their actions gained widespread national news coverage, the tactic was adopted by other civil rights groups. The men became known as the Friendship Nine because eight of the nine men were students at Rock Hill's Friendship Junior College.

Later in 1961, Rock Hill was the first stop in the Deep South for a group of 13 Freedom Riders, who boarded buses in Washington, DC, and headed South to test the 1960 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court outlawing racial segregation in all interstate public facilities. When the civil rights leader John Lewis and another black man stepped off the bus at Rock Hill, they were beaten by a white mob that was uncontrolled by police. The event drew national attention.

In 2002, Lewis, by then a US Congressman from Georgia, returned to Rock Hill, where he had been invited as a speaker at Winthrop University and was given the key to the city. On January 21, 2008, Rep. Lewis returned to Rock Hill again and spoke at the city's Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday observance. Mayor Doug Echols officially apologized to him on the city's behalf for the Freedom Riders' treatment in the city.

1926 Rock Hill tornado

On November 26, 1926 a destructive tornado struck downtown Rock Hill. It was the day after Thanksgiving, late in the season for such a violent storm. The "black as ink twister" took less than 10 minutes to change the face of the business section. The storm touched down in western York County, and entered Rock Hill from the west. Once in the town, the twister cut a path about three blocks wide, leaving 60 homes heavily damaged, the hospital roof removed, and cars flipped or crushed. By the end, the total damage for the whole town was $150,000. The tornado was responsible for one death and 12 injuries within Rock Hill.

Hurricane Hugo

Hurricane Hugo struck the city on the morning of September 22, 1989. The storm ripped through the city with sustained winds over 90 MPH, toppling massive oak and pine trees. Schools were closed for weeks because of widespread damage to roads and facilities. The total damage cost for the entire state of South Carolina was around $4.2 billion. The storm was a category 3 when it entered the county and was a category 2 as it left the county.

2004 blizzard

A complex series of low pressure systems moved across South Carolina from February 25–27 of 2004. Starting as a mix of snow and sleet, the storm became all snow as the low pulled off the Carolina coast. Cold arctic air settled over the Carolinas and dumped 22 inches of snow, with lightning, gusty winds, and some areas getting up to 28 inches. Sustained winds over 40 MPH across Rock Hill knocked out power, resulting in schools' closing for a week. It was the worst overall blizzard to hit the area.

Transportation

Rock Hill has two local airports. The Rock Hill/York County Airport is a municipal airport for the city of Rock Hill and serves non-commercial flights. The airport is located minutes from Rock Hill's Central business district. Also called Bryant Field, it was named for Robert E. Bryant, an aviator with two international records and an inductee in the South Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame (The name is no longer used for the airport because of confusion with Bryant Field (airport)). It is owned and operated by the City of Rock Hill, but York County is also represented on the Airport Commission. The other local airport, the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, is one of the busiest airports in the United States and is located 20 miles from Rock Hill in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Rock Hill has one regional transit system, The Charlotte Area Transit System that offers express bus service from Rock Hill to Charlotte.

  • 82X Downtown Rock Hill to Manchester Village to Uptown Charlotte.

Arts and culture

Seasonal events

Rock Hill hosts several seasonal events. Each spring there is a festival called Come-See-Me which brings more than 125,000 people to the city each year from across the country. Come-See-Me was voted as the number one South Carolina Festival and has been featured in Southern Living magazine. On Independence Day, Rock Hill hosts its annual Red, White, and Boom Festival. Over the first weekend of each October, the Arts Council of York County hosts the Blues & Jazz Festival, which includes a restaurant crawl through Old Town Rock Hill, and a day of blues & jazz events for children. In November, the Arts Council hosts the Underexposed Film Festival YC, bringing independently-created short films from across the world to Rock Hill. A winter festival is held annually in the first week of December and is called ChristmasVille Rock Hill; it has been voted one of South Carolina's most visited attractions.

Glencairn Gardens Rock Hill SC
Glencairn Garden in Rock Hill

Museums

Carolina Reaper pepper pods
Ed Currie bred the world's hottest peppers in his Rock Hill backyard. Measured at 1,569,300 Scoville units, the Carolina Reaper holds a Guinness World Record.

Five museums are located in the city, and many more in the area.

  • The York County Museum of Rock Hill is a cultural and natural history museum located near the Rock Hill Airport.
  • The Comporium Telephone Museum is a historical museum located in Downtown about the history of technology in Rock Hill.
  • The Center for the Arts is an art museum also located in Downtown and owned by the York County Arts Council viewing local art.
  • The Main Street Children's Museum is located in Downtown as well, specializing in children's learning and educational activities.
  • The White Home is a museum and park on White Street and is on the National Register of Historical Places.

Museums outside Rock Hill include Historic Brattonsville, the Catawba Cultural Center at the Catawba Indian reservation, and several museums located in the Charlotte area.

Parks and recreation

WinthropColiseum
Basketball practice at Winthrop Coliseum
Giordana Velodrome
The city of Rock Hill partnered with Giordana to construct this velodrome in 2012

Rock Hill is home to thirty-one parks, four recreational centers, one botanical garden, along with the many nature trails.

There are also Nanny Mountain County Park and Ebenezer County Park, Kings Mountain State Park, Andrew Jackson State Park, and Kings Mountain National Military Park nearby.

In popular culture

Films

  • The Patriot (2000 film), rural Rock Hill, starring Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger
  • Black Rainbow
  • The Rage: Carrie 2
  • Asylum (2008 film), at Winthrop University
  • Walker Payne 2006
  • Gospel Hill 2008
  • One Church

Awards

Rock Hill is a four-time winner of America's Promise Alliance "100 Best Communities for Young People", and a previous winner of the National Civic League's All-America City Award.

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