by Louise Pettus
South Carolina's first legislature following the Revolutionary War created counties that began operating in 1785. Each county had a courthouse but circuit courts that would act as appeals courts were also needed. In 1791 new district courts were established.
One of the new courts was named Pinckneyville District in honor of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a native Charlestonian who was active in national politics. Pinckneyville tried cases from the counties of York, Chester, Spartanburg and Union. The site was mandated as one mile from Pinckney Ferry where Pacolet River emptied into the Broad River. Construction had hardly begun before the river flooded the area. The town was moved to higher ground. One mile from the town was the "Hanging Ground." At least one horse thief was hanged there.
It was intended that Pinckneyville would be the Charleston of the upcountry. To that end, streets were named for Charleston streets--Meeting, Broad, Water, Trade, etc. The town was designed to become a commercial metropolis as well as "a center of social activity." Soon, Pinckneyville had gained several stores, a tavern and inn combination, and a post office. Alexandria College was chartered by the Rev. Joseph Alexander but it never got off the ground. There was never a church. Church-goers attended either Bullocks Creek or Mount Tabor, both Presbyterian churches. The jail had walls 18 inches thick made from hand-pressed brick. It measured 14 x 20 feet and had 2 cells located between the walls and the fireplace. Each cell was only 2 x 4 feet with no door. Prisoners were lowered from the top of the cell which had an iron grate fastened over it. One cannot imagine a more cruel contraption.
The stage coach that carried 4 passengers with luggage also served as a mail coach which "ran rain or shine." Drivers would blow one long distinct blast when approaching the town from the York side of the river. There was a short blast for each passenger so that the innkeeper would know how many guests he would have to feed. It was said that the chickens became so aware of the stagecoach blasts that they would "literally run for their lives."
Two of the towns best-known merchants were Daniel McMahan, a storekeeper, and Thomas C. Taylor, the innkeeper. The two men, both natives of Ireland, detested each other. There were frequent law suits over property lines. One of their neighbors had 2 oxen he named McMahan and Taylor because he said the oxen would not pull together. Before he died, Taylor requested that his body be buried in front of McMahan's place so that Daniel McMahan would have to look at his grave every day. Taylor died in 1832 and was buried as he requested. McMahan lived to be a very old man, dying in 1878.
In 1800 the districts were rearranged. The Pinckneyville court district was abandoned. The town managed to hold on for a few years but was labeled a "dead town" in 1840. By that time Daniel McMahan was living in the old courthouse which he had turned into a residence. By 1950 the only surviving building was the jail which today is a crumbled pile of bricks. Pinckneyville is all but forgotten but it should be mentioned that for a time Thomas E. Suggs, a clock vender from Waterbury Connecticut lived in Taylor's inn. He ran the Waterbury Clock Factory at Bullocks Creek across the Broad River from Pinckneyville. Scattered records also show that the famed clockmaker, Seth Thomas of Litchfield, Connecticut was at Pinckneyville. It is probably correct to say that at one time Pinckneyville was a distribution center for some of the highest quality shelf clocks produced in America.