Panel 13

The Great Depression – Riches to Rags

For the first half of the 20th century, Beaufort County struggled along as a rural backwater, and one of the poorest counties in America.

The early 20th century brought only tough times for most County residents. The hurricane of 1893, and the massive fire that swept through in 1900, started a long economic decline for the county. Cotton prices dropped, the boll weevil arrived, the phosphate industry moved to Florida, the Port Royal and Augusta Railroad was sold to Georgia interests, and Port Royal Naval Station closed.

When rich Northern industrialists bought up old plantation lands as hunting preserves and recreational retreats, their investments did little to stimulate the local economy. By the 1930s Beaufort was one of the poorest places in the United States. 

For African Americans, economic hardship was compounded by the racist policies of South Carolina Governor “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman.  These disenfranchised black voters, and created a new system of segregated institutions and services. With no jobs and no political influence, many African Americans began to move north to find jobs.

The people who stayed grew a bit of cotton or harvested oysters to earn cash. Truck farming and oystering provided a few paying jobs. The entry of the United States into World War II in 1941 started Beaufort on the road back to prosperity.

Beaufort History Museum
  1. Welcome!
  2. Beaufort County's First People
  3. The Yamasee Indians
  4. Altamaha Town Archaeology
  5. European Superpowers in Carolina
  6. The Greatest and Fairest Haven
  7. Beaufort's Golden Age
  8. Patriots and Loyalists
  9. Antebellum Beaufort – In Town (1782-1861)
  10. Sea Island Cotton
  11. Antebellum Beaufort – Plantations (1782-1861)
  12. Battle of Port Royal (1861)
  13. Beaufort and the Civil War (1861-1865)
  14. The African American Experience (1861-1865)
  15. Model of the New South: Postbellum Beaufort (1865-1893)
  16. Robert Smalls -- The 'King' of Beaufort
  17. The Great Depression – Riches to Rags
  18. The Early 20th Century -- Here Comes the Marines!
  19. The Early 20th Century -- Civil Rights
  20. Rise of the Sunbelt -- Charles Fraser and the Fraser Effect
  21. 21st Century Beaufort -- The 'Chambers' Vision
  22. Preserving Our History
  23. The Greatest and Fairest Haven