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SC’s famous ‘Dark Corner’ wasn’t the first

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Photo above: Cover closeup of 1908 novel “The Dark Corner” by Zach McGhee.

The Dark Corner. When South Carolinians today refer to that name, they mean a section around Glassy Mountain in northwest Greenville County that was once feared for gunfights, rowdy outlaws and dangerous moonshiners.

But throughout the 19th century South Carolina was home to six additional counties containing a ‘dark corner.’ And their reasons for being called such didn’t always mean what we think of when we think of the Greenville County place—mysterious, foreboding, possibly lethal.

In 1836 the Charleston Daily Courier noted that the town of Edgefield (Edgefield County) was called the dark corner “in times of old, because of its ignorance and dissipation,” but did not imply that the place was unusually dangerous.The Charleston Daily Courier, Charleston, SC.">1

The term was floating around in the culture of the time: in 1841, The Charleston Mercury applied the phrase generically: “ ‘New Hampshire is a dark corner,’ groaned the whole Southern whig press when the democratic ticket succeeded there.”The Charleston Mercury, Charleston, SC.">2Ignorant, yes, but not necessarily dissipated or dangerous. Even fifty years later to call a place ‘a dark corner’ still provoked outrage in the recipients of the insult: “In referring to the campaign meeting last week at Springfield [SC] the News and Courier heads its article ‘The Doings of a Dark Corner,’ “ writes a citizen from that town.The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, SC.">3 “Our contemporary is mistaken. Springfield is not a dark corner by any means and it is a slander for the News and Courier or any other paper to so speak of it. It is a live, progressive town filled with a lot of live, progressive people.”

SC counties with a 'dark corner' section

Fairfield County contained a dark corner so named for its “umbrageous recesses”The News and Herald, Winnsboro, SC.">4 — its thick canopy of shade. We might think of Germany’s Black Forest in a similar fashion today. This dark corner was located in the northwest section of Fairfield County, centered around the town of Feasterville.Keowee Courier, Pickens, SC.">5

Likewise, the Yorkville Enquirer presents its dark corner in York County, about 13 miles west of Yorkville, as ‘that beautiful section.’Yorkville Enquirer, York, SC.">6“Not many years ago, one of our good old Presbyterian ministers called this section the “Dark Corner,’ “ writes an un-bylined columnist from Cotton, SC under ‘Dots from the Dark Corner’ in the same paper in January 1894.Yorkville Enquirer, York, SC.">7

In a column several months later he clarifies: “In the year 1876 one of our good old preachers said that the northwest corner of Chester County, and the southwest corner of York up and down Broad River from Bullock’s to Turkey Creek was the Dark Corner.Yorkville Enquirer, York, SC.">8

By the 1870s The Intelligencer of Anderson County reported regularly on its Dark Corner Township, in the southern corner, yes, but not anything out of the ordinary. “Mr. Editor, I happen to know who named the Dark Corner,” stated an M.C. Lindsay in a March 29, 1889 letter to the editor of that newspaper.The Intelligencer, Anderson, SC.">9“My father, A.J. Liddell, Esq., was assessing in that portion of the then Pendleton District. He came to a house or a cabin, went in and inquired for the gentleman of the house. The woman told him her husband was not at home, and asked, “What do you want with my old man?” “I merely want him to give in what he is worth.” “Well, who sent you here to know what we are worth?” “Congress.” “Well where does Mr. Congress live?” By that time my father, the Assessor, was amused, and Col. Elias Earle was at that time our member in Congress. He told her Mr. Congress lived at Centreville. “Well, you tell him my old man will come up and give him a whipping.” 

1897 map of Anderson County, South Carolina shows how the 'dark corner' region of the county had by this time simply become the 'corner.'
1897 map of Anderson County, South Carolina shows how the ‘dark corner’ region of the county had by this time simply become the ‘corner.’

“When my father came home he told Col. Earle to look out, and told him the conversation. Col. Earle said that was the Dark Corner of the Pendleton District. He said he would dodge the whipping by denying the name of Congress.” 

Abbeville County’s dark corner doesn’t sound threatening in any way. “There was a little one horse excursion from Vinegar Station to our city on Saturday eve,” noted the Abbeville Press and Banner on June 23, 1886.The Abbeville Press and Banner, Abbeville, SC.">10 “The brave sons and fair daughters of the ‘Dark Corner’ spent the time while here in taking in the town.”

As with Anderson County, Abbeville County’s dark corner was in the extreme southeast corner of the county, and was also known to locals as ‘The Range.’The Abbeville Press and Banner, Abbeville, SC.">11 “We are unable to say whence these names, or how they ever came to be applied to that section,” wrote an Abbeville resident in a letter to the editor of the Abbeville Press and Banner in 1856.12 “But whatever may have been their past signification[sic], he would be most egregiously mistaken, who would suppose now that the citizens of that section were dark, either morally or intellectually.”

Pickens County, directly adjacent to Greenville County, and settled by the same types of Scots-Irish Revolutionary War settlers, is the one place in this list whose dark corner sounds almost exactly like the famous dark corner of its neighbor. “We learn that on the 19th instant, Deputy Marshals Madison F. Mitchell and James A. McKee were fired upon, both wounded, and Mitchell fatally,” reported the Daily Phoenix (Columbia, SC) on June 23, 1872.The Daily Phoenix, Columbia, SC.">13 “The officers had just made a descent upon an illicit distillery in the dark corner of Pickens County, near Table Rock.”

Original caption:
Original caption: “Sheriff Gilreath with Pet Rooster. Perry Duncan Gilreath was a famous sheriff of Greenville County who retired in 1900. He never carried a gun, even when he went into the mountains of the northern part of the county ominously known as the ‘dark corner'”.

Note that this Pickens news item spells out in which SC county its ‘dark corner’ is located; about the 1870s newspapers began to clarify to readers which ‘dark corner’ they meant. One 1877 letter to the editor of the Union Times refers to the ‘dark corner of North Pacolet,’Union Times, Union, SC.">14but it wasn’t long before that ‘dark corner’ became codified as the ‘dark corner of Greenville County.’

Newspaper references to the “dark corner of Greenville County” begin to appear regularly in the 1890s, and continue on right till the modern day. 

As early as 1902, newspapers began to drop the ‘of Greenville County’ portion of the phrase, knowing that their readership understood what they were referring to by the ‘dark corner’: “Greenville has had a survey made from some point in North Carolina, through this country by Landrum, through Polk county and the Dark Corner,” reported the Spartanburg Herald on November 18 that year, for example.The Greenville News, Greenville, SC.">15 Greenville County’s dark corner was in the news so frequently by that time for killings, moonshine busts, etc that its notorious reputation easily overshadowed earlier ‘dark corner’ designations elsewhere in the state, becoming sui generis.

More articles on place name origins:

Traveling this holiday season?(Opens in a new browser tab)

Indian names abound in Rabun County(Opens in a new browser tab)

How Rabbit Hash, KY got its name(Opens in a new browser tab)

Claytor Lake: what’s in a name?(Opens in a new browser tab)

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SC’s famous ‘Dark Corner’ wasn’t the first


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