can trace its origins to a colonial trading post located at the intersection of two wagon roads, which was followed a century later by a railroad depot and a rural post office.
In October 2006 the town of McConnells celebrates the one hundredth anniversary of its incorporation. Although the town itself is officially 100 years old, the community known as McConnells (originally McConnellsville) is actually much older. Like many other small towns in the Carolina Piedmont, McConnells can trace its origins to a colonial trading post located at the intersection of two wagon roads, which was followed a century later by a railroad depot and a rural post office.
McConnells, like the cities of York and Chester which it lies between, is situated on a natural elevated ridge that runs north-south through the centers of York and Chester Counties. The land gradually slopes off to the east and west on both sides of this ridge, and both slopes are well watered by numerous creeks and spring branches. The South Fork of Fishing Creek begins just east of McConnells, and empties into the main body of Fishing Creek, which in turn enters the Catawba River in southeastern Chester County. The headwaters of Turkey Creek lie immediately to the north and west of McConnells, and these streams join together and enter the Broad River in southwestern Chester County. The fertile hills and woodlands along these creeks were traversed and hunted by Native Americans for at least 10,000 years before the coming of Europeans, and these areas were natural choices for settlement by early pioneers coming from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the British Isles in the mid-1700s. Indian corn, wheat and oats were the predominant food crops raised by these first settlers, and the waters of Fishing Creek and Turkey Creek provided ample power for grist mills that produced corn meal, wheat flour and oat meal from the harvested grains.
An early eighteenth century wagon road cut across the headwaters of Fishing Creek and Turkey Creek in an east-west direction, following the approximate path of modern Chappell Road east of McConnells and US Highway 322 west of McConnells. This wagon road replaced an even earlier Indian track that connected the prehistoric Indian fords on the upper Catawba and Broad Rivers. This road intersected another early wagon road known as the “Turkey Creek-Sandy River Road,” which followed the natural ridge running through the middle of York and Chester Counties and formed the main route from Kings Mountain in the north to the intersection of the Charleston and Saluda Roads, where the city of Chester now lies. This road approximated the modern route of US Highway 321, and the intersection of these two wagon roads laid the groundwork for the future town of McConnells.
One of the earliest settlers in what would eventually become McConnells was William Moore, a member of a large Scotch-Irish family who settled on upper Fishing Creek in the 1750s. On April 8, 1754, Moore received a 300 acre North Carolina land grant “on ye South fork of fishing Creek adjoining branches of turkie creek.” This was during the period when present-day York County was claimed by North Carolina, and Moore’s grant was located in what was then considered to be Anson County. Another very early family who settled on upper Fishing Creek near McConnells were the Kuykendalls, a Dutch family from New York who began arriving around 1752. After 1754 the French and Indian War slowed the influx of settlers to the area, but settlement resumed in earnest once the war ended in 1763. By this time the area was considered to be part of the newly-formed Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, and the incoming settlers were predominantly Scotch-Irish Presbyterians moving down from the heavily settled western frontier districts of Virginia and North Carolina.
A trader and surveyor named John Wade settled on the old wagon road near modern McConnells and built a store or trading post there sometime prior to 1764. His earliest land record, a 300 acre Mecklenburg grant, was surveyed on August 19, 1764, but by that time colonial officials were already referring to his trading post as “Wade’s old store” or “Wade’s old store house.” It seems likely that Wade came here much earlier, probably during the French and Indian War, but he did not record his property until after the war was over. Wade also obtained several other grants in and around McConnells, and he purchased property from another early Turkey Creek settler named Matthew Floyd, a wealthy planter and colonial tax collector. Floyd would later gain notoriety during the Revolutionary War as the commander of a Loyalist militia regiment at the Battle of Huck’s Defeat near present-day Brattonsville.
Among the other early families who settled in the McConnells area prior to the American Revolution are many names familiar to modern McConnells residents: Ashe, Bratton, Burris, Love, Lowry, McKnight, Neely, Rainey, Sadler, Steele, Wallace, Williamson, and, finally, just before the outbreak of the Revolution, the McConnell family. However, the bulk of the land covered by the present town of McConnells was originally owned by a Scotch-Irish settler named James Hannah. Between June 1765 and August 1767, Hannah obtained several large land grants totaling over 500 acres, and he also purchased some of John Wade’s earlier patents and William Moore’s 300 acre tract.
Around 1769 these early settlers established Bethesda Presbyterian Church, which became the first Christian church in the vicinity and provided a focal point for further settlement. The colonial border survey of 1772 officially resolved the dispute between the two Carolinas over who owned the area of present-day York County, and the territory officially became known as the New Acquisition District of South Carolina. During the American Revolution (1775-1783), the predominately Scotch-Irish settlers on Fishing Creek and Turkey Creek almost overwhelmingly supported independence and fought against the British, Loyalists, and their Indian allies in numerous battles throughout South Carolina and Georgia. These engagements included the Battle of Huck’s Defeat, fought at James Williamson’s plantation near McConnells in July 1780, and the Battle of Kings Mountain, fought in northwestern York County in October 1780. Local planters like William and Hugh Bratton, Robert Ashe, James and William Hannah, Andrew Love, John and Reuben McConnell, Samuel Rainey, John and Joseph Steele, and Samuel Williamson all distinguished themselves during the war, and after the war they resumed their lives as planters, church leaders, civic officers, and as the heads of large families. They also lent their talents and energies to creating a new county between the Broad and Catawba Rivers named York, which was officially established in 1785 with its county seat at another early crossroads which became Yorkville.
The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 made short-staple cotton a viable cash crop for the South Carolina upcountry, and upland cotton took its place alongside Indian corn, wheat and livestock as one of the area’s chief agricultural products. Cotton planting also opened the door to the increased usage of slave labor. Prior to the Revolution, the total number of slaves and slave owners in the York County area was small, but after 1790 families like the Brattons, Raineys and McConnells began aggressively expanding their plantations and buying up large numbers of African slaves from Virginia and the South Carolina lowcountry to work these new plantations.
In 1800 York County became York District. Gordon Moore surveyed York District in 1820 for Robert Mills’ South Carolina atlas, which was published in 1825. The 1820 survey shows the old wagon road running from Kings Mountain through Yorkville and then due south past the “McConnel” and “M. Love” plantations into Chester District, but no actual town yet existed at the old crossroads. That situation began to change in 1848, when residents of Yorkville and western York County decided to construct a new railroad that would run from Chesterville through Yorkville and into North Carolina.
As originally planned, the Kings Mountain Railroad would tie in with the existing Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad in Chesterville and proceed northeast through the town of Lowryville (now Lowrys), then turn due north and parallel the Turkey Creek-Sandy River Road to Yorkville. From Yorkville it would bear northwest into North Carolina, where it would tie into the Southern Railroad at the town of Kings Mountain in Cleveland County. Investors were recruited, capital was raised and the Kings Mountain Railroad Company received its charter in 1848. By the end of 1852 a line had been built connecting Chesterville with Yorkville, but the line stopped at Yorkville due to a shortage of funds. The crossroads near the McConnell plantation, located almost exactly halfway between Chesterville and Yorkville, was a natural place to put a railroad depot with a water tank and firewood supplies. As the railroad was being finished, Joseph P. Moore and Hugh Burris opened a small store nearby selling dry goods and millinery, which they called Moore & Burris.
Once the railroad was completed, a post office was not far behind. The name “McConnellsville,” like the names of many other rural communities in the area (including Guthriesville, Brattonsville, and Lowryville), was probably coined when the first US post office was established there. The McConnellsville Post Office officially opened for business on April 1, 1854, and the first postmaster was Joseph P. Moore, who operated the post office out of the same building as his store, adjacent to the railroad station. With the establishment of a railroad station, country store, and post office, McConnellsville officially began its life as a small Southern town. When the War Between the States began in 1861, the white population overwhelmingly supported the Confederacy, and several companies of soldiers were organized from the area in and around McConnells, including the Turkey Creek Guards and the Turkey Creek Grays, which became Company E and Company I of the 5th South Carolina Infantry Regiment, and the Lacy Guards, which became Company K of the 17th South Carolina Infantry Regiment.
With South Carolina’s secession from the Union and the establishment of the Confederate States of America, the McConnellsville Post Office ceased to be a United States post office and became a Confederate States post office. Following the conclusion of the War Between the States, the US government would not sanction the appointment of any postmaster who had supported the Confederacy, and this eliminated J. P. Moore and most of the other white residents of McConnells. The McConnellsville Post Office was closed down on January 4, 1867, and for the next four years the residents of McConnells had to travel several miles north to the Guthriesville Post Office, run by Miss Susan Jane Guthrie, in order to send and receive their mail. The McConnellsville Post Office was finally reopened on March 30, 1871, with the appointment of Andrew F. Lindsey as postmaster, who presumably was acceptable to the Federal authorities.
Courtesy of Michael C. Scoggins, Yorkville Historical Society