In the decade after the Civil War the new Air Line Railroad connecting Charlotte and Atlanta was laid through upcountry South Carolina. Two Confederate veterans saw an opportunity to create a new town at the junction of the older Blue Ridge Railroad and the new line, a town which because of this location would serve as an ideal marketing and shipping point for cotton grown in the low country.
And so Col. Joseph Norton and Col. Robert Thompson founded Seneca, SC (named for a nearby Cherokee village) on August 14, 1873, and Governor Wade Hampton signed the charter for the town on March 14, 1874.
During the cotton harvest, wagons bringing cotton would line up for blocks from the railroad station. A passenger terminal, several hotels, and a park were built near the railroad tracks.
If you walk down West South 1st St from the Seneca Presbyterian Church to Poplar St (now called Bruce Hill Blvd) you’ll be smack in the middle of “Silk-Stocking Hill.” Six of its houses were built by the Gignilliat family.
George Warren Gignilliat (1853-1926) and his brothers were among the pioneer merchants who came to Seneca and made large contributions to the development of the town. He’s one of the owners of the Seneca Oil Mill & Fertilizer Co. He also started Charles N. Gignilliat & Sons, Cotton Merchants, based in Seneca and Spartanburg.
The Gignilliat family (an ancient Swiss family of wealth with roots dating back to the 1400s) had already been in the state for close to 200 years. It is one of the notable group of Huguenot families, the founders of which, said Dr JGB Bulloch of Washington DC, “either as gentlemen, planters, soldiers, lawyers, statesmen, &c., have added luster to the Commonwealth of South Carolina.”
Jean Francois Gignilliat came to America in late December of 1688 before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, where he received from the Lord Proprietors of the Carolinas a grant of 3,000 acres as the ‘first of the Swiss nation to settle in Carolina.’ He & his wife purchased an additional 4,500 acres.
Today, the Gignilliat Park Middle/High Academy and the Gignilliat Community Center stand today as reminders of this powerful family’s continuing impact on Seneca.
The Beville Family of Virginia, Georgia, and Florida, and Several Allied… by Agnes Beville VaughanTedcastle, 1917 private printing (manu. Owned by the University of Wisconsin – Madison)