Introduction to Geography of South Carolina

South Carolina, a state in the southeastern United States. It extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachians between North Carolina and Georgia and, with an area of 32,007 square miles (82,898 km 2), is the smallest of the Southern states. South Carolina is a land of considerable variety, stretching from sandy beaches and subtropical islands along the coast through vast pine forests and fields of tobacco and cotton to the hazy peaks of the Blue Ridge.

One of the original 13 colonies, South Carolina is rich historically and has preserved much of its heritage while building a modern industrial society. Before the Civil War it played a major role in the affairs of the nation and was the most ardent defender of Southern rights. Reminders of those days survive in the old, restored sections of Charleston, in graceful antebellum mansions, and in battle sites such as Kings Mountain and Cowpens. Representing the new South Carolina are sprawling factories, numerous hydroelectric plants, and the bustling port of Charleston—all bringing increased prosperity after many decades of economic problems.

South Carolina'sSouth Carolina's state bird is the Carolina wren.
South Carolina in brief
General information
Statehood: May 23, 1788, the 8th state.
State abbreviations: S.C. (traditional); SC (postal).
State capital: Columbia, the capital of South Carolina since 1790. Charleston served as capital from 1670 to 1790.
State mottoes: Animis Opibusque Parati (Prepared In Mind and Resources); Dum Spiro Spero (While I Breathe, I Hope).
Popular name: The Palmetto State.
State song: "Carolina." Words by Henry Timrod; music by Anne Custis Burgess. “South Carolina on My Mind.”
Symbols of South Carolina
State bird: Carolina wren.
State flower: Yellow jessamine.
State tree: Sabal palmetto.
State flag and seal: South Carolina's state flag, adopted in 1861, bears a palmetto tree and a crescent on a blue background. The state seal, authorized in 1776, displays two scenes. In the scene on the left, a palmetto over a dead oak symbolizes the defenses in 1776 of the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan's Island against the United Kingdom's oaken ships. On the right, a woman walking on a sword-covered beach represents hope overcoming danger.
Land and climate
Area: 31,117 mi2 (80,593 km2), including 1,006 mi2 (2,605 km2) of inland water but excluding 72 mi2 (186 km2) of coastal water.
Elevation: Highest--Sassafras Mountain, 3,560 ft (1,085 m) above sea level. Lowest--sea level along the coast.
Coastline: 187 mi. (301 km).
Record high temperature: 111 degrees F (44 degrees C) in Blackville on Sept. 4, 1925, in Calhoun Falls on Sept. 8, 1925, and in Camden on June 28, 1954.
Record low temperature: –19 degrees F (–28 degrees C) was recorded at Caesars Head on Jan. 21, 1985.
Average July temperature: 80 degrees F (27 degrees C).
Average January temperature: 45 degrees F (7 degrees C).
Average yearly precipitation: 48 in (122 cm).
Population: 4,012,012.
Rank among the states: 26th.
Density: 129 per mi2 (50 per km2), U.S. average 78 per mi2 (30 per km2).
Distribution: 60 percent urban, 40 percent rural.
Largest cities in South Carolina: Columbia (116,278); Charleston (96,650); North Charleston (79,641); Greenville (56,002); Rock Hill (49,765); Mount Pleasant (47,609).
Chief products
Agriculture: beef cattle, broilers, cotton, eggs, greenhouse and nursery products, soybeans, tobacco, turkeys.
Manufacturing: chemicals, machinery, plastics and rubber products, textiles, transportation equipment.
Mining: crushed stone, portland cement.
State government
Governor: 4-year term.
State senators: 46; 4-year terms.
State representatives: 124; 2-year terms.
Counties: 46.
Federal government
United States senators: 2.
United States representatives: 6.
Electoral votes: 8.
Sources of information
For information about tourism, write to: South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, 1205 Pendleton Street, Columbia, SC 29201. The Web site at also provides information.
For information on the economy, write to: South Carolina Department of Commerce, P.O. Box 927, Columbia, SC 29202. The state's official Web site at also provides a gateway to much information on South Carolina's economy, government, and history.

Physical Geography

South CarolinaSouth Carolina is one of the Southern States of the United States.

South Carolina occupies parts of three physical regions of the United States—the Atlantic Coastal Plain, the Piedmont Plateau, and the Blue Ridge. Each crosses the state from northeast to southwest, roughly paralleling the Atlantic coast. South Carolinians call the coastal plain the Low Country; the Piedmont and Blue Ridge, which are part of the Appalachian Highlands, are known as the Up Country. Separating the two sections is the Fall Line, the zone along which waterfalls and rapids occur as rivers descend to lower elevations.

The Atlantic Coastal Plain is a broad lowland that occupies about two-thirds of the state. Near the coast the land is generally flat and marked by extensive swamps and marshes. Numerous small islands, often called the Sea Islands, fringe the southern coast. Separating them from the mainland is a maze of narrow straits, sounds, and tidal rivers. On the inner parts of the coastal plain the terrain becomes gently rolling and gradually rises to elevations of about 500 feet (150 m) in the hills near the Fall Line.

The Piedmont Plateau is an elevated region that slopes gently upward from the Fall Line to the foot of the Blue Ridge. The land consists chiefly of long rolling hills 500 to 1,000 feet (150 to 300 m) above sea level; in places it is deeply eroded by rivers. Occasional isolated hills, called monadnocks, stand as much as 500 feet (150 m) above the general level of the terrain.

The Blue Ridge is a mountainous area in the extreme northwestern corner of South Carolina. Rounded, forested mountains, separated by deep valleys, rise rather abruptly from the Piedmont to heights of more than 3,000 feet (900 m). Sassafras Mountain, the state's highest point, reaches 3,560 feet (1,085 m) near the North Carolina border.


South Carolina is drained by three major river systems, all flowing southeastward from the Appalachians to the Atlantic Ocean. The Santee River, with such head-streams and tributaries as the Wateree, Congaree, Saluda, and Broad rivers, is the largest in the state. It drains most of the Blue Ridge and the Piedmont. In the northeast the Pee Dee River flows from North Carolina across the coastal plain, where it is joined by the Little Pee Dee and the Lynches. The Savannah River and two of its headstreams—the Tugaloo and the Chattooga—form the border with Georgia. Many rivers have been dammed to provide hydroelectric power, flood control, and recreational areas.

South Carolina's principal lakes are artificial reservoirs impounded by dams. The largest of these is Lake Marion on the Santee River. Others, wholly or partly within the state, include Hartwell, J. Strom Thurmond, Moultrie, Murray, Richard B. Russell, and Keowee.


South Carolina has a humid subtropical climate, marked by hot summers, cool winters, and abundant precipitation. Throughout most of the state temperatures average around 80° F. (27° C.) in July and from 45° to 50° F. (7° to 10° C.) in January. The mountainous areas are slightly cooler the year round. Daytime highs of 90° F. (32° C.) or more occur frequently in summer. During brief winter cold spells temperatures drop to well below freezing at night.

Precipitation is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year and varies from about 40 to 50 inches (1,020 to 1,270 mm) annually in most areas. Parts of the Blue Ridge receive 70 inches (1,780 mm) or more. Only a small amount of the total precipitation falls as snow, virtually all of it in the mountains. Tornadoes may occur at any time of the year but are most frequent in April and May. During spring and fall hurricanes occasionally move in from the Atlantic, causing wind damage and flooding, especially along the coast.

Natural Vegetation and Wildlife
South Carolina'sSouth Carolina's state flower is the yellow jessamine.

Forests cover almost two-thirds of the state; almost all are second-growth stands, mostly of commercial quality. Softwoods are the most abundant and economically valuable trees; they consist mainly of species of yellow pine such as loblolly and longleaf pines. Principal hardwoods are black gum, sweet gum, yellow poplar, and oak. Bald cypress grows in swampy areas; palmettos, live oaks, and magnolias are found along the coast.

A wide variety of flowering shrubs are native to South Carolina. Among the most colorful are rhododendron, azalea, and mountain laurel.

Black bears and alligators, although rare, can still be found in South Carolina. Whitetailed deer, fox, mink, muskrats, opossums, otters, rabbits, skunks, and squirrels are numerous. Lizards and snakes are the chief reptiles. Songbirds are numerous and varied; waterfowl abound along the coast, especially during migration. A great variety of freshwater and saltwater fish are found in South Carolina's waters.

South Carolina'sSouth Carolina's state tree is the palmetto.
Interesting facts about South Carolina
The first musical society in America, the St. Cecilia Society, was established in Charleston in 1762.
The Fireproof Building, completed in Charleston in 1826, was the first building in the United States constructed to withstand fire. It was designed by Robert Mills, the architect of the Washington Monument. The building currently houses the Historical Society of South Carolina.
"Heart of pine" houses, built in South Carolina in colonial times, still stand today. Timber was so plentiful during the state's early days that "sapwood" was thrown away, and only the hearts of pine trees were used. This wood is said to keep indefinitely.
The first museum in the American Colonies was opened by the Charleston Library Society in 1773. The museum featured objects related to the natural history of South Carolina.
The reformed branch of Judaism in America originated in Charleston in 1824 with the Reformed Society of Israelites.
The first commercial tea farm in the United States was established at Summerville in 1890 by Charles Shepard.
The first steam locomotive to be placed in regular passenger and freight service was the Best Friend of Charleston. This locomotive, built for the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company, made its first run on Christmas Day in 1830.


The South Carolina quarterThe South Carolina quarter features an outline of the state along with three state symbols: The Carolina wren, the yellow jessamine, and the palmetto tree.

Service industries, from trade to tourism, provide jobs for the vast majority of the state's workers. Most service industries are concentrated in the state's metropolitan areas. But manufacturing remains one of South Carolina's most important economic activities. Agriculture, though it has declined in relative value, remains significant.

Service Industries

Retail trade and personal services benefit greatly from tourism. The beaches, golf courses, and fashionable resort hotels of Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head attract visitors throughout the year. Tourism in Charleston focuses on the city's heritage and architecture.

Community, business, and personal services forms the leading source of employment in the state. These services consist of a variety of establishments, including engineering firms, private health care, and repair shops. South Carolina is also the home of several military bases.


Chemicals are South Carolina's leading manufacturing product. The leading sectors of the state's chemical industry are dyes, medicinal drugs, plastic resins, and synthetic fibers. Transportation equipment is the state's second-leading manufacture. BMW, one of Europe's top automakers, has a plant in Greer.

Other leading manufacturing products in South Carolina include plastics and rubber products, especially plastic sheets and rubber tires, and machinery. South Carolina also ranks among the leading textile-producing states.


Farms occupy about 25 per cent of the state's land. Livestock products generally account for more than half of the value of all farm income. Broilers (young, tender chickens) are the state's most valuable farm product. Crops provide most of the rest of South Carolina's agricultural income. Greenhouse and nursery plants are the most valuable crop in South Carolina. Soybeans, tobacco, corn, and cotton are the chief cash crops.

Mining and Fishing

Crushed stone and portland cement are South Carolina's most valuable mined products. The state is also a leading producer of fire clays, kaolin, masonry cement, mica, and vermiculite.

Shrimp is South Carolina's most valuable fish catch. Other catches include clams, crabs, oysters, and snapper.

Fishing is locally important along the South Carolina coast, especially in Charleston County. The catch, much of which is sold fresh, consists chiefly of shrimp, blue crabs, and oysters.


South Carolina has a well-developed transportation system. Multilane highways, including six Interstates, crisscross the state, focusing on the major cities. Airlines serve airports in or near the larger cities.

Charleston, a major East Coast port, is the home of many large shipping companies. The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway extends the length of the coast, providing sheltered passage for barges and pleasure craft.

The People

Most persons in South Carolina are descended from families that have been in the state since colonial times. Many families, both white and black, have lived on the same land for generations. Most whites are of English descent, but there are also many of German, Scottish, Irish, and French ancestry. There was no significant influx to South Carolina during the period of heavy immigration from Europe to the United States in the late 19th and the early 20th century. South Carolina's small Indian population consists of Catawbas, Lumbees (or Croatans), Red Legs (Red Bones), and Brass Ankles.

Numerous early settlers were dissenters from the Church of England, and today Baptists and Methodists are the largest denominations. South Carolina has one of the highest percentages of church membership in the nation.

Annual events in South Carolina
Lowcountry Oyster Festival in Charleston (February); Garden Tours, statewide (February-May); Aiken Triple Crown in Aiken (March); Canadian-American Days in Myrtle Beach (March); Plantation Tours, statewide (March-May); Carolina Cup in Camden (March); Verizon Heritage in Hilton Head (April); Governor's Frog Jump Festival in Springfield (Saturday before Easter); Family Circle Cup in Charleston (April); Carolina Dodge Dealers 500 in Darlington (May); Bravo Arts Festival in Hilton Head (May); Gullah Festival in Beaufort (May); Pontiacs Freedom Weekend Aloft in Anderson (May); Spoleto Festival U.S.A. in Charleston (May-June); Sun-Fun Festival in Myrtle Beach (June).
Pageland Watermelon Festival in Pageland (July); Jubilee Festival of Heritage in Columbia (August); Aiken's Makin' in Aiken (September); Scottish Games and Highland Gathering in Mount Pleasant (September); Come Horse Around Festival in Camden (September); Beaufort Shrimp Festival in Beaufort (October); State Fair in Columbia (October); Colonial Cup in Camden (November); Chitlin Strut in Salley (November); Colonial Christmas in Camden (December).


In rank among states in population, South Carolina is 26th, according to the 2000 census. The population density in 2000 was 133.2 persons per square mile (51.4 per km 2 ). Whites made up 67.2 per cent of the population and blacks, 29.5 per cent.

More than half of South Carolina's people lived on or near the Piedmont, with the greatest concentrations in the Columbia and Greenville areas. The only other large concentration centered on the coastal city of Charleston.

For several decades South Carolinians have been moving from small towns and farms to urban centers, both within and outside the state. The rural population, however, exceeded the urban population until the 1980 census.


A state superintendent of education, elected for a four-year term, heads the public school system. The state board of education is appointed by the state legislature; members serve four-year terms. School attendance is compulsory for children from 7 to 17 years of age.

While South Carolina was still a British colony, the provincial assembly created several free schools for children whose parents could not afford to pay tuition. Other children were educated at home or at private academies. However, many children, especially those in outlying areas, received little or no schooling. In 1811 the General Assembly established a statewide system of public schools, but for white children only. As a result, slaves received little formal education, although religious organizations sometimes operated schools for blacks.

In 1876 separate public schools were established for blacks. The state's first compulsory attendance law, enacted in 1915, was repealed in 1955 after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered South Carolina to integrate its public schools. Another school-attendance law was enacted in 1967, but integration proceeded slowly.

The largest institution of higher learning is the University of South Carolina. It was chartered in 1801 as South Carolina College and opened in 1805. It was reorganized as a university in 1850. Its main campus is in Columbia.


South Carolina's State HouseSouth Carolina's State House is in Columbia, the capital since 1790.

South Carolina is governed under its seventh constitution, adopted in 1895 and frequently amended.

The governor is elected for a four-year term. The executive department also includes the lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, comptroller general, treasurer, commissioner of agriculture, adjutant general, and superintendent of education, all elected for four-year terms.

The state legislature, called the General Assembly, meets annually. It consists of a Senate of 46 members elected for four-year terms and a House of Representatives of 124 members elected for two-year terms. The judicial branch of the government consists of a supreme court, court of appeals, circuit court, and lower courts. The judges of all state courts are elected by the legislature. Magistrates are appointed by the governor.

There are 46 counties in the state. South Carolina sends two senators and six representatives to the U.S. Congress.