South Carolina’s economic opportunities, beautiful landscapes, and thrumming culture lured many to its borders in the last few years. From scenic coastlines to rustic countryside, South Carolina’s captured the eye of many American families, especially during the pandemic. However, not all areas fared equally: some South Carolina counties were among the fastest-shrinking compared to others’ rapid growth.
While many of South Carolina’s new residents arrived from other states, many of its residents traveled to more populous counties in that period. This movement left several South Carolina counties to shrink in the last few years and mirrored more extensive census data from the previous decade.
Check out our list to learn more about the top eight fastest-shrinking counties in South Carolina.
Williamsburg County lies in the eastern, but not quite coastal, part of South Carolina. Its county seat, Kingstree, also hosts most of its population, some 31,026 as of 2020. In the 2010-2020 period, Williamsburg County lost 3968 citizens, about an 11.3% drop in a decade. As of 2022, the county lost another net of 961 residents, lowering its population by 3.1% in two years.
Though small and one of South Carolina’s fastest-shrinking counties, Williamsburg offers plenty to residents and visitors. Many historic buildings — including the Williamsburg County Courthouse — date back to the 18th and early 19th centuries. Woods Bay State Park covers 1,590 acres where guests can canoe, hike, fish, and bird-watch.
Nestled in the Midlands region of South Carolina, Orangeburg County is one of the oldest counties in the U.S., formed in 1769. The area covers 1128 square miles, making it the second-largest county in the state by total land area.
Population-wise, Orangeburg County saw 8.9% of its population depart from 2010 to 2020, about 8252 net people. In the last two years, the county lost another 1131 and dropped another 1.3%. As of 2022, the region’s population ranked at 83,092 people.
Despite being one of South Carolina’s fastest-shrinking counties, Orangeburg County is home to many natural wonders and cultural draws. The Eutaw Springs Battleground Park preserves the American Revolutionary War battle site in 1781. In the Sandhills of the state, Santee State Park borders the western side of Lake Marion and offers plenty of outdoor activities. Fishers jump at the chance to catch largemouth bass, trout, white perch, and channel catfish off Lake Marion’s shores.
Marion County, South Carolina, was formed in 1785 and was named to honor Brigadier General Francis Marion, a hero in the Revolutionary War. Marion County stretches over 494 square miles in the state’s coastal plains, of which 4.9 miles is water.
From 2010-2020, the population of Marion County dropped an impressive 11.7%, moving from 33,062 to 29,183 net residents. In 2022, the area lost more people, falling by 2.5% to arrive at 28,450 by the middle of the year.
Several rivers cut through Marion County, including the Great Pee Dee River, the Waccamaw, and the Lumber. Little Pee Dee State Park offers picturesque views along one of the country’s most scenic rivers and ample camping and fishing opportunities.
Marlboro County stands in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, along its northern border with North Carolina. The Great Pee Dee River dissects the county, which derives its name from the local Pee Dee Native American tribe.
In the last decennial census in 2020, Marlboro County had lost 7.8% of its population in the previous ten years. 2022 reports another 2.4% decrease in the last two years, bringing its total population down to 26,039.
From a population perspective, Marlboro County may be one of South Carolina’s fastest shrinking, but its diversity and natural attractions are worthy of attention. The Bennettsville Historic District winds visitors through the county seat’s historic buildings and homes. Nearby Lake Paul Wallace offers swimming and boating opportunities, full of pike, ducks, Canadian geese, and herons to observe.
Dillon County lies on the eastern coast of South Carolina, formed in 1910 from a portion of Marion County. It was named for James W. Dillon, a key figure in bringing the railroad to Dillon County’s community. A tiny county, Dillon spans 407 square miles and is the fifth-smallest county in the state.
Over the 2010-2020 period, Dillon County lost an impressive 10.7% of its population to emigration and natural birth/death cycles. In the last two years, it dropped by another 557 people to reach a total of 27,735 individuals.
Dillon County encloses several state-protected areas, including Little Pee Dee State Park and the historic Dillon County Museum. Dillon’s local Reptile Lagoon represents the largest indoor reptile exhibit in the country, with crocodiles, snakes, alligators, and much more.
Darlington County is a largely rural area located in northeastern South Carolina. Its county seat is Darlington, though nearby Hartsville is the county’s largest city. The area houses the Darlington Raceway, the annual home of the NASCAR Southern 500.
Unfortunately, NASCAR’s presence wasn’t enough to stem the loss of 8.4% of Darlington County’s population from 2010-2020. The region lost another 509 citizens as of 2022, bringing its total population to roughly 62,398 people.
Of course, Darlington County offers more than racecars. The community houses natural wonders like the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge. This area covers nearly 46,000 acres, with Red-cockaded woodpeckers, pine warblers, wild turkey, goldfinch, and other birds nesting among the trees and fields. You’ll not want to forget your camera with such diverse plant and animal life on display.
Union County is another old county in South Carolina, founded in 1785. The Cherokee formerly controlled the area before pioneer settlers arrived in the mid-18th century. The region features a rich history of Revolutionary, Civil War-era, and modern historic sites for visitors to explore.
From 2010 to 2020, Union County lost approximately 5.9% of its population, totaling 27,244 individuals as of the 2020 census. Its population dropped another 1.8% as of 2022, making it one of South Carolina’s fastest-shrinking counties.
Parts of Sumter National Forest’s 370,442 acres span some of Union County, home to many diverse species. The area supports mixed forests adjacent to the Appalachian Mountains, full of hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking opportunities. Dove, quail, rabbits, deer, beavers, and bobcats are just a few species that reside in Sumter National Forest.
Sumter County lies in central South Carolina, with the town of Sumter serving as its county seat. The area plays host to Shaw Air Force Base, one of the country’s largest U.S. Air Force command centers.
Census data from 2010-2020 suggest only minimal population drops in Sumter County, with a net of 1,045 people — only 1% — leaving in that period. However, the county saw 1,542 depart its borders in the last two years. That’s another 1.46% drop from its 105,556 population count in 2020, in only two rather than ten years.
The city of Sumter features many cultural events and natural destinations. Art lovers regularly visit local festivals or the Sumter Opera House. The nearby Swan Lake Iris Gardens protects all eight known species of swan and Japanese iris plantings. Adventurers visit Sumter County’s Manchester State Forest and Poinsett State Park, while largemouth and striped bass call Lake Marion their home.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Don Fink/Shutterstock.com
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