Phosphate Industry in Beaufort County, 1867 – 2005 : List of Materials & Links

The Beaufort District Collection, the special local history collection and archives of the Beaufort County Library, SC, recommends these materials and links about the history of phosphate mining in South Carolina and its long-term impact on the course of Southern industry after the Civil War. This list of selected materials and links was compiled by Grace Morris Cordial, MLS, SL, CA, Manager of the Beaufort District Collection, May 9, 2014; Latest update June 29, 2015.

BDC New Logo_Blue  "Mill Complex," from our Donner Collection

Online Resources:

“Phosphate, Farms, and Family: The Donner Collection,” Digital Images hosted online through the Lowcountry Digital Library, Copyright to the images is owned by the Beaufort County Library. The collection is posted at http://lcdl.library.cofc.edu/content/phosphate-farms-and-family-donner-collection. Accessed 6.29.2015.

Conrad Munro Donner (1844 – 1916) and his brother, Leonard Donner, moved to Beaufort around the mid-1880s as mining engineers for the Pacific Guano Mining Company. Few images of phosphate mining operations in Beaufort County are known to exist. The 35 images that Conrad Donner took of the Pacific Guano Company, a phosphate mining company operating on Chisolm Island, are especially important as they show key aspects of an industry crucial to the post-Civil War economy of Beaufort.

The University of South Carolina has a digital collection of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps posted at http://library.sc.edu/digital/collections/sanborn.html. Select “Beaufort” as the City. Choose “1894” to see the 1894 Sanborn Insurance Fire Insurance Maps for Beaufort, including lay-outs for Baldwin Fertilizer Company, Coosaw Company, Sea Island Chemical Company, Phosphate Mining Company, Hume Brothers Company Fertilizer Works, Beaufort Phosphate Company, and Hammond Hull and Company Fertilizers Manufacturers. Accessed 6.29.2015.

“The Story of the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Biological Laboratory Woods Hole, Massachusetts 1885 – 1958,” by Paul S. Galtsoff accessed from the “NOAA history: A Science Odyssey” website http://www.history.noaa.gov/stories_tales/wh.html. Last accessed 5.9.2014.

The Pacific Guano and Fertilizer Company opened a branch in Hawaii in 1927. In the intervening years, the company had other names. “BEI Hawaii: Our History, est’d 1890,” provides some background about the Pacific Guano company’s activities on its company website, http://beihawaii.com/company_info.html; last accessed 6.29.2015

The Pacific Guano and Fertilizer Company was based at Woods Hole, MA from 1863 – 1889. “Woods Hole: The Early Years” explains that history. Accessed from http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/history/stories/whistory.html; last accessed 6.29.2015.

Bird guano contains valuable minerals useful to agriculture. “Tern Island: History” excerpted with permission from The Natural History of French Frigate Shoals, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands [by] A. Binion Amerson, Jr. Paper Number 79, Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. explains the discovery of bird guano in Hawaii.  Accessed from website http://www.wfu.edu/biology/albatross/hawaii/history.htm; last accessed 6.29.2015.

“Guano Island Act Allows U.S. Possession of Islands Containing Bird Droppings,” by Matt Rosenberg.  About.com Guide, accessed from http://geography.about.com/od/politicalgeography/a/guanoisland.htm; last accessed 6.29.2015.

 Check out these materials from the Beaufort County Library:

338.2 WHI The History of Phosphate Mining in Beaufort County, 1870-1914 by Richard A. Whitney, Beaufort County Historical Society, 1989. (BDC, BEA, HHI)

338.2764 MCK Stinking stones and rocks of gold: phosphate, fertilizer, and industrialization in Postbellum South Carolina by Shepherd W. McKinley, University Press of Florida, [2014]. (ALL)

975.799 MCT Beaufort, now and then, by J. E. McTeer, Beaufort Book Co. [c1971]. (Part 1 includes a section on the Phosphate era.) (ALL)

975.7992 BEA PT.4 Beaufort Tricentennial Lecture Series: Part 4, February 27, 2009: Reconstruction [with Dr. Larry Rowland]; 20th century Beaufort [with Drs. Larry Rowland and Stephen Wise]. [DVD] (BDC, BEA, BLU, HHI, LOB)

LEGEND: BDC= Beaufort District Collection; BEA= Beaufort Branch; BLU= Bluffton Branch; HHI= Hilton Head Branch; LOB= Lobeco Branch; and, STH= St. Helena Branch

Visit the Beaufort District Collection Research Room to access these Special Collections and Archival Materials:

338.2764 MCK Stinking stones and rocks of gold: phosphate, fertilizer, and industrialization in Postbellum South Carolina by Shepherd W. McKinley, University Press of Florida, [2014]. (ALL)

SC 553.64 MAP The Phosphate Industry of South Carolina by Helen Florilla Mappus, unpublished, 1935.

SC 557.56 CHA The century in phosphates and fertilizers: a sketch of the South Carolina phosphate industry by Philip E. Chazal, Lucas-Richardson Lithography & Printing, Co., 1904.

SC 557.56 COO Geology of the coastal plain of South Carolina by C. Wythe Cooke, Washington, U.S. Government. Printing Office, 1936.

SC 557.57 HOL Phosphate Rocks of South Carolina and the “Great Carolina Marl Bed,” with five colored illustrations by Francis S. Holmes, Holmes’ Book House, 1870.

SC 975.701 SOU “A History of the Phosphate Mining Industry in the South Carolina Lowcountry with a New Focus on Ashley Phosphate Company”, vol. 38 in South Carolina Antiquities: the first 40 years: contributed papers concerning the archaeology of South Carolina and the Southeast, 1968-2008 edited by Carl Steen. [DVD], 2009.

SC PRINT #30 “South Carolina: The Charleston Phosphate Industry: Scenes and Incidents of the Preparation of the Material for Market,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, June 30, 1877.

SC MAP #174 Map of the state of South Carolina, drawn, engraved & printed by G.W. & C.B. Colton & Co. SC Dept. of Agriculture, 1883.

SC MAP #610 Map showing land owned by the Port Royal Co. by Chas. Boeckh,(Engineer), 2004, 1891.

SC MAP #616 Map of parts of Charleston, Colleton & Beaufort Counties S. C., compiled from various sources by Simons & Howe, Civil Engineers. Julius Bien & Co., [1879?]

“Phosphate, Farms, and Family: The Donner Collection,” Digital Images hosted online through the Lowcountry Digital Library, Copyright to the images is owned by the Beaufort County Library. The collection is posted at http://lcdl.library.cofc.edu/content/phosphate-farms-and-family-donner-collection.

There is also a file of research materials about the Conrad and Leonard Donner family in the Beaufort District Collection archives.  See the archivist for access.

“Phosphate Mines and Mining” vertical file

Selected Content of the Beaufort District Collection permanent “Phosphate Mines and Mining” vertical file: 

The State of South Carolina v. South Carolina Phosphatic CompanyEquity Decree Book, (1867-1876), BDC Microfilm, 1038-4296.

“The South Carolina Phosphates.” Beaufort Republican, January 30, 1873, p. 2.

“A Curious Complication.” Beaufort Republican, May 22, 1873, p. 2.

“Our Beaufort Phosphates.” Beaufort Republican, May 23, 1873, p. 2.

“The Phosphates.” Beaufort Republican, May 29, 1873, p. 2.

“Abstract of Laws Relating to Phosphate Mining.” Columbia, SC: Presbyterian Publishing House, 1879. [photocopy of fragile pamphlet held in BDC collection]

“Movement of Phosphate Rock,” Palmetto Post, July 10, 1884, p. [3].

Jones, Nelson. (Obituary) Palmetto Post, August 14, 1884, p. 3.

“The Scotch dredge a failure: Getting ready to take her back to her builders,” Palmetto Post, July 9, 1885, p. 3.

“Industries of the South: Conversion of South Carolina Phosphates into Fertilizers,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, June 30, 1877, p. 286.

“The largest yet.” Palmetto Post, September 22, 1887, p. 3.

“Killing the goose that lays the golden egg,” editorial column, Palmetto Post, November 11, 1887, p. 2; transcription by Grace Morris Cordial 11.3.2004 for ease of use.

“More about phosphate,” editorial column, Palmetto Post, November 17, 1887, p. 2; transcription by Grace Morris Cordial 11.3.2004 for ease of use.

“The shipments of phosphate rock for the….” Palmetto Post, September 5, 1889, p. 2.

“The Coosaw Situation.” Palmetto Post, March 12, 1891, p. 2.

“The Phosphate Fight.” Palmetto Post, March 12, 1891, [p. 2].

“The Coosaw Case.” Palmetto Post, March 26, 1891, [p. 2].“Beaufort River Rock.” Palmetto Post, April 6, 1882, p. 3; transcription by Grace Morris Cordial 1.24.2004 for ease of use.

“Coosaw Ready to Pay.” Palmetto Post, June 11, 1891, [p. 2].

“Coosaw Loses.” Palmetto Post, April 7, 1892, [p. 2].

Extracts from the 1894 Sanborn Insurance maps for Beaufort, including lay-outs for Baldwin Fertilizer Company, Coosaw Company, Sea Island Chemical Company, Phosphate Mining Company, Hume Brothers Company Fertilizer Works, Beaufort Phosphate Company, and Hammond Hull and Company Fertilizers Manufacturers,” taken from our Sanborn Insurance Maps microfilm for ease of use. The University of South Carolina has a digital collection of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps posted at http://library.sc.edu/digital/collections/sanborn.html. Accessed 5.9.2014.

“The Phosphate Royalty.” Palmetto Post, November 5, 1896, [p. 1].

“Interesting To Phosphate Men.” Palmetto Post, January 28, 1897, [p. 2].

“Phosphatic. The State Board of Phosphate Commissioners.” Palmetto Post, April 1, 1897, p. 3.

“To Go Out of Business.” (Coosaw Mining Company). Palmetto Post, April 15, 1897, p. 2.

“Last of Coosaw,” Palmetto Post, April 29, 1897, [p. 2].

“Christensen to the Front.  An Alive Citizen Makes Work for Industrious Idleness,” Palmetto Post, October 21, 1897, p. 3.

[In the Social column], “Mr. J. W. Varn, superintendent of the Empire Phosphate Company’s plant on Ladies’ Island, was in town Tuesday.” Palmetto Post, October 11, 1900, [p. 2].

“To Inspect Phosphatic Waters,” Beaufort Gazette, February 11, 1904, p. 1.

“The Phosphate Situation,” Beaufort Gazette, March 31, 1904, [p. 2].

“Purchase of Coosaw Mines,” Beaufort Gazette, January 25, 1906, [p. 2].

“The New Phosphate Works.” Beaufort Gazette, December 6, 1906, [p. 1].

“Benjamin C. Odell Dead: Former Prominent Beaufort Citizen dies in Colorado home.” (Obituary) Beaufort Gazette, December 29, 1916, p. 1.

“Use for Beaufort’s Phosphate Rock,” in Willet’s Weekly Letter (column), Beaufort Gazette, November 25, 1921, p. 6.

“Carolina Phosphate Mining Industry.” Beaufort Gazette, January 19, 1923, p. 1; typescript by Grace Morris Cordial 1.28.2003 for ease of use.

“The Strangest and Most Mystical Product on South Carolina’s Coast,” by N. L. Willet. Beaufort Gazette, January 26, 1928, p. 2.

“Mines” entry from the Martin Index (typescript) to the newspapers, pp. 142-143. (circa 1936)

“Phosphate Mining Set-Up Planned.” Beaufort Gazette, April 2, 1936, p. 1.

“$3,000,000 Concern gets 5 Year Phosphate License.” Beaufort Gazette, April 9, 1936, p. 1.

“State Board of Phosphate Commissioners Approves License for Coastal Mining.” Beaufort Gazette, April 23, 1936, p. 1. (image)

“Ten Year License Phosphate Bill.” Beaufort Gazette, March 11, 1937, p. 1.

“Phosphate Industry may be revived in this area.” Beaufort Gazette, May 3, 1956, p. 4.

“The Phosphate Fortunes: A once-thriving industry soon may be resurrected,” by James C. Felder. News and Courier, October 6, 1963, p. 6-C.

“N.C. Firm to explore phosphate deposits: $15 to $20 million plant may be constructed here,” by James B. Waring, Beaufort Gazette, July 2, 1964, p. 1.

“Low Country Comments,” by Gerhard G. Spieler.   Beaufort Gazette, December 14, 1972, p. 3D.

“Chisolm Island Recalls Phosphate Mining Days,” by Gerhard Spieler. Beaufort Gazette, April 25, 1974, p. 9.

“The South Carolina Phosphate Boom and the stillbirth of the New South, 1867-1920,” by Tom W. Shick and Don H. Doyle, South Carolina Historical Magazine, vol. 86, no. 1 (1985), pp. 1 – 31.

Excerpt from South Carolina: A Geography by Charles F. Kovacik and John Winberry (Westview Press, 1987), pp. 112, 114, 116-117. (has map)

“Phosphates replaced cotton in Sea Island economy,” by Gerhard Spieler. Beaufort Gazette, February 13, 1990, p. 5-C.

“The Nineteenth century Pacific Guano Trade,” by Dan O’Donnell. Article originally published in the Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (1995): 19.2: 27-32.

“Diversity called key to economic health,” by Chuck Easterling. Beaufort Gazette, Centennial Supplement, April 12, 1997, p. 44.

Excerpt from Cultural Resources Reconnaissance Burlington Plantation Tract Beaufort County, South Carolina” prepared for Ernest Enterprises, Beaufort, South Carolina by Eric C. Poplin and Bruce G. Harvey. (Atlanta, GA: Brockington and Associates, Inc., 1997), p. 24.

“South Carolina” [(showing major producing areas of specific mineral products) from the] South Carolina Geological Survey/U.S. Geological Survey (2000). (map)

Excerpt from The Great Sea Island Storm of 1893 by Bill and Fran Marscher. (Authors Choice Press, 2001), pp. 8-11, 78-79.

“The Years of Early Hawaii.” [printed from old BEI , Inc. web page. No address indicated.[Likely accessed June 2001 when Donner project was on-going.] Not accessible 6 February 2004; Not accessible 6.24.2011.

“High arsenic, lead levels found along Beaufort River,” by Ian Leslie. Beaufort Gazette, February 5, 2004, pp. 1A, 7A. (image)

“Arsenic, lead found in soil,” by Lolita Huckaby. Carolina Morning News, February 6, 2004, pp. 1A, 4A.

“Company History.” Accessed and printed from the company’s web site http://www.beihawaii.com/company_history.htm on 6 February 2004. Unable to access 6.24.2011.

“Radio Swan & Radio Americas: The Guano Paradise, the CIA, and the Bay of Pigs…” http://www.trsc.com/ref_radio_swan_Americas.html Accessed and printed on 6 February 2004; Not accessible 6.24.2011.

“Vital Statistics: Phosphate” from Drillbits & Tailings, vol. 5, #2, February 14, 2000. http://www.moles.org/ProjectUnderground/drillbits/5_02/vx.html Accessed and printed on 6 February 2004; last accessed 6.24.2011. Not accessible 6.29.2015.

“The U.S. Guano Act of 1856.” Accessed and printed from the website http://www.followingtheequator.com/history/fte_actof1856.htm on February 6, 2004; last accessed 6.24.2011. Not accessible 6.29.2015.

“Guano Wars: ICE Case Studies.” Accessed and printed from the website http://www.american.edu/TED/ice/guano.htm on February 6, 2004; last accessed 6.24.2011. Not accessible 6.29.2015.

The 2004 National Site Assessment Symposium of the Environmental Protection Agency was held in San Diego, CA, June 28 – June 30, 2004. One of the presenters, Jonathan McInnis, shared a slideshow called “South Carolina Site Discovery Initiative,” that included references to the phosphate industry. The slides were printed from the website, http://www.epa.gov/superfund/programs/siteasmt/symp04/pdfs/scdiscovery1.pdf , on May 2, 2005. The document was not accessible 6.24.2011.

“The Story of the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Biological Laboratory Woods Hole, Massachusetts 1885 – 1958,” by Paul S. Galtsoff accessed and printed from the “NOAA history: A Science Odyssey” website http://www.history.noaa.gov/stories_tales/wh.html on 3.21.2005. Last accessed 6.29.2015.

“EPA holding public meeting on impacted soil and sediment,” Beaufort Gazette, August 12, 2005, p. 2A.

“BEI Hawaii: Our History, est’d 1890,” accessed and printed from the company’s website, http://beihawaii.com/company_info.html on 6.24.2011. Last accessed 6.29.2015

“Woods Hole: The Early Years.” Accessed and printed from http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/history/stories/whistory.html printed on 6 February 2004; last accessed 6.29.2015.

“Tern Island: History” excerpted with permission from The Natural History of French Frigate Shoals, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands [by] A. Binion Amerson, Jr. Paper Number 79, Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Accessed and printed from website http://www.wfu.edu/biology/albatross/hawaii/history.htm on 6 February 2004; last accessed 6.29.2015.

“Guano Island Act Allows U.S. Possession of Islands Containing Bird Droppings,” by Matt Rosenberg.  About.com Guide, accessed and printed from http://geography.about.com/od/politicalgeography/a/guanoisland.htm on 6.24.2o11. Last accessed 6.29.2015.

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