For as long as I can remember, my wife has wanted to visit Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, so last week we loaded up the kids and took a road trip to that vacation hotspot on the Atlantic Coast. Before leaving, I pulled out my trusty Rand McNally road atlas and began to plan out how I was going to drive us all there. As I traced my finger along the stretch of Interstate Highway 20 between Columbia and Florence in South Carolina, the name of one town in particular jumped out at me – Camden.
Seeing this reminded me that Camden, Alabama actually takes its name from this town of 7,100 in Kershaw County, S.C. Sources say that Camden, Alabama was originally named Wilcox Courthouse, but later changed its name to Barboursville in honor of Virginia politician Phillip P. Barbour. In 1842, Dr. John Daniel Caldwell changed the name of Barboursville to Camden after his hometown of Camden, S.C.
Today, if you visit the Camden Cemetery, you’ll find that Caldwell’s grave is marked by a large, distinctive, white tombstone that reveals much about his remarkable life. According to his headstone, Caldwell was born in Sumterville, S.C. on Jan. 27, 1807 and died in Camden at the age of 71 on Sept. 21, 1878. Also on his grave marker, you’ll see the following carved words – “Graduated at the Medical College of South Carolina at Charleston, in March 1830, married Mary Anderson Bowen June 5, 1833, moved to Linden, Alabama in 1836, became a resident of Barboursville, Wilcox County, Alabama in 1838. When the County was incorporated in 1841, as the intendant, he suggested the name Camden in honor of Camden, South Carolina.”
With all of this in mind on Sunday afternoon, I pulled off I-20’s Exit 98 in South Carolina for a tank of gas and a good look around. The main part of Camden, which is the oldest inland city in South Carolina, is actually several of miles off the interstate, but it’s worth the short drive to see if for yourself. There you’ll find many of the things you would expect to see in an old Southern town, including grand old churches, large cemeteries, stately homes, a well-appointed library, a sizeable high school, a four-columned city hall, antique stores, a train station, numerous historical markers and wide downtown streets.
With that said, Camden, S.C. also has many touches of the modern world, including a Wal-Mart, a Belk store, a Piggly Wiggly, several chain restaurants, banks, apartment complexes, dry cleaners, auto parts stores, a video game store, a Tractor Supply store, convenience stores and what looked like a relatively new courthouse building. Being in the newspaper business, I was interested to learn that Camden, S.C. is served by The Chronicle-Independent, which is published twice a week from its offices on West DeKalb Street.
In the end, this all got me to wondering about other towns named Camden throughout the United States. A quick search through my road atlas showed cities and towns named Camden in Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Tennessee. There are also Camden Counties in Georgia, Missouri and North Carolina. It would be interesting to know if any of those places take their name from Camden, Alabama just like Camden, Alabama takes its name from Camden, S.C.