The rise of textile manufacturing in the New South altered the economy and society of the region. The first cotton mill in Greenwood opened in 1890 with 75 workers. When it nearly failed in 1908, James C. Self became president of Greenwood Cotton Mill and built one of the largest privately-held companies in the industry. Abney Mills, based in Greenwood, spread its production plants across the upstate.
Greenwood County was formed in 1897 from portions of Abbeville and Edgefield counties, which had originally been part of the old Ninety-Six District. It was named for its county seat, Greenwood. This had been named around 1824 after a plantation owned by John McGehee, an early resident. The area was developed largely for cotton plantations and was dependent on slave labor. It has continued to be agricultural in the 21st century.
Greenwood County was the site of the November 1898 Phoenix Election riot.
Laurens County - north
Newberry County - northeast
Edgefield County - southeast
Saluda County - southeast
McCormick County - southwest
Abbeville County - west