Recording its actions and the actions of its citizens is an integral function of government. From the colony's beginning in 1670, South Carolina's public officials safeguarded government records, usually conscientiously and sometimes with great courage and personal sacrifice. The state did not institute a separate official program to care for its records, however, until the early twentieth century. In 1905, the legislature made the Historical Commission of the State of South Carolina responsible for the state's archives and authorized it to hire a full-time secretary to take custody of the non-current government records that were scattered about the State House.
Alexander Samuel Salley, Jr., served as the Commission's secretary from 1905 until 1949. For many years he labored alone, working out of two cramped rooms in the State House to collect and put in order records that had been left in chaos by the Civil War and its aftermath. In 1906, he produced the first volume in what would become an extensive publications program. In 1924, he hired his first assistant, and in 1935, he moved to the World War Memorial Building, which had been erected to honor the veterans of World War I and to serve as a fireproof archives building. As Mr. Salley and a staff that would eventually grow to six brought in more of the government's archives, this building, too, became inadequate.
J. Harold Easterby, with the new title of director, succeeded Mr. Salley in 1949. Dr. Easterby envisioned a modern archival program for South Carolina and before his death on December 29, 1960, he had achieved many of his goals. He began document restoration, transferred massive quantities of colonial and antebellum court records from Charleston, and, as part of an ambitious revamped publications program, began to publish volumes in The Colonial and The State Records of South Carolina series. The 1954 Archives Act codified a professional archival program. Later, a few months before Dr. Easterby died, the program moved into a long-sought new archives building at the corner of Senate and Bull Streets.
Charles E. Lee began his twenty-six year tenure as director in June 1961. Under his administration, the agency broadened its scope. In 1967, the legislature recognized the addition of the federal program for historic preservation and the Department's work with the Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies by renaming the agency the Department of Archives and History. The agency extended its role in the field of government records by adding records management services for state agencies and a comprehensive local government records program. In 1971, the size of the Archives building was doubled. In 1973, the legislature enacted a strong Public Records Act. In 1976, a new State Records Center for the temporary storage of semi-active, recent state agency records was added in a renovated warehouse on Blanding Street, and 10 years later, its records storage space was doubled. In 1987 when Dr. Lee retired, agency staff numbered more than 120, and the program was one of the largest of its kind in the country.
George L. Vogt succeeded Charles Lee as director of the agency on July 1, 1987. During his eight-year tenure, Dr. Vogt emphasized long-range planning and the department’s leadership role in the State Historical Records Advisory Board. The board coordinates efforts to improve conditions for both private and public historical records throughout the state. Budgetary difficulties during these years forced a reduction in the department’s staff to 95 employees and the curtailment of its documentary editing program. Dr. Vogt instituted the Archives and History Foundation to raise private funds in support of the agency’s facilities and programs and led a successful campaign to obtain a badly-needed new state archives building. When Dr. Vogt left to become director of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in 1995, a 20.5 million dollar Archives and History Center was under construction on Parklane Road eight miles north of center city.
Rodger E. Stroup, became director in early 1997 and continued Dr. Vogt’s emphasis on outreach and added the National History Day program to the department’s activities. The agency’s fifth director, Dr. Stroup oversaw its 1998 move into its fourth home, the Archives and History Center. Between 2000 and 2004 the agency, along with other core components of state government, saw its budget reduced by over 30% with a corresponding loss of staff and necessitating the closing of the Reference Room on evenings and weekends.
W. Eric Emerson, became the sixth director of the Department in mid 2009 following the retirement of Dr. Stroup.