Founded by German immigrant Henry Schultz in 1821, the waterfront town was established directly across the Savannah River from Augusta with the intent of competing for the lucrative cotton shipping trade.
Elizabeth Murphy Rosson, editor of The History of North Augusta, said Schultz was an aggressive businessman whose losses left him angry and embittered toward Augusta.
He and partner John McKinne owned a toll bridge linking South Carolina with Augusta in 1814, and by 1816 they owned and operated the Bridge Bank. By 1819, the bank had failed and debtors seized the bridge.
“He devoted the rest of his life to building the town of Hamburg, just opposite Augusta, with the hope of ruining Augusta as a trading center,’” Rosson wrote.
Aided by a loan from the South Carolina Legislature, he created a town that also served as a terminus for a rail line to Charleston.
By 1823, according to a story in The Augusta Chronicle, Hamburg was more than just a facade to taunt Augusta, with almost 1,000 residents and a bustling business district. It attracted visitors, including the Marquis de Lafayette, who toured the town on March 24, 1825.
As Hamburg grew, Augustans made plans of their own.
A new canal was built to improve shipping and provide hydropower for industry – and the completion of a major railroad bridge allowed trains to continue past the Charleston rail line’s former endpoint at Hamburg and into Augusta.
As Schultz’s fortunes declined, the entrepreneur again fell into financial troubles, leading to a failed suicide attempt.
He died a few years later, in 1851, leaving behind a legend that says he was buried on his horse – with his back forever turned to
Though Hamburg was a virtual ghost town by the time the Civil War erupted, it enjoyed a brief – but violent – reincarnation after the war as a rough-and-tumble haven for freedmen who repopulated and governed the village.
In 1876, however, a confrontation between black milita and a white farmer erupted into an armed conflict that led to rioting and the slayings of five black menand a young white man. The event became known as the Hamburg Massacre.
It provoked outrage all the way to Washington, where President Ulysses S. Grant gave a speech to the U.S. Senate characterizing the event as a “disgraceful and brutal slaughter of unoffending men.”
After the violent episode, the town of Hamburg continued to decline.
Though Augusta built a levee after a devastating flood in 1911, historian and author Edward Cashin noted that Hamburg remained unprotected and was flooded again in 1929, when its last residents left and the once proud village was officially dead.