The community had its origin in the opening of the Willington Academy, founded by Presbyterian minister, Dr. Moses Waddel, in 1804. That Academy was one of the most prestigious education institutions in the south in the years from 1804-1830. Its founder was a brilliant teacher. He educated many outstanding young men from South Carolina and Georgia, including 11 future governors of SC, Georgia and Alabama, a vice president of the US , 3 secretaries of state, 3 secretaries of war, 32 members of congress, and 8 college presidents.. He was called by some the unoffical headmaster to South Carolina. He left Willington in 1819 to become president of a struggling little school in Athens, called Franklin College and later the University of Georgia, but he never lost his love for Willington, and returned in 1830 to teach and farm.
Dr. Waddel was the pastor of both the Liberty Church (a Huguenot congregation) and the Hopewell Presbyterian Church (a Scots Irish congregation). The local tradition is that Dr. Waddel named the community and his academy "Willington" because these two distinct groups, Scots Irish Presbyterians and French Protestants, were "willing" to unite for Christian worship and to support the education of young men.
At the time Waddel moved to Willington, the economy of the area was foundering. Tobacco was languishing as the chief product and cotton had not yet taken its place. The Huguenots had failed in their attempts to grow grapes for wine. Many of Dr. Waddel's students boarded with local residents and the academy brought notoriety to Willington, but not any significant expanded wealth.
As cotton became more and more important as a crop, Willington began to prosper and became an important selling and shipping point. In the 1886, Willington was given an important economic boost by the coming of the railroad.
The coming of the railroad brought the possibility of shipping cotton much more efficiently. More and more cotton was grown in the area and cotton was ferried across the Savannah river from Georgia farms to be sold and shipped from Willington. The new commerce led many of the local people to build homes closer to the town that was growing up around the Willington Depot. This new prosperity created the need for more consumer goods and a number of stores were opened
One of the unique features of Willington was that during the thirty-six years that the town was chartered no taxes were ever levied on the inhabitants. But even if the residents escaped taxes, there were other calamities. In the fall of 1902,1912, and in 1919 every store was destroyed by fire. The cotton sheds were set afire by sparks from the wood burning trains. Finally the wooden structures were replaced by the brick buildings which still stand.
In 1909, the community voted bonds to build a "nice, large and commodious" school building. These bonds were taken up by local people without calling upon outside capital for aid. The bank of Willington, a branch of the Bank of McCormick, was also funded by local capital . The school was a two-story frame building which housed the day school for the local white children.. This building now belongs to the Mims Community Center, a local grass-roots organization formed to promote community betterment. It is now used as a site for the school district's after-school program, for educational and cultural programs, for family reunions, showers, and funeral dinners, for various other community events, and as a county polling place in all elections.
African-American children were educated at schools associated with the African American churches in the area until 1955 when the first public elementary school was built in Willington.
On November 28th, 1911, a land auction was held and thirty-eight lots were sold. It was a big day with a band and a parade and all the excitement connected with a land auction. In those "good old" days there were twelve stores, a cotton gin, a railroad depot, the cotton and cotton seed warehouses, a bank, a post office, a doctors office, a blacksmith shop and even an automobile agency in Willington. There was a Baptist church, an Episcopal church and two Presbyterian churches within the town limits.
The decline of Willington came in the decade of the 20s. First, the boll-weevil ravaged the cotton crops and then the great depression caused the price of the cotton that could be grown to fall from 40 cents a pound to 5 cents a pound. The bank closed, people moved away. Store owners lost their businesses, farmers, in some instances, lost their land. Young people left home to find jobs and as the older people died, there was no one left to take their place. The houses were left to fall into disrepair. The depot, gin and two churches disappeared. Several homes, stores, and a church were destroyed by fire since fire fighting equipment was not available.
It is not too surprising that when the time came to renew the town's charter in 1933 it just did not happen.