The history of the Forest dates back thousands of years. Catawba and Cherokee tribes frequently traversed the woodlands to reach an ancient fording location on the Broad River. Early roads and paths leading to the ford made the area an attractive location for the first European settlers who formed a community which came to be known as Dutch Fork (from "Deutsche volk").
In 1951 the South Carolina Forestry Commission purchased 2,135 acres of land on the Broad River from the Board of National Missions for the Freedmen of the Presbyterian Church. The Church stipulated that the land be named "Harbison Forest" in honor of a major benefactor.
In 1981, the Forestry Commission approved a master plan for the long-term development of the tract. The goal was to provide a public greenspace to serve as an educational environment promoting the value of the state's forests and encouraging the stewardship of all of our natural resources.