One of the earliest mentions of the town relates to Robert the Bruce. At Knockcushan Gardens, near the harbour, is a memorial to Robert the Bruce who is thought to have held court here in 1328.
In a decree dated 1666 Girvan is written as Grissan and it is not known when the name evolved into 'Garvan' or 'Girvan'.
From the Statistical Account of 1792 it is noted that:
"...considerable herring fishing took place at the mouth of the river very near the town. This fishing continued for 2 or 3 years. By the coneourse of people it drew together, and by the wealth it produced, a sudden and considerable extension of the town was occasioned. The practice of smuggling, too, which, for a number of years, was carried on to a considerable extent on this coast, contributed, in no small degree, to the increase of the town of Girvan.
Vessels can get out to sea with a wind from almost any quarter, if it does not blow very hard. There is at present, no more than one vessel above 20 tons burden, belonging to this place, & trading to it. The rest are all small, open, or half-decked boats, used for running salt from Ireland, or freighting goods from one part of the coast to another. Nor, till very lately, was there any thing deserving the name of manufacture to be found in Girvan. The weaving of cotton-cloth has of late been introduced by the manufacturers of Glasgow. Upwards of 100 looms are now employed, and the business is extending every day. "In later years coal was exported from the pits at Dailly and the harbour became a landing port for fish.The harbour was expanded in the early 1800's by Sir H.D. Hamilton. The railway line from Glasgow and a 'steam packet' launched Girvan as a holiday destination.
In Pigot & Co's Ayrshire Directory of 1837 the trade at Girvan is described:
"Large quantities of grain, of various kinds, are annually exported from hence, chiefly to Liverpool and Glasgow. The consignments of timber from North America to merchants in this town are considerable; the trade in coal and lime is likewise important - the mines of the former and quarries of the latter being numerous in this neighbourhood; but the principal business of the town consists in the manufacture of a variety of cotton and other goods, for the Glasgow and Paisley markets, which affords employment to the bulk of the inhabitants. A market, chiefly for grain, is held at Girvan every Monday; and there are two annual fairs, on the last Monday in the months of April and October, for stock, hiring servants, and general business."