After the War Between the States, cotton textile mills became the predominant industry in South Carolina. In upstate SC, old mill ruins still dot the countryside wherever water power existed to run them.
One such ruin, along with the ghost town that once housed its workers, is the Bivingsville Mill and Bivingsville, later renamed Glendale Mill and Glendale.
The mill opened in 1838 with 1200 spindles and 24 looms and 58 workers. It was powered by a 26-foot water wheel, turned by damming of a creek, and produced a plain undyed cotton cloth.
A community church where school was taught on weekdays for a few months of the year and 12 homes for workers were built. The mill owned the houses and rented them to the workers.
During the Civil War, Glenville Mill produced goods for the Confederacy, including wooden shoe soles. After the war, during Reconstruction, 125 workers were employed and the town continued to expand. The Mill also supplied materials for military needs during the First and Second World Wars.
A new mill store was built in the late 1800s and workers were paid in scrip that could only be used at the company store. A post-office, barber shop, shoe shop, and a small lunch room were located in the community building (left), the only town building still in use today.
By 1946 Glenville had become a community with 800 residents and 158 mill-owned houses. The houses had electricity, cold running water, and indoor bathrooms consisting of an old-type commode with the water tank mounted above.
A textile mill was not a pleasant place to work. Cotton dust caused respiratory illnesses and discomfort, the work week was 66 hours or more long, and the pay was as much as 50 percent lower in the South than in New England textile mills. Manufacturers made use of child labor, commonly hiring entire families. Children as young as six were working in the mills, and there are reports of even younger ones. The 1900 census reported that thirty percent of South Carolina mill hands were ages ten to sixteen. Children under 10 worked in the daytime and those 11 and older worked graveyard shifts. They were valued because of the dexterity of their small hands and their ability to get small fingers into little spaces within the machines.
The photos below are from a publication by the National Child Labor Committee called Child Labor in the Carolinas. They were taken by Northern reformers to expose conditions and support of making and enforcing child labor laws.
This machine is a spinner. It says below the photo that children of widows or of disabled workers could work until 9 pm while other children had to quit at 8 pm.
These children are gathered for a photo at the Newberry Mill, a mill town near Glenville. It says below, “The unguarded wheel and belt at the left are sinister neighbors for little girls’ arms, skirts, and braids. There was no factory inspection in South Carolina.”
This little girl is seven years old and an orphan. She had been working in this mill for a year and a half.
Glenville Mill continued to produce cotton cloth until 1961 when foreign competition forced the closing of almost all the US textile mills. One hundred eighteen of the company houses were sold to private owners and the businesses, except for the post office, closed.
In 2004 a fire destroyed most of the mill building.
The lawn of the once-beautiful mill owner’s family home is now a junkyard for old cars.
Glenville Shoals that once powered the mill is now a small park.