Graniteville Mill – Graniteville, South Carolina
South Carolina | SC Picture Project | Aiken County Photos | Graniteville Mill
The bell that sits within the wooden cupola atop this entrance to the Graniteville Mill was once used to summon mill employees to work. The town of Graniteville dates to 1845 when visionary William Gregg purchased 7,952 acres near Horse Creek in Aiken County and received his charter for the Graniteville Manufacturing Company, also known as the Graniteville Mill. The following year he began construction on the mill and its surrounding town. In just a few years, he would develop the South’s first large-scale mill village.
According to historian Clement Eaton, William Gregg was the “most significant figure in the development of cotton-mills in the South.” His road to manufacturing was not direct, however. Following his mother’s death when he was a young boy, Gregg went to live with an uncle, Jacob Gregg, a watchmaker who also established one of the South’s first cotton mills near Alexandria, Virginia.
William Gregg learned watchmaking from his uncle and became a successful jeweler in Columbia, amassing a small fortune. Yet, his experience growing up in his uncle’s mill gripped him, and in 1837 he invested in the nearby small-scale Vaucluse Mill, also near Horse Creek.
Though he sold his share in the mill and returned to the jewelry business, this time in Charleston, in 1843 Gregg returned to the area and purchased Vaucluse Mill. In 1844 Gregg toured the large-scale textile villages of New England and became inspired to develop the same framework in the South. He saw industry combined with education, worship, commercialism, and family life as a blueprint to success for Southerners.
Gregg employed local laborers to begin construction of the Graniteville canal, seen above, in 1846. Quarried blue granite was used in the project that would eventually power Gregg’s cotton mill. However, the canal’s initial use was for a sawmill that would supply all the lumber needed for building the town.
The town was near completion as early as 1849. A free school was built as well as two churches and several small yet ornate Gothic Revival-style houses for mill workers and their families. The village was ready for occupancy, and the mill itself was completed and operating that same year. Gregg had realized his dream of creating a community dedicated to industry, production, and education. He insisted that his mill workers send their children to his school, Graniteville Academy (seen below), or pay a large fine as a consequence. Gregg saw himself as the moral guide of his burgeoning community.
The mill continued its success over the decades, though Gregg’s paternalistic views of its workers gave way to independence. Graniteville Academy, now Leavelle McCampbell Middle School, was sold to Aiken County in 1960 and currently operates as an Aiken County public school. The Graniteville Manufacturing Company, which had owned and maintained the community’s housing, eventually sold all of the small mill homes to private owners by the 1960s.
In 1996 Graniteville Manufacturing was purchased by Avondale Mills, a company that produced denim and flannel. However, in 2005 a devastating train wreck occurred in the heart of the community when a Norfolk Southern train hit another parked train, releasing liquid chlorine into the air and killing nine people. Thousands more were displaced from their homes. This disaster led to the closing of Avondale Mills in 2006.
The Graniteville Mill is listed in the National Register as part of the Graniteville Historic District:
The Graniteville Historic District consists of the Graniteville Canal, which dates to 1846; the original two and one-half story Graniteville Mill constructed of locally quarried granite and completed in 1849; twenty-six original workers’ houses in Early Gothic Revival style, most of whose exteriors are virtually unaltered; nine other units of early mill housing; the 1847 Graniteville Academy where operatives children were educated at company expense; and the Early Gothic Revival St. John’s Methodist Church, designed by Charleston architect E.B. White and completed in 1849.
Most of these structures were either constructed by William Gregg or under his close supervision, and many still retain much of their original architectural vitality. While building the mill, Gregg supervised construction of a company town, thus bringing into existence the first typical southern mill village. By providing cheap housing, free schools, churches, and stores and by maintaining personal supervision over the morals and everyday lies of his operatives, Gregg established a pattern that would be emulated by scores of cotton mill owners throughout the region.
Graniteville Mill Info
Address: Canal Street, Graniteville, SC 29829
Graniteville Mill Map
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