Newry Mill – Newry, South Carolina

South Carolina  |  SC Picture Project  |  Oconee County Photos  |  Newry Mill

The dilapidated central section of the massive Newry Mill – whose official but less common name is Courtenay Manufacturing Company – still towers over the abandoned textile plant that surrounds it. The mill was founded in 1893 and functional by 1894. On June 14th of that year, Newry became the first textile village in Oconee County. In 1905 steam power and boilers were added to boost efficiency. Today, the old mill and historic village linger along the Little River at the base of Duke Power Company’s dike impounding Lake Keowee.

Courtenay Mill

William H. Myers, III of Seneca, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The mill was established by Captain William Ashmead Courtenay, a Charleston native who, during the Civil War, led the famed Washington Light Infantry and fought in the battles of First Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Chickamauga. Before moving to the Upstate, Courtenay also made his mark as the mayor of Charleston from 1879 to 1887 and, among other accomplishments, suggested the initiation of the South Carolina Historical Commission, which in 1967 became the SC Department of Archives.

Courtenay Manufacturing Plant

Tom Taylor of Greenville, 2011 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

In building the Newry Mill, Captain Courtenay and his peers were following a trend that arose after the war, when northern industrialists flocked to the South to scoop up cheap labor amidst the wreckage of a stricken economy. In general, labor in southern mills cost 25% less than labor in northern mills; in fact, one comparison shows that in 1890, mill-workers in Massachusetts earned $8.05 a week while mill-workers in South Carolina earned just $5.17. Further perks included the absence of unions and regulatory laws – including minimum wage and age restrictions – as well as our moderate climate and access to raw materials.

Newry Mill Fog

William H. Myers, III of Seneca, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

After retiring from politics, Captain Courtenay purchased 350 acres and established the Courtenay Manufacturing Company for the “manufacturing, spinning, dying, printing, and selling of all cotton and woolen goods.” The land is located roughly seven miles from Clemson and to this day remains largely isolated, bound on one side by the Little River and on other sides by dense woods.

Newry Mill Windows

William H. Myers, III of Seneca, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

While his plant and administrative buildings were called Courtenay Mill, Courtenay named the village that surrounded it Newry after his father’s family home in County Down, Ireland. Beginning in 1893 and continuing through 1910, Courtenay constructed 51 cottages, a school, a church, a company store, a community hall (located above the company store), a post office, and even a barber shop. He is remembered as being harsh and impatient at times, but also unusually concerned with the well-being of his employees. He provided them hitherto unheard of conveniences like electricity and running water, and it is said that from its start, a “unified symbiotic relationship was agreed upon between the management and the employees” (1).

Newry Stairwell

William H. Myers, III of Seneca, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Following Courtenay’s death in 1908, the mill operations were transferred to his son, Campbell Courtenay. However, the younger Courtenay was forced to sell the factory to the Issaqueena Mill Company of Chester in 1920 due to a series of setbacks – both during his tenure and preceding it – which included multiple droughts, a tremendous flood, a smallpox outbreak in 1910, and the great influenza epidemic of 1918, which affected 700 out of 900 people.

Courtenay Mill Interior

William H. Myers, III of Seneca, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Interestingly, the initial president of Issaqueena Mills was Walter L. Gassaway, whose home in Greenville still stands as the largest private residence in the entire Upstate. The 40-room estate, which goes by the names of both Issaqeena and Gassaway Mansion, was built with masonry and stone work salvaged from another old Piedmont mill, Vardry McBee, which once operated from the base of the Reedy River Falls.

Newry Mill Graffiti

William H. Myers, III of Seneca, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

By 1930, Issaqueena’s Newry operation employed 365 people and purchased 5,500 bales of cotton. The mill suffered greatly during the long years of the Great Depression, however, and Cannon Mill Interest of North Carolina purchased the factory and its surrounding properties in 1934. Unfortunately, despite assistance provided by the National Recovery Act, Cannon liquidated the plant in 1939 due to a still-depressed economy.

Courtenay Mill Ruins

William H. Myers, III of Seneca, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Mercifully for the mill’s employees, Greenwood-based Abney Mills bought the factory and village from Cannon and immediately began upgrading the mill’s equipment. As a result, operations resumed at a higher-than-ever production rate. During World War II, demand for textiles increased significantly, and the Courtenay Plant, as it was then called, “operated at breakneck speed to fulfill all orders.” In 1943, the mill employed 450 employees to process 6,500 bales of cotton. This volume of production continued until the early 1950s, when the first foreign imports began to take their toll.

Courtenay Mill Tower

William H. Myers, III of Seneca, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

During the mill’s heyday under the ownership of Abney Mills, mill workers played textile league baseball in a field that was later destroyed to modernize the Little River Dam on Lake Keowee. They also enjoyed the addition of two new bathrooms in every home! Repairs were made, streets were upgraded, sidewalks were constructed, and brick duplexes were added, bringing the total number of residences to around 120.

Courtenay Mill in Newry SC

Bill Fitzpatrick of Taylors © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Yet times were beginning to change for this and many other mills. As more and more cotton production moved overseas – where labor was even cheaper – South Carolina’s textile mills started to disappear. Newry Mill closed its doors in 1975, followed quickly by Abney’s eight other plants. The residences were sold, mostly to their inhabitants, and the former mill workers desperately sought employment in nearby towns.

Newry Mill Brick Interior

Peter Krenn of Rock Hill, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Today, the mill and its village comprise the Newry Historic District. At 250 acres, the district contains 118 buildings including the mill complex, the post office, the village church, and many of the old homes. The ruins of Innisfallen, the house of Captain William Ashmead Courtenay, also named for his ancestral estate in Ireland, can be found on the southwest ridge near the village.

Newry Mill Ruins

Bill Fitzpatrick of Taylors © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The property is now owned by a group of real estate investors who, in 2009, unveiled plans for the Keowee River Development Project, a mixed use development set between Lake Keowee and Lake Hartwell. Prior to their $10 million purchase in 2008, the land was held by Courtney Resources. If built, the project would include condos, single-family homes, an amphitheater, multiple restaurants, and a waterfront park.

The Newry Historic District is listed in the National Register as follows:

The Newry Historic District encompasses a textile mill village established at the turn of the century. Situated in a rural setting in the Little River Valley, the town of Newry is visually isolated by a series of surrounding ridges, dense forest, and a large earthen dam on Lake Keowee, which form the boundaries of the district. The district contains 118 properties including the mill complex, mill office, company store and post office, village church, and numerous workers residences, located within an area of approximately 250 acres. Courtenay Mill was constructed in a typical New England textile factory design. The design is attributed to W.B.S. Whaley.
Newry Mill Dam

William H. Myers, III of Seneca, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Most of the buildings in Newry were built during the period 1893-1910 and are examples of the turn-of-the century genre of mill village design in South Carolina. These include the principal buildings of brick construction located adjacent to the town square, i.e., company store and post office located on the north side, and mill office on the south side. The village church with late Classical Revival style details is located on Broadway in the center of Newry. Sixty-nine houses are two-story duplexes with a catslide roof, eight houses are two-story single family residences. Other wood frame buildings include four larger two-story residences believed to have been originally occupied by mill supervisors, two one-story residences, one additional church and a recreation lodge. The ruin of Innisfallen, the Neo-Classical house built for mill founder, William A. Courtenay, is located on a ridge southwest from the village.

1. This quote and much of the information in this article come by way of an excellent history written by John L. Gaillard of Newry, South Carolina, a longtime employee of Newry Mill who also served as one of its last four employees. You can read this history here; you can also find a summary of Mr. Gillard’s fascinating oral history, as well as those of seven others in the Newry community, here.

Newry Mill Info

Address: Broadway Road, Newry, SC 29665

Newry Mill Map

Newry Mill – Add Info and More Photos

The purpose of the South Carolina Picture Project is to celebrate the beauty of the Palmetto State and create a permanent digital repository for our cultural landmarks and natural landscapes. We invite you to add additional pictures (paintings, photos, etc) of Newry Mill, and we also invite you to add info, history, stories, and travel tips. Together, we hope to build one of the best and most loved SC resources in the world!

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8 Comments about Newry Mill

Kelly VanSteenburg says:
March 1st, 2015 at 10:20 pm

who stuck all the graffiti all over the place? WHEN I lived there, we walk all of those halls and left it like we found it. It was sacred.

Martha HawkinsNo Gravatar says:
February 28th, 2015 at 9:38 pm

There is an unpaved road off the lower part of Broadway Street in Newry which connects almost directly to the Old Clemson Highway. In the 1898 marketing brochure for the mill Courtenay Mfg. Co. indicates that Clemson COLLEGE is only 5 1/2 miles away. I’ve always wondered why Clemson University has not seen the potential of renovating the magnificent old mill and using it for a technology center. What a showplace that would be!

Bonnie Hughes Hamm says:
February 27th, 2015 at 10:36 am

I have family members who have many memories in this old mill.

Bill TysonNo Gravatar says:
February 26th, 2015 at 5:22 pm

I have spent over 56 years in South Carolina textiles, primarily warp knitting, and I found this information very interesting. I have seen the rise and fall of our textile business and am sorry to see it go, but thankfully it is being replaced by new industry and new technology.

Alyx LoomisNo Gravatar says:
July 20th, 2014 at 9:48 am

I am working with a team to make a documentary about haunted legends in upstate SC. When I saw this mill, I knew that I HAD to research it and include its story. If anyone out there can direct me to more information on its legents, it would be greatly appreciated. Contact Me:

A. Loomis

Alyx LoomisNo Gravatar says:
July 20th, 2014 at 9:43 am

Mister Krenn, you take some gorgeous pictures, this is true… Would you be willing to talk to me about a documentary I’m making about haunted places in the upstate? Any information you could provide me or anywhere anyone could direct me for legends on this place would be super helpful.

SCIWAYNo Gravatar says:
October 31st, 2013 at 1:54 pm

We completely agree! Peter has been incredibly generous in donating photos to the South Carolina Picture Project – we love him!

Ken TedderNo Gravatar says:
October 31st, 2013 at 1:14 pm

These fine photos are a small fraction of the great work Peter Krenn has done as he travels in various places.


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