Friday, January 29, 2010

Piedmont South Carolina -- Mill Town

December 12, 2009, a little over eight weeks ago.

It was a bit cold -- around 31 degrees, but I wanted to go out for a ride. Despite the below-freezing temperature overnight, there had been no rain so there shouldn't be any ice on the roads. Anyway, it might be some time again before I have a chance to go out, being winter and all. Although we generally have mild winters without much snow or ice, there is still the chance. I remember my bike gazing forlornly out of the garage door the last time we had snow.

I start out and go a little way south of where I live; exploring some roads I had not been on before. I stay out of the mountains -- the southern Blue Ridge Escarpment -- because it is likely that there is ice as well as sand and salt on the roads up there. No need to take a chance.

I meander south to the little mill town of Piedmont South Carolina. Piedmont means “Foot of the Mountains,” although it is sited about fifty miles from the nearest ones up north of Pickens.

As I have written before, the Blue Ridge Escarpment is a steep rise from fairly flat land. (To see more entries about this in my blog, use that search box in the upper left hand corner of your screen to search for the word "escarpment.")

The town of Piedmont, at least right here, doesn't look very prosperous. They are having a Christmas parade today, so there are a few people out on the streets and some fire trucks outside the fire station, waiting to be called into formation. I am sure that Santa Claus is lurking around here somewhere, but I don't see him. Maybe he thinks I have been bad this year and so won't be seeing him at all.

This little town straddles the line between Greenville County on the east and Anderson County on the west. The town once revolved around two cotton mills owned by the same company. The Saluda River was dammed here to provide hydro power to the plants. These mills produced cotton cloth and yarn.

Here is a picture of the dam. Actually about half of it, as there is more to the left of the photograph.

The locations of the mill buildings are a bit unusual as well, being on opposite sides of the Saluda River near the dam. Note the walkway across the dam that continues from the left end away from the camera and toward the parking lot on the opposite side of the river. This was for employees so they could walk from one plant to the other without detouring all the way out to the road bridge.

Here is a bit of history about Piedmont Manufacturing Company, the owner of the mills. This, from the Greenville Textile Heritage Society:

"By the year 1873, a charter had been obtained and work was begun on mill No. 1, but because of the great panic of that year, operations were suspended for a while. They were taken up again in 1874 and the building was finished in 1875. In March 1876, the machinery was started and the first cloth was made (it was good cloth too).
"The mill was not then fully equipped, but in 1878 the machinery was all put in. At that time there were 11,000 spindles and 240 looms. The company capital was $334,000. Mill no. 2 was completed in 1882, the two mills then had 24,020 spindles and 568 looms, of the spindles, 6,000 were on yarns.

"In 1888, mill no. 3 on the Anderson side of the river was built, and still later mill no. 4 was erected on the Greenville side...."

And this more detailed chronological account from The Journal, the Weekly Newspaper of Williamston, Pelzer, West Pelzer, Piedmont and Surrounding Communities in Anderson and Greenville Counties:

"1875 & 1876: The first mill building was constructed on the Greenville County side of the Saluda River.
March 15, 1876: Water turned on for first time. First bale of cotton opened by Mr. W. J. McElreath and his son. First spinning machinery started up. First bale of cotton used in mill bought from Silas F. Trowbridge of Grove Station. He bought the first bale of cloth, a 36” sheeting which was sold in his store.
July 1, 1876: Mill considered in full operation.
1880: Mill Building No. 2 built in Greenville County.
1946: Piedmont Manufacturing Co. sold to J.P. Stevens and Co., Inc.
1964: J.P. Stevens started rug plant in old Piedmont No. 1, renamed as Maples Plant No. 2.
1966: Maple Plant No. 2 closed. Old mill used to store cloth for Estes and Piedmont.
Oct. 26, 1983: Mill Buildings in Greenville County burn. Mr. Hammett’s original building burned in 1983 and the Anderson County plant was completely torn down by 1995.

"Over the years Piedmont had the reputation of turning out quality products, being the first to export cloth to China [compare that with the direction of most trade today] in the late 1880s through the 1930s.

"The Piedmont Plants operated continuously until 1964, when Stevens built the modern Estes Plant about two miles away from the Saluda Shoals. Delta Woodside Industries bought the plants from Stevens in 1983."
A long, interesting history, but now largely just a memory here at this site.

There is a mural painted on the side of the remaining mill building.

And a closer look.

Here is a description of the mural contents from the
Trainorders website, written by Tom Daspit of Morgan Hill, CA, who must have been traveling in South Carolina back around April of 2007.
"This mural [is] on the wall of an old textile mill. The mural is a good representation of the Piedmont & Northern depot that still stands about one half mile east of where the mural is in town. CSX still uses the tracks here to deliver coal to Duke Power's Lee Steam Plant in Williamston [SC] and interchange cars with the Greenville and Western at Pelzer [SC]. No steam locomotives ever were used on this line except maybe during its construction. This was an electric line. The artist must have been European, notice the bumpers [on the front of the locomotive]."
This is not the only mural depicting a railroad in these parts. There is one up in Saluda North Carolina on the side of the Salamander gift shop. Here is a picture of that mural.

...and another one in Clayton Georgia on the side of the North Georgia Security building.

After I look over the grounds of the still-standing mill, I mount up again and motor up the hill to the little downtown section. There is a community building, a restaurant, and a few other shops.

I wander around the town, looking at the small mill houses that were built by the mill owner and rented to the mill workers. The boss of the mill often lived in a larger house amongst the others in the mill village, and he ruled that just as he did the mill itself. He had the power to evict people who did not follow the rules.

I continue to follow streets and roads until I see a railroad. I find a crossing and follow a road that roughly parallels the tracks. I find another place to cross the tracks and take it, then another on my way back to town.

There is a railroad overpass at Rehoboth Road. I cross over it and head north for a little bit to Beam Road where there is another overpass. By the way, the word
Rehoboth is Biblical.

Here is a photo on the railroad overpass on
Beam Road.

Note that my little red-haired friend is still a faithful passenger, having ridden pillion for more than 1100 miles so far. It is a good thing I rescued him down near Duluth Georgia.

Here is the location of the Beam Road overpass.

View Larger Map

As I circle back to town, I see a lonely two-story house that stands empty. There is not a square inch of paint on its siding that I can see. It sits alone and seemingly useless on a rise across from the Anderson county-side mill site. Was this a superintendent's house? The mill president's house? So far, I have not been able to find anyone who knows. It makes for an interesting series of pictures, however.

The first pictures of the old house were taken from about here. The one below was taken from the parking lot of the Anderson county mill site.

View Larger Map

This is a view from the Greenville County side of the river where the remaining mill building stands. The nearer chimney once served the mill on this side of the river, the further served the mill on the opposite shore. Just to the left of the nearer chimney, you can see the old house.

After I shoot some pictures of the house, I head east on SC-86 to pushpin "H" on the map of my local Piedmont meanderings here. The Piedmont depot of the Piedmont and Northern Railway is located here. This is the same depot depicted in the mural on the mill building downtown, but it has seen much better days, and appears to be mostly empty now.

The track-side of the building is overgrown with brush.

According to this history,
the Piedmont and Northern Railway was
"...a heavy electric interurban company operating over two disconnected divisions in North and South Carolina. The trackage ran 128 miles (206 km) all told, with the northern division running 24 miles (39 km) from Charlotte to Gastonia, North Carolina, with a three-mile spur to Belmont. The southern division was the larger of the two, with the main line running 89 miles (143 km) from Greenwood to Spartanburg, South Carolina, with a 31 mi (50 km) spur to Anderson. The line was electrified at 1500 volts DC, but much of the electrification was abandoned when dieselisation was completed in 1954. Passenger service ended in 1951. The system was absorbed into the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad in 1969."


Go back and note again that the mural depicts a steam locomotive, but no such locomotive ever ran on the tracks of the Piedmont and Northern. Artistic license, perhaps?

As I depart from the depot, I spot a wooden overpass above East Main Street. Now Main Street, way out here in the sticks, apparently doesn't get much traffic, as it is only one lane wide. It makes an interesting place to take a snapshot of the Ninja.

The underside of the deck.

I finish out my ride by taking SC-86 east to US-25 and SC-291 to the north side of Greenville. I have to stop at the Cycle Gear store as long as I am in the area, right? (It is only about seventeen miles from the Piedmont depot. That's in the area, don't you think?) I look around, but keep my pocketbook tightly closed, though the staff at this store is always helpful without being pushy.

I motor to the southwest, past Bob Jones University, and through downtown Greenville's picturesque, tree-lined Main Street. I stop for a few minutes at Falls Park.

This is at the falls on the Reedy River in downtown Greenville. You can see the curved footbridge that spans the river above the falls.

A man is throwing sticks to his dog down at the river. And here is the windup...

There he goes. I'll bet that water is cold today.

He happily brings it back to his master and begs for more.

Here is a much better picture of the Reedy River falls taken during the summer.

[View of Falls Park from]

I linger for a time in this pleasant place, then head on, taking US-123 back to Easley. By the time I get home it has warmed up to a balmy 38 degrees. I have been reasonably warm bundled up for the cold as I described back in November. I do need to fit those Hippo Hands, to see how they protect my hands from the cold, since cold hands are most likely to limit my cold weather riding. They will probably make a big difference. I think I will start on that tonight.

I check my odometer and find that I have clocked about seventy-two miles today on this route.

Since this trip, the weather has been cold, rainy, occasionally snowy, and icy. I am glad I got to go out when I did. ...but I am really ready to get back out there, very soon.


Brian said...

Thanks for writing this up. I've lived in SC since well before I knew any French and it never occurred to me to even think about the meaning of "Piedmont".

The train also seems to have a red caboose on the end, which would be an extremely unusual fixture for a passenger train. I'd say the muralist was a rather confused person as far as RRs go.

Anonymous said...

great post

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. I just noticed yesterday that the old train depot has been torn down. Too bad...