Thursday, February 10, 2011

Old Mill at Newry -- Off the Beaten Path

January 29, 2011

It has been a couple of weeks since I have been out on the bike due to weather and other priorities, but there is a place I have been wanting to visit for some time.  It is an old textile mill about twenty-five miles from home.  Since the mountain roads are still covered with salt and sand, it is a good time to head out for this less-challenging terrain. 

I have to work for a while today, so I bundle up, as the temperature is about 29 degrees.  After a few hours at work, the temperature has risen a few degrees, so I start out on my adventure. 

Here is the route I have plotted out, so you can follow me today. 

View Larger Map

I wend my way west on mostly secondary roads, stop for a few minutes at Cateechee (at Pushpin "B" on the map) to watch them remove a dam on the Twelve Mile Creek that used to provide power for an old mill, long since torn down. 

After a spell on main roads again, it gets very secondary on Substation Road.  Catchy name, eh?  It is so named because there is an electrical substation near Old Clemson Road at Pushpin "C" on the map.  The road surface is well-graded fine stone, and is firm and flat in most places.  Before I go a quarter mile, it feels as though I have gotten off the beaten path and into the mountains.  It is quiet, and peaceful.
 Somebody's motorcycle is on the road in the right background here.  I wonder whose it is. 
I stop a couple of times, then begin to follow the Little River on my right.  I get my first distant glimpse of the mill I am seeking.  It looks majestic and stands proud in the distance in the bright sunlight.  I can almost imagine smoke billowing out of its chimney, powering the machinery within.  I take in the scenery for a few minutes before mounting up again.  Just a little ways further, completing only a mile and a quarter of gravel, I reach the thoroughfare called Broadway Street in the town of Newry.

Even though Broadway is one of the main streets, it is not so much of a thoroughfare these days, for two reasons.  One reason is that Newry is not on the way to anything else.  There are only two paved roads out of town, and they both go in the same general direction.  Only Substation Road leads out another way.  The other reason that Broadway is not too heavily traversed is that there is no other economic activity here.  The mill was the only major employer, and it closed many years ago. 

From the Oconee Heritage Center website:   
"On April 21, 1893, [William Ashmead] Courtenay and his associates received a charter from the South Carolina secretary of state 'to establish a factory in Oconee County for the manufacturing, spinning, dying, printing, and selling of all cotton and woolen goods.'
"To his stockholders, Courtenay wrote, 'It was in a sparsely settled and unfrequented corner of the county; labor had to be brought there, shelters built for them; in fact all the primitive conditions of the distant border had to be dealth with, machinery for brick making and other purposes had to be transported from distant points, one and a half miles of railroad must be graded and built...'"
The mill was built in 1893 by Mr. Courtenay, a former mayor of Charleston South Carolina, 1879 to 1887.  He found this place for building his new cotton mill that reminded him of his ancestral home in the town of Newry in Northern Ireland.  Both town sites are located in a river valley surrounded by wooded hills. 

Mr. Courtenay's portrait from the Courtenay Society website:

Courtenay was one of the pioneers of the industrial movement, which had transferred the bulk of the American cotton industry from New England to the Southern states where the raw material is produced. The South in the days before the Civil War had despised manufacturing, but the men who rebuilt the war-ravaged Southern states were well aware of the importance of industrialization.

Most of the buildings here in Newry were erected between 1883 and 1910.  The mill's waterwheels first turned on June 14, 1894, starting production. 

I arrive at the town square, which is flanked by the company office...

...and the company store with its second floor assembly hall and adjacent post office building. 
Photo circa 1935

The small, frame post office was replaced by this nondescript addition to the store about 1940.
Photo circa 1980

The mill entrance is located on a third side of the square.

I make my way closer to the mill grounds.  The gate in the fence is non-existent, and there are, surprisingly, no signs warning of trespassing.  I can now see that the building is in poor condition.  The once-numerous windows are mostly bricked closed, blotting out the natural light that was so important in days gone by, and there is not an unbroken pane of glass to be found.

The mill was designed by one W.B. Smith Whaley, and consists of four floors served by a stair tower in the center of the front, but I note that the wood-framed warehouse visible in the aerial view is gone now.  I look back at the gate, and visualize the workers coming to work through it.  It was just a short walk to work for the residents of the town. 

I park and venture toward the stair tower.

The wooden stairs inside are rickety, and the floors are rotted in places.

Please do not enter this building due to the danger.  

I peek in.  There is little to see but desolation, where once there were 10,000 spindles (some sources say 18,000) for spinning thread from fiber, and over 250 looms for weaving the thread into cloth.  It now lies silent except for the echos of my footsteps. 

The concrete dam that originally powered the mill still extends across the Little River, but coal boilers were installed in 1905 to provide more power and thus increase production. 

Mr. Courtenay died in 1908 at the age of 71.  His sons continued to run the business until about 1920. In 1946, the Courtenay Manufacturing Company merged with Anderson Cotton Mills, Panola Mills, and Grendel Mills to form a corporation called Abney Mills. 

Smallpox and influenza epidemics, droughts, floods, and lack of raw materials all hindered the operation of the plant over the years, but it was finally offshore competition that caused it to close in 1975. 

After I leave the mill building, I wander all of the streets of Newry town.  The mill village is much like hundreds of others in the south.  This one has about 115 houses in four styles, mostly doubles, plus a few larger houses for the boss men, and a Neoclassical house, named Innisfallen, built for the mill founder.  The latter, located on a ridge southwest from the village, is now in ruins.
The four types of double worker houses.

All of the houses were served by a sewerage system, running water, and electric lights.  Some of the houses are now well kept while others are run down.  This particular house has seen much better days, but some, er, ingenious roofer has solved his too-short ladder problem in an innovative way. 
Yes, that is a stepladder standing on a wooden platform attached to the roof of the porch. 

The textile industry was by far the largest of any in South Carolina.  In 1880, there were fourteen mills in South Carolina involved in cotton manufacturing.  By 1900, the mills numbered around eighty.  The industry employed about 45,454 wage earners in 1909.  In 1890, workers in South Carolina textile mills earned an average weekly wage of $5.17.

I leave the little town and climb up to SC-130, to Pushpin "C" on the map below.  This road crosses an earthen dam that helped Duke Power create Lake Keowee in 1971.   Lake Keowee covers Keowee Town, site of the capital of the Lower Cherokee Nation.  Keowee, meaning "Place of the Mulberries," was visited by Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto when he came through the area in 1540.

View Larger Map

I can see the village of Newry from here, on the right below me...
...and the water of the lake and the distant Blue Ridge Escarpment to my left.

The elevation of the mill site is about 700' above sea level.  The surface of the lake is about 797' today, so it is, in round figures, 100' above the town.  I hope this dam holds!

Lake Keowee covers 18,372 acres, with 300-miles of shoreline, and is used for hydroelectric power, cooling of the Oconee Nuclear Station reactors, boating, and other recreation.  Upscale homes line its banks.

After I wander about a bit on some nearby roads, I find others that lead generally north until I reach SC Highway 11, the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, which runs along the base of the Blue Ridge Escarpment.  I motor north on it until I reach US-178 and the Holly Springs Country Store where many bikers gather.  I ride through the lot, but don't see anyone I know, so I continue south on 178.  This is the somewhat curvy section that I like, so I go at a pretty good clip until I get backed up by some slower traffic near Pickens. 

It has warmed up to 62 degrees by now and I take familiar streets until I reach home.  My odometer says that I have traveled 123 miles today -- a short ride to a historic place.

I've enjoyed taking you along.  Come again! 

If you go:

Coordinates of Newry: 34°43′33″N 82°54′25″W

Get there by boat:  See the Paddle to Newry posting by Tom in his Random Connections blog.  He paddled his kayak from the Lawrence Bridge over the Keowee River branch of Lake Hartwell.  He has posted many more photographs of the mill and of Newry.

Videos by others



The black and white photos in this posting are from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, National Register of Properties in South Carolina.  Note that the name of the mill founder, Mr. Courtenay, is misspelled on this page.  Must be government attention to detail and efficiency.




Tom said...

Bucky - excellent write-up, and I love the old photographs you've been able to find. Somehow I missed Innisfallen when I visited. Looks like it would be another great place to explore.

SonjaM said...

Thanks for taking me along. I thoroughly enjoyed the history lesson. I have never been in this part of the US and your road report makes me curious to visit.

Mike said...

I agree, excellent write-up. I too like looking at old photos. This post took a lot of work - thank you! The history and the photos are great! I like how you got photos in the mill. Many mills are in the same shape here in Oregon, except they're wood mills.

Nice adventure!

bluekat said...

Excellent trip report and write up on the history of the area. It' sad to see the derelict mill and fading town, and to know that a livelihood is gone. The architecture is wonderful. How tempting to explore, but I hope you didn't go in.

Lillie said...

I live in Newry and that step ladder is still perched on top of that roof. Now with vines growing up the legs of it! Lol. I was hoping to get more of a location of Innisfallen as I have always wondered where exactly it is, but I really enjoyed your write up and feel free to visit Newry anytime! :) P.s, There is a no tresspassing sign up now. It went up a couple of years ago. Maybe more like 1. Not long ago though. :)