(compiled by Don Roper, Piedmont, S.C.)
Piedmont: A spot on the Saluda River where the sparkling water rushes over huge rocks on its way from the mountains to the sea. The place has had several names; the Indians and early settlers called it “Big Shoals of the Saluda,” later it was Garrison Shoals and then Piedmont.
From the time the Indians used the big rocks of the shoals as a crossing, through the several bridges, Piedmont has been a crossroads for generations.
The five foot red headed Irishman, David Garrison, built his grist mill upon the shoals, giving it its second name, Garrison Shoals. About this time around 1850, the first bridge was built, a covered wooden bridge. During the early part of the century, a more modern steel span was added, and in 1948 the present cement structure.
When Henry Pinckney Hammett, son-in-law of William Bates, builder of the first successful cotton mill in Greenville County, bought the property for his cotton mill, using the water power of the shoals, the name was again changed, this time to Piedmont, “Foot of the Mountains.” This name was added to his charter for Piedmont Manufacturing Company and also as a railroad station.
Mr. Hammett and his cotton mill are the reason there is a Piedmont today. Being stalled by the War Between the States, Mr. Hammett was finally able to begin producing cloth in 1876, but not before a problem for which he found a unique solution.
When he ran short of money, He made a trip up north to where the Textile Machinery Manufacturers were located. he obtained financing to complete his mill by offering stock in his company as payment for the machinery he needed to start production. Saco Lowell and Whitin Machine Works furnished his needs and production began.
Some of the Saco Lowell original machinery, as modified, was still operating in 1964.
The company continued after his death in 1893 with the Beattie family from Greenville taking over and running it until 1946 when the giant chain run by J.P. Stevens and Co. Inc. took it over.
The water power was used to produce electricity to run the machinery in the 1880s and also furnished the employees homes from the 1920s until Duke Power expanded after WWII.
The Piedmont Plants operated continuously until 1964, when Stevens built the modern Estes Plant about two miles away from the Saluda Shoals. Moving most of the employees and part of the machinery, Estes is still being operated today as a part of Delta Woodside Industries who bought it from Stevens in 1983.
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 in the late 1880s through the 1930s. Another name given to Piedmont was “School of Superintendents,” as over the years scores of the South’s Mills were presided over by graduates of Piedmont.
Another credit for the Piedmont Mills was an early library, Lyceum, YMCA, for both men and women. Schools for the children of workers and support for churches in the community.
In the early 1870s, Hammett reached up to the north, Connecticut, and hired a “yankee veteran,” Albert Smith Rowell, to come work in his mill. Rowell, besides working as a bossman in the clothroom, ran the above mentioned programs for Mr. Hammett, although early history of our region does not give him any credit.
Rowell was also the town postmaster, and editor of “The Bridge,” a monthly paper printed by the mills from 1918 until his death in 1922. In the latter part of the 19th century he started a program for young boys of the community, calling them Young Explorers. They were a forerunner of today’s Boy Scouts who didn’t get started until 1909 in England. He was truly an outstanding man.
Today, the town is a commuter neighborhood, more than a mill town, with the area around the Saluda River’s Big Shoals hosting a population of over 16,000. Several small businesses are located in the community, and with I-85 being only four miles away, it is still an enticing location for more.
MORE PIEDMONT HISTORY
(compiled by Don Roper, Piedmont, S.C.):
Albert Smith Rowell was a supervisor or “bossman” in the clothroom at the Piedmont Mills in the 1870s. He also served as the town postmaster and editory of “The Bridge,” a monthly paper printed by the mills from 1918 until his death in 1922.
“Now the main object of the “Bridge” is to disseminate information that will bring the whole people of Piedmont together and in touch with each other, to inspire the strong to help the weak, help the weak to get on higher ground. This cannot be done by living “hermit” lives, so let us get together.”
This is a reprint of one of his articles:
THE FOUNDING OF PIEDMONT
Since the village of Piedmont was founded, two generations have come upon the stage of life, and few of our inhabitants know anything of the early history of the place.
A few words on this subject may not come amiss. Prior to the year 1873 or 45 years ago this locality was known as “The Big Shoals of the Saluda.” It was indeed a wild section, a mass of wildwood and jungle growth. However, the lands with the water power had been previously purchased by Col. H.P. Hammett during the last days of the Civil War. Col. Hammett also had some experience in the management of a small mill at Batesville in this county, and being a man of great business capacity and broad vision, he saw the possibilities of a great enterprise in his purchase.
The paralyzed condition of all undertakings in consequence of the war made it a difficult matter to interest capital in the venture. Southern men did not have the money and northern men did not believe that a cotton mill could be successfully run in the South. They thought the climate was not adapted to good spinning, and that it would be impossible to obtain skilled labor to operate the plant profitably. This fallacy obtained in the north for a good many years, but is now exploded, and northern capital is glad of the hance to invest in southern mills today.
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. So much for the mills.