Created By: Seeking Abraham Project
As you head south from Woodside Mill, Brandon Mill is only a mile away. The old factory is now replaced by a modern, 5-story building called the West Village Lofts. Back when it was first built in 1901, Stephen Greene, the president of the New England architectural firm, mentioned Brandon Mill as "one of the prettiest cotton mill settlements in the state". With the unique design, Brandon Mill soon became an example of the multistory brick masonry construction mill type in Greenville County.
The neighborhood that you are seeing used to be the home of 922 residents, of which 420 were employees who were largely recruited from Appalachia and other rural areas in the southeastern United States. In the early stage of development, Brandon Mill offered its employees with many advantages to keep them stay with the mill for the long term.
In the 1900s, people tended to spend all the money that they earned. The cotton mills' leadership asked employees to save money, a feat nearly impossible on low wages with a "company store" that kept the monopoly on purchases. However, Brandon Mill did allow employees to own its bank stock, whose capitalization was $5,000 at that time--a more successful scheme for improvement.
To serve the spiritual life of the workers, a church was built in the mill village grounds. As recorded in "The Cotton Mill of South Carolina," the cotton mills sponsored the church by providing lights and fuel and $200 to support the minister annually. Houses and playgrounds were built around the mill complex so that workers could work in the mill and play on the field after work. The effort of improving workers' lives not only gave the mill property integrity and context but also enhanced workers' loyalty.
Furthermore, Brandon Mill had a strong emphasis on education. According to August Kohn, the author of "The Cotton Mills in South Carolina," 180 out of 294 children under 12 in Brandon Mill had access to education. Besides this, adult night school to workers like Mr. Aiken, who shared his gratitude to the adult night school on The Gaffney Ledger: "To me, learning how to read and write was the best thing I had ever done in my life and which I highly endorsed."
Despite significant advantages in improving workers' living conditions, Brandon Mill still faced great controversy when letting children under 12 work in the factory. According to August Kohn, statistics obtained from cotton mills showed there were 6 children under 12 working in Brandon Mill. Although the main responsibility belonged to Brandon Mill, the law did not provide any way of ascertaining the age of the child when presented for employment. Nevertheless, most families moved to cotton mills as big families; thus, parents tended to send their children to work to earn extra income.
Brandon Mill controversy culminated when striking operatives began in 1929 against system operations. An agreement was negotiated two months later and the mill went back to normal operation. However, along with the workers' rebellion and economic recession, Brandon Mill was forced to close in 1977. Today, Brandon Mill has been renovated to become one of the high-end apartment complexes in West Greenville. Despite its controversy, Brandon Mill's contributions to Greenville's development are undeniable. Brandon Mill not only contributed to Greenville's economy, but also to its education, whether back then or now with the presence of Greenville Center for Creative Arts (which you can visit today).
August Kohn. “The Cotton Mills of South Carolina.” 1975
Editors. “Poinsett Operatives Vote To Accept Offer.” The Gaffney Ledger. May 21, 1929. Page 8. https://bit.ly/2WhPHJ3
Editors. “Man Who Attended School Is Going To Little Rock.” The Gaffney Ledger. April 12, 1923. Page 7. https://bit.ly/2up0s0z
This point of interest is part of the tour: Milling Around Greenville, South Carolina