Created By: Brandon Inabinet
The historic Conestee Mill was originally called the “Reedy River Manufacturing Company” and was founded in the early 1790s, about the time Richard Pearis was passing away, his land taken and self-exiled to the British Bahamas. The location of those early mills is hard to pinpoint, but would be in this vicinity.
The mill you see today is the second on this property, built in 1884; the first was McBee's Factory or the Reedy River Factory, built in the 1830s. Vardy McBee, the "Father of Greenville," purchased 295 acres here, about 7 miles south of the city, along the river. McBee and his mechanical supervisor, an engineer and millwright from Scotland, John Adams, built the first dam in 1840s.
During the Civil War, McBee sold the mill to J.W. Grady, D.O. Hawthron, and W. Perry who used the factory to make Confederate uniforms. The dam was rebuilt in 1892
The mill would ultimately be renamed “Conestee Mill” when a charter was issued to the Conestee Mills of Greenville County for $20,000 in August of 1909 (The State,August 26).
On February 29th, 1916, short after major health success, a fatal boiler accident at Conestee mill killed one man and left another with a serious injury, as reported by The State.
Mill owners were well-connected with politicians, who used their credibility to bolster the safety and sanitation of the mills. On October 5th, 1916, a major parade and political rally were held to celebrate "sanitation." Representative Asbury Francis Lever noted “Greenville is the only city that I know that needs no suggestion along the lines of sanitation.” (The State)
Unfortunately, that statement became ironic many times over. A 1925 against the City of Greenville made huge headlines, as the little Conestee committee dealt with all of the untreated sewage from Greenville accumulating in their town. By 1928, they had fought and won the city to build a "modern" sewage treatment plant (updated many times since).
By 1970 the mill went into foreclosure and sat unattended. The 125-year-old stone masonry dam has been rated in poor condition by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and state funds are necessary in order to begin a redevelopment of the property (upstatebusinessjournal). The dam holds back thousands of tons of toxic sludge and heavy metals that the mill industry put into the river over that time period--it's the only EPA Superfund site on the SC Historical Register!
Bainbridge, Judith. "Conestee v. Greenville." Unpublished manuscript.
"Conestee Mill Historical Registration." National Parks Service.
"Conestee Mill - Greenville, South Carolina." South Carolina Picture Project.
"Redevelopment Plan Announced for Conestee Mill." Upstate Business Journal. March 21, 2017.
"Big Health Day for Greenville Mountain City Observes Conservation Holiday. Parade and Meeting Pageant." The State. October 6, 1919.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Milling Around Greenville, South Carolina