Created By: Brandon Inabinet
See the stunning brick building at the corner of Guess Street and Mills Avenue? This development (The Lofts at Mills Mill) of luxurious condos, was once a much grimmer place.
According to Archie Vernon Huff, Jr., author of the book Greenville: The History of the City and County in the South Carolina Piedmont, the Mills Mill building was once a textile manufacturing and cotton factory founded in the 1890s by Captain Otis Prentiss Mills with the help of his son-in-law Walter Moore. Construction of the brick building began in 1896 and its location near Brushy Creek was an ideal source of water to generate steam.
At its beginning, Mills Mill had a capital of $371,000 and five thousand spindles. By 1903 Mills Mill had significantly increased revenue with twenty-seven thousand spindles and 740 looms. The capital had grown more than six hundred thousand dollars. Many of the mill employees came from rural farms in South and North Carolina looking to make a better living, get housing, and be a part of the manufacturing and textile golden days.
After Mr. Mills’ death in 1915, his son-in-law Walter B. Moore took over the reins of the mill and tried to improve the living and working conditions of his employees. Mr. Moore in three years provided a sewer system and running water for all of the worker's housing. A string of owners tried to keep it like the other mills on the tour, adding a church, schools, stores and recreational facilities to the worker's village.
Yet, according to columnist Judith Bainbridge, the workers at Mills Mill were being paid roughly 30 percent less than other mill workers in the country. On May 31st,1929 a new level of unrest was reached when a member of the grievance committee for the labor union of Mills Mill was “mysteriously” dismissed. In June of 1929, according to Huff's history, 500 workers went on strike demanding a 20 percent raise in pay, fair working conditions, and the promise of nondiscrimination for union members. Workers were dismissed without any valid explanation and Mills Mill closed. Labor workers declared a lockout and voted unanimously to join the United Textile Workers of America.
Nowadays, if you visit "The Lofts at Mills Mill" outside of the building you can see the original machinery and some preserved equipment that was used by the workers during the Cotton Mill Era. Inside the Mills building, you can appreciate the 16-foot ceilings and the beautiful 9-foot translucent windows. The Lofts are located near the center of Greenville which makes for a perfect commute to work in downtown, or to visit the Peace Center, and the gorgeous Falls Park. The Lofts also offer a safe gated community, pool, gym, and a stunning view just outside your window.
In 1982, the Mills Mill Building became part of the National Register of Historic Places. A part of our history preserved in Greenville, the Mills Mill building is still standing today with people once again living inside those historic walls.
Throughout the mills on the tour, you can see a broader narrative. On the one hand, men who ran these mills dreamed of improving the livelihood of their workers and competed to create the ideal mill community. On the other hand, their paternalistic feelings that they could provide everything these residents needed often led to stagnant wages (in the development of more "planned community" assets) or an easily-broken community when a change in industry or economy came. In all of this commotion, there are lessons for our own times.
Judith Bainbridge. "Greenville Roots: Brief History of Mills Mill." The Greenville News. May 02, 2017. Accessed March 17, 2019.
Huff, Archie Vernon. Greenville: The History of the City and County in the South Carolina Piedmont. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
"Mills Mill - Greenville, South Carolina." South Carolina Picture Project. Accessed March 17, 2019.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Milling Around Greenville, South Carolina