Created By: Brandon Inabinet
Looking around today at the makeshift ramps and graffiti engineered by local skaters, it might be hard to imagine the four room houses and bungalow schools that once made up the Poe Mill community. Once referred to as “The Governor’s Hill,” in reference to the nearby French mansard-roof home (built 1876) of Governor Benjamin Franklin Perry, the Poe Mill property was converted to a textile mill site in 1894 by Francis W. Poe. The close community of Poe Mill residents that once stood continues to be represented in the band of skaters who have created a sense of camaraderie in one another.
According to historian A.V. Huff, F.W. Poe soon became the President and Treasurer of the F.W. Poe Manufacturing Company, employing around 1,000 employees from North Carolina and Tennessee who supposedly had little previous contact with the outside world. Huff and a Furman student in the 1960s by the name of Hoyt Graham noted that workers’ pay started around ten cents an hour, earning up to $6 for a 6-day week. The highest wages belonged to the adult white males, with women falling just behind and blacks earning only slightly more than children. Because earnings were based upon how many machines a worker operated consecutively, wages often decreased as workers grew older and became less able. Poe Mill management was also notorious for “stretching out” the labor of the textile workers, or overexerting workers in claiming they could do more work in a smaller amount of time to decrease hours and increase pay. In reality, hours and pay remained, and workers were exposed to the implications of the dangerous machinery they were working with and the long hours of labor.
It was under these conditions along with rising tensions between the workers and management of Poe Mill, that a group of workers gathered in 1933 to strike. Huff wrote that those who participated eventually testified in court, and in 1934, Poe Mill, second only to Brandon Mill, had nearly the largest amount of workers in Greenville County supporting the United Textile Workers of America’s general strike. The workers were willing to stop at nothing to improve working conditions, and this continued until the mill was sold to Nelson Carter Poe Jr. in 1937 and became Poe Hardware and Supply Company.
Despite the seemingly poor working conditions, though, life was vibrant in the Poe Mill Community, as depicted by Graham’s academic paper describing its characteristics. When constructed, F.W. Poe referred to the site as his “little New York,” inspiring the layout of houses, stores, churches, and schools all within a close proximity. Mrs. Poe demanded a specific zone for religious life; thus the Union Church was built, eventually splitting into a Baptist and Methodist Church. Jeffrey Willis’s “Remembering Greenville” visually portrays the academic experience of children of the mill workers, who attended a school associated with the Poe Mill Company until a school district with better facilities was established in 1922. Workers and their families were also able to purchase food and clothing at the local store to be taken from their weekly payroll. The vibrancy of life at Poe Mill is still reflected today through the spirited graffiti you see covering the walls and the effervescent sounds you hear of skaters who have found a community in each other.
Today, after a fire in 2003 that burned down Poe Mill, there are few remnants of what once was, to remind us of the formerly thriving textile industry. A Greenville Today report on Greenville’s skate scene reveals that although not a privately owned skate park, skaters have come together over the last fourteen years and made the area their own. Now out of the era of poorly treated and underpaid workers, the area is still able to contribute to the feeling of close community that gives Greenville its small Southern town vitality. That same feeling of community that has persisted since the day F.W. Poe created his “little New York.” Though the textile industry isn’t what it once was, each site remains to give back to Greenville’s character in its own unique way. It gives Greenville a sense of togetherness unlike any other.
Huff, Archie Vernon. Greenville: The History of the City and County in the South Carolina Piedmont. University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
Logan. “Poe Mill + the Story of Greenville's Skate Scene.” GVLToday, 4 Aug. 2017, gvltoday.6amcity.com/poe-mill-story-greenvilles-skate-scene/.
Davis, B.J. “Textile Strike of 1934.” NCpedia, 2010, www.ncpedia.org/textiles/strike-1934.
Graham, Hoyt. "The Poe Community". 26 Apr. 1961.
Willis, Jeffrey R. Remembering Greenville: Photographs from the Coxe Collection. Arcadia, 2006.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Milling Around Greenville, South Carolina