The Millstones

Hidden Histories of Furman University: Lake Walk

The Millstones

Greenville, South Carolina 29617, United States

Created By: Brandon Inabinet


A brick path between the dining hall and student center sits in a well-landscaped, quiet section of campus. Stand on this path, face the library, and look down. Seven millstones lay evenly between the brick. Nearby, an eighth millstone can be found in the Janie E. Furman rose garden fountain supporting a miniature sculpted cherub.

Before the millstones were donated to Furman, they were located outside of a home in the area (see photograph).

The millstones were donated in 2000 by Furman alumni, Allen P. Crawford. Although Furman’s archival documentation is not conclusive, the millstones are dated as pre-1800s and originate from several of the gristmills that operated in the South Carolina Piedmont. According to Steve Richardson, a reference librarian at the university, the condition of these particular millstones is unusual considering their age. Richardson explains most millstones of the same period would have grinding grooves that appear significantly more worn.

Scattered along the Reedy, Saluda, and Enoree rivers, Piedmont gristmills harnessed waterpower to turn the millstones, produce various grain products, and therefore sustain the local economy. According to the 1880 U.S. Agriculture and Industry Census, Piedmont gristmills commonly ground wheat, corn, and rye. Gristmills provided Greenville with its most central industry at this time. Greenville was never the successful cotton economy of the South Carolina Lowcountry, which helps explain its pro-Union position before James C. Furman's 1860 campaign.

Post Civil War, Greenville’s economic focus began to shift from foodstuffs to textiles. By 1915, Greenville hosted the first Southern Textile Exposition. The event ran so successfully that the Southern Textile Association chose to build a permanent hall for future expositions. Greenville had become the “Textile Mill of the South.”

This title brought both economic and social change. Mill workers were dependent on companies for their (small) pay, housing, and household supplies. In other words, it was not uncommon for cotton mills to control almost every aspect of the worker’s life. The chance to go to Furman was the dream of many of the millworkers' children, and occasionally some had the opportunity to do. Furman especially tried to ensure high-achieving Baptist children, even without the means, could attend.

As international markets opened and Greenville saw the decline of its textile powerhouse, Furman became even more out of reach of the local students, and increasingly Furman's student body were pulled from further and further away. The university has managed to keep a good reputation among the local community though, especially based on its efforts to constantly revitalize these old mill villages throughout the area.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Hidden Histories of Furman University: Lake Walk


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