Created By: Brandon Inabinet
As you take the few blocks from Monaghan Mill to Woodside Mill, the community mirrors the transition from the newly renovated lofts to the older, faded historic district. But don’t let appearances fool you, around 100 years ago, Woodside was the largest cotton mill under one roof in the United States and the largest single mill building in the world. The South Carolina Encyclopedia even credited it as the textile epicenter for the Upstate and one of the catalysts of Greenville’s status as the textile capital of the United States in its prime.
A.V. Huff Jr.’s book on Greenville history describes Woodside Mill as founded by John T. Woodside in 1902. He had already built several other mills around the Upstate by that point, slowly accumulating a dynasty run by himself and his three brothers. Woodside expanded the mill four times until it boasted 112,000 spindles. The mill developed the neighborhood surrounding it until it included two churches, a school, a baseball field, a recreation building, a common garden, and a mill store, all documented by the South Carolina Picture Project. Woodside was not just the center of textile life but of all community life around it as well.
Once the Great Depression took full effect, Woodside Mill suffered like much of the textile industry in the Upstate. It found a new president in 1931 and might have closed if not for the necessity of military uniforms that World War II demanded. Unrest began with labor unions formation in 1934 and culminated in 1950 when a union strike broke out, turned violent, and lasted almost three months.
Woodside Mill found salvation in the most unlikely of places. As labor demands grew in force and number, the president of the mill sought out cheaper but still experienced textile workers. He found them in Medellín, Colombia. According to Dr. Sofia Kearns, Spanish professor and researcher of the Colombian population in Greenville, Medellín possessed its own booming textile industry and workers were willing to immigrate to the United States for jobs that likely included better working conditions and pay. They called themselves “pioneros” or pioneers and immigrated to Greenville in the 1950s.
Unlike the labor unions, the Colombian workers generally enjoyed their work in the mill seemingly due to more freedom in choosing their hours, opportunity to advance into mill management, and the community environment. One worker even recalls the employees and their families coming together to throw a barbeque party. It is difficult to determine what the conditions of Woodside were really like, but the mill administration probably chose to hire the immigrant workers as cheap labor that was less likely to complain or unionize.
Unfortunately, this practice was very common at the time, especially to conveniently fill manual labor jobs like factory and farm workers. Kearns believes that the mill was likely sustained for an additional 30 years as a result of the Colombian workers until it closed in 1984. However, their modern impact reaches far beyond the textile industry. The Hispanic Alliance reports that out of almost 45,000 Hispanics in Greenville, 20% identify as Colombian. The Colombian population in Greenville finds its origins in those first “pioneros” and continues a vibrant tradition today.
The vacant Woodside Mill is currently destined to be converted into loft apartments like its neighbor Monaghan Mill. It’s nostalgic to see old historic buildings repurposed into new, modern centers. Woodside Mill built the community around it multiple times over the course of its existence and will continue to do so in the future. For now, its greatest contribution will be the establishment of a thriving Colombian population who remind us that immigrant workers do indeed get the job done, even when domestic citizens find the situation hopeless.
Greenville: The History of the City and County in the South Carolina Piedmont by Archie Vernon Huff Jr.
"Textile Industry." South Carolina Encyclopedia.
"Woodside Mill." South Carolina Picture Project.
Transcript of Oral Interview with Amparo Muñoz by Dr. Sofia Kearns
Hispanics in Greenville Assessment by Hispanic Alliance and Furman University.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Milling Around Greenville, South Carolina