Friday, January 25, 2008

A Day of History

I have so much to write tonight. I think I could write a book. Cari, Brenna, and I went exploring today. It was a place I had driven through a few times. I always thought they had some cool buildings in town. This morning I got up and loaded a few geocaches into the GPS for the Pelzer, SC area. It turns out that wasn't necessary, because once we got out there and started exploring this tiny town, I forgot all about geocaching. The history in this town is amazing.

The town was started by Pelzer Manufacturing Company in 1881. They built a textile mill on the river. By the early 1900's the company had built 1,000 homes, five churches, two schools, a library, a dam, and multiple factories. At one point, around 1895, Thomas Edison showed up and witnessed a hydro electric station start up. He helped the company to become among the first in the state to have electric lights in their buildings. They were also among the first mills powered by electricity. They continued growing and would end up building four textile mills in the area.

Once Cari and I got home from our trip today I started working on Google. I had never worked this hard on researching anything when I was in school.

The Pelzer Manufacturing Company owned all the land and all the houses. Everyone that worked there, lived in company owned homes. They made purchases at company owned stores. They went to the churches built by the company. The company even trained their own militia. This was common in the South during the textile mill era. One thing I read today said that over 90% of people in the South lived in a home owned by their employer. Pelzer was one of the largest developments of its kind. .

By the mid 1930's the company was bought out by Yankees (Bank of Boston). It was downhill from there. Strikes, gun battles, lynching of blacks, horrible sanitation, and the depression was just a few of the things I read about.

As you drive around the town you see buildings that have been standing since beginning. Within the past five years, they have started removing some of the production buildings no longer being used.

Here's a handful of photos with descriptions under each one:This is a shot of the dam. The original dam was built in 1881. I didn't find any info about rebuilding this dam or altering it. I don't really know the age of this actual structure. Some of the top sections were made of stone and I believe most of it is original materials. If you look down the center of the photo, you will see circle supports in the water. This was the line of the old bridge. I was standing on a tore up road when I took this. The road continued directly across from me. The NEW bridge is to the left.

This was taken near the bridge where the power plant is. You can see the new bridge in the background. Notice this does not produce power anymore. The mills are gone. All the wires have been cut and the transformers removed. The turbines still generate power, but not to this site. There was a lot of No tresspassing signs up that made me nervous. Funny how a plastic sign can do that to you.

I was still standing where the power plant is located for this shot. Turbine building is located to the left. An empty field sits where the production building once stood. The large building in the background is a warehouse that I would later sneak into. No pictures of that. But I did take a pinch of polyester fabric out of an old bale while I was in there.
This is the front of Pelzer Presbyterian Church. This is one of the five churches built by the mill. This is the original structure. A Sunday school area was built in 1905 at the back. Other than that, it has not been changed since 1896. It's on the National Historic Register.This house is just down the street from the church. I believe from what I read today that this house was lived in by the president of the company. Mr. Smyth.
Driving around the old mill village we came across this building. The old train depot. You can see it needs a few repairs.This building really caught my attention as we were walking today. There was another just like it next door. I believe these buildings to be original to the mill. They were located directly across the street from the mill and one block over from the church. One book I read today described the company stores as white buildings. This may be one of them. They were not very large. Several windows have been busted out and the door was cracked open. I didn't go in.
This was a shot looking inside a busted window of the building above.
Later, when I snuck into the warehouse, I found a similar scene. Trash and office supplies left covering the floors. It's like they just went home on the last day of operation and nobody thought about cleaning the place out.

I took almost 100 photos in Pelzer today. I went home and learned a massive amount about this amazing tiny town. I'll happily go back anytime.


d e v a n said...

Very interesting! The last one really caught my eye. I wonder why they just left everything there?

Ruby's My Spy Name said...

Yes. Very interesting indeed. I agree. You seem so happy about this little town. Don't you find such a dilapidated town sort of depressing? I'm serious... is it the history that you love so much? I'm intrigued because I don't know that I'd feel as optimistic as you. I like defying the natural order; good gets better, not worse.

RoadRunner said...

its amazing how these places capture your attention the older you get.

jen said...

Why no pictures of the warehouse? :)

This is so cool though. You should drive up to/google Centralia ;) Your post reminded me of that. My friend visited and has some depressing photos.

Michelle said...

Intresting little delve into history. And great pics. As usual!! I tagged you, so check out my site and play along :)

Duck Hunter said...

Thanks for the comments as always!
Devean - thanks. I liked that last one too.

Words off paper: Yes, it's all about HISTORY. I LOVE IT!

Roadrunner- you are right.

Jen- the warehouse was mostly empty. Some steel racks. I took a few, but they weren't great. Also, because I had left the flash back in the car. If I had that, I might have gotten some cool shots.
--Also, thanks for that link. I never heard of that. It's a VERY interesting story as well.

Michelle- thanks for the comment. I'm thrilled you tagged me for your game. Not really. I'll try to think of some things and follow-up with this.

Anonymous said...

Wow - great history and research! Those places are fun to photograph, and you've got some great shots.

Aaron said...

Nice writeup.

Unknown said...

I lived in Pelzer for 12 years, having only moved a year and a half ago. The dam you point out is not the original from the 1800s, I believe that honor goes to the lower Pelzer Dam, farther on down the river. When I lived there, the upper mill was still operating, and the lower mill was all warehouse. When they tore down the upper mill, it was like the life had been sucked out of the town.

Aaron said...

Oh, I just noticed that you said you had swiped some Asbestos. Make sure you snort it for best results. :P

Anonymous said...

Community of Pelzer Historical Society