The Pelzer mill village was constructed in the 1880s to house employees of the Pelzer Manufacturing Company when cotton was king and the United States was the world’s leader in textile production.
At one time, the town of Pelzer was the largest cotton mill community in the South and one of the largest in the world.
At the height of production in the 1920s, the mills of the Pelzer Manufacturing Company operated 136,000 spindles and looms.
For years the textile products produced in Pelzer were sold in China, Arabia and other parts of the East and had the reputation for being of the
highest quality in world export trade.
The Pelzer Manufacturing Company, located on the banks of the Saluda River, was known for the size of its mills and the innovation in equipment which later would be found in nearly all textile mills.
The Pelzer Mill was the first cotton mill to have incandescent lighting system installed and the first electric generators made by General Electric Company were used in Pelzer.
The Pelzer mills were equipped with the first 1000 Draper automatic looms produced and Pelzer Mill No 4, which was built in 1896 was one of the first electrically driven cotton mills in the country.
The Pelzer Manufacturing Company was founded in 1880 by Captain Ellison A. Smyth, Francis J. Pelzer and William Lebby. The three associates obtained a charter for the company and capitalized it with $400,000.
They chose a site on the Saluda River in Anderson County known as Wilson’s Ferry or Wilson’s Bridge. The original property owner, Henry Wilson, was a one time member of Congress and lived in a log cabin on the site. Captain Smyth later built a residence there.
When the company acquired the property, there was nothing there but the log house, on old shack and a grist mill located at the shoals just above the ferry,.
A dam was constructed on the Saluda and construction began on the first Pelzer mill in 1881.
As were all of the first cotton mills, machinery in the first mill was driven by large belts and shafts powered by water.
The company office was located on the site of the old store at Wilson’s Ferry and the residences for employees were constructed around the mill.
Mill No. 1 began operations in 1882.
Pelzer Mill No. 2 was built as an extension of Mill No. 1 and was paid for from the earnings of Mill No. 1 without any additional capital. It practically doubled the company’s manufacturing capacity.
Mill No. 3 was built in 1890, just east of Mills No. 1 and 2 and was also connected to them.
The company built a fourth mill in 1895 and it would go down in history as the first textile mill to be driven by electricity.
At first, company officials thought it would be necessary to build the fourth mill at the location of a power site four miles down the Saluda River from the first mill site.
Though engineers said it was feasible to have electric power brought to the mill from a distance over cable line, at the time, no mill had tried the experiment.
A highly respected engineering firm, Lockwood, Greene & Co. of Boston, were consulted and told Captain Smyth, who had been elected president of the company, that using the cable was feasible.
Smyth did not want to build the fourth mill down river because he said it would require a duplication of residences, churches, schools and other facilities already abundant in the town.
And so, Mill No. 4, later known as the “Upper Mill,” was built four miles from the power site, just upstream from Mills No. 1, 2 and 3, which later was known as the “Lower Mill.”
A dam and power house were built and cable was strung to power the new mill which began operation in 1896.
The result was something that had never been done before, a textile mill driven by electricity supplied from a power plant four miles away.
Electricity allowed each room in the mill to have large electric motors to drive the machinery, eliminating the amount of belting and shafting needed in other mills which had only one central power unit, usually powered by steam.
At the time, Mill No. 4 was one of the show mills in the country.
Mill No. 4 served as an experiment to determine the size of motor that would stay cool enough to prevent burning up and still be able to drive the machines.
The looms in the mill were the newest available. Other equipment being used was also state of the art including vacuum card stripping and humidifiers.
Another first was the purchase of automatic warp tying-in machines. One of the major problems for the textile industry at the time was the looms were automatic but the knots were still hand tied.
Master Inventor Howard Coleman solved the problem and Smyth was the purchaser of the second, third and fourth tying in machines ever sold. Two were installed at Pelzer and one at Belton.
Machines in Mill No. 1 were eventually equipped with individual motors, again eliminating the belting and shafting.
A power house was constructed at Mill No. 1 in the 1920s. When it was built, it allowed the company to hold the steam turbine power plant and wheel pit in reserve.
The General Electric Company installed the individual motors for the machinery and the huge generators located at the power plants.
The growth of the successful mill operation allowed the town to flourish and grow and to provide a number of firsts.
A top soil road made it easy to go from Pelzer to Greenville and the Piedmont & Northern Railway and the Southern Railway’s Columbia to Greenville line passed through the town.
The mill contributed funds for five churches in an effort to keep evil influences from gaining a foothold in or around Pelzer, according to the News article.
At the time, the town had two Baptist churches, one Methodist, one Presbyterian and one Wesleyan.
The mill town was also one of the first to have electricity, running water and sewer. The services were provided free to employees.
A water works system was built for the town and sanitary sewage disposal installed in 1919.
There was also an ice supply house which sold ice at cost.
One of the first Kindergarten programs in the state was started by the Pelzer Manufacturing Company.
Pelzer Primary School originated in 1882 with an enrollment of thirteen students who attended classes in a two room house that was used as a temporary school.
The first school was built in Pelzer around 1885. Enrollment of the school grew, and in 1896 it became necessary to have two school buildings.
In the years 1899 through 1900 another building was added and a kindergarten was started. This was the first kindergarten in Anderson County.
Four school buildings were built by the company, with grades first through twelfth and a new high school and auditorium were built in the 1920s. They also had a night school for first through seventh grade. There were various social clubs and organizations.
The company provided a steam laundry which did work at exceedingly low prices according to the newpaper article. Soiled clothing was collected on Monday and delivered clean a week later.
Wages were high and saving encouraged thorugh bank and
There was a large park in Pelzer which contained an outdoor swimming pool, a pavilion, skating rink, benches and summer houses.
There was a menagerie which had deer, badgers, a family of brown bears and monkeys.
The park came to be known as the “Monkey Park” and is still called that today. There was also an aviary.
The company built a moving picture theatre with a seating capacity of 500 and showed the latest films. They provided a public library, which included a men’s game room and reading room.
Sports were a big part of the early days of textiles and included company sponsored football, basketball and baseball teams.
Pelzer had a baseball park with a grandstand and a gym for their basketball team, which was formidable in the Textile Leagues of the 40s and 50s and 60s.
Pelzer was the home of legendary sports figures including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Eckie Jordan and Earl Wooten.
Pelzer Presbyterian Church played role in early Pelzer
The Pelzer Presbyterian Church, constructed in 1896, was one of five sanctuaries constructed in the town in large part with funds donated by the Pelzer Manufacturing Company and the only one of the original five churches still standing.
The Company contributed $29,500 toward construction of the buildings as well as annual support of $500 for each congregation.
The Pelzer Presbyterian congregation dates from 1881 and was formally organized in 1883 by prominent members of the Town of Pelzer, including mill president Ellison A. Smyth.
The congregation traces itself to the earliest religious services held in the town. At the request of Smyth, the Rev. Calvin L. Stewart, a Presbyterian minister, delivered the first sermon in Pelzer on November 20, 1881.
Presbyterian families from the towns of Williamston, Piedmont and Pelzer together with members of Baptist and Methodist denominations formed a Union Sabbath School which held services in the meeting hall located over the Brown, Williams & Company store building.
Following this early service, the Presbyterians “secured occasional preaching as they could,” and by 1883, petitioned the Spring meeting of the Presbytery to be formally organized as a church.
Founding members included Mr. Ellison A. Smyth, Mrs. Julia G. Smyth, Mr. J.W. Williams and Mrs. Williams, Mr. B.F. Guy and Mrs Guy, Mr. A.B. Carpenter, Mr. Thomas Seddon and Mr. Walter Cameron.
The church’s first officers included Elders B.F. Guy and J.W. Williams and Deacons Walter Cameron, Thomas Seddon and A.B. Carpenter. The newly created church obtained Rev. C.L. Stewart as their first supply pastor. Rev. Stewart portioned his time between Presbyterian churches in Piedmont, Williamston, Honea Path and Pelzer.
Until 1893, all of Pelzer’s congregations held Sunday services, at alternate times, in the meeting room above the Brown, Williams & Company store.
A new building was erected in that year by the Manufacturing Company and was known as the Union Church. This meeting house served each congregation until it constructed its own church buildings.
The Union Church was later given to the Wesleyan Methodists and used by the congregation until 1955 when it was replaced with the congregation’s current church.
Pelzer Presbyterian played part in early history, present day
The growth and establishment of religious congregations in Pelzer paralleled the progress and development of the mill village and spinning operations.
During the years 1884 to 1895 the Presbyterian Church, like the mill, prospered with increased membership and tithes.
The congregation was without a full-time supply minister from 1884 to 1886 when the Rev. C.L. Stewart was called back to the church.
He was paid an annual salary of $300 for half-time pastorate and remained in a part-time capacity until 1895.
From 1886 through 1895 there were 126 additions to the Church rolls bringing total membership to 159 with an average annual tithe of $400.
Members of the congregation elected to serve during this period included Deacon Thomas McElroy, 1885, Elder W.A. Blake, 1886, Elder W.B. Dickerson, 1890, Deacons Thomas Carpenter, William Ivester and A.L. Blake, 1890, Elders Ellison A. Smyth, W.S. Ramsey and J.L. Blair, 1895 and Deacons J.B. Bonner, P.D. Wade, T.M. Jenkins and J. Adger Smyth, Jr., 1895.
The year 1896 was important in the history of the church for two reasons.
The congregation membership reached its height that year and the first and only church to be built by the congregation was erected. Rev. G.R. Brackett dedicated the new house of worship on the first Sunday in February 1896.
The church was located adjacent to the homes of mill managers and the president and the early church membership was composed of many mill managers and their families.
This steady membership trend continued throughout the early-to-mid-twentieth century with a slight decrease as other congregations were formed in the town.
A large pipe organ purchased from the George Jardine Organ Company of New York was donated to the church in 1897 by founder Ellison Smyth.
Smyth also donated the leaded and stained glass windows which adorn the sanctuary and front vestibule.
Under the leadership of Rev. Francis W. Gregg, in 1905 a large Sunday School building was added to the rear of the church.
The Sunday School addition was constructed on the then modern concept known as the “Akron Plan.”
Member J. Adger Smyth, Jr. is said to have been an inspiration behind the plan which designed a Sunday School building which allowed the congregation to instruct its youth in an efficient manner — a concept promoted by mill owners.
After Ellison Smyth withdrew his membership in 1913 to form the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Greenville, where he had moved, the Pelzer congregation never fully recovered its earlier attendance levels.
As membership fell below one hundred, the church could no longer support a full-time pastor. Although full-time pastors have been employed at different times during the early-to-late-twentieth century, the congregation has mostly received part-time supply pastors.
Church membership was dictated in large part by the number of Presbyterian employees who worked at the nearby mills.
When managers and their families were brought in or transferred, the membership rose and fell. This up and down attendance characterized the church until the mill stabilized its workforce and ultimately reduced its managerial staff to insignificant levels during the 1970s.
The church building is a traditional rectangular form with a gable front roof, vestibule and is sheathed with weatherboards. It is built on a brick pier foundation with original lattice brickwork.
The vestibule includes paired entrances rendered in a Gothic arch design. A single round stained-and-leaded glass window is located on each side of the vestibule.
The rear of the church is a two-story, five-sided, gable roof Sunday School classroom addition which was added in 1905. The early addition has tall lancet windows.
The sanctuary follows a center-aisle plan and retains all of its original woodwork including finishes and plaster walls.
The stained glass windows pivot at the center to tilt outward at the base. All but two of the windows depict intricate designs displaying multicolored circles and quatrefoils, fans and florals.
The two center windows on each side depict biblical scenes of the risen Christ; one showing Christ with a flock of sheep, the other showing him with kneeling children.
The pulpit is on a raised platform with steps leading from either side. The chancel is surmounted by one course of plaster molding which outlines the lancet-shaped recess. The plaster molding is the most exuberant ornament found in the church composed of a “climbing ivy” motif encompassed by egg-and-dart profiles.
Located to the immediate left of the pulpit, also raised on a platform, is the original pipe organ.
The ornate hand-pumped organ is fashioned in a Gothic style crowned with pierced finials. Twenty-three pipes hand-painted with goldleaf adorn the face of the organ. It was restored to its original appearance in 1972 and was converted from pump to electric operation.
On the exterior the only apparent modification has been the removal of gable ornaments in the form of Victorian vergeboards which were located in all three front-facing gables.
The sanctuary was renovated in 1963. The renovation consisted of replacing the original pews and changing their layout.
The new pews are very similar in design to the originals, with Gothic bench-ends and hymnal rails.
The original layout consisted of three parts with two rows of shorter pews on the outside and one row of longer pews in the center creating side aisles. At the front left side of the sanctuary were two rows of “deacons pews.” Also at this time early aisle carpets were replaced with new, low-grade carpet.
During 1950-1951, the rear Sunday School addition was renovated including enclosing the second floor to make two separate floors and installing doors on the classrooms.
In 1953 one of the first floor classrooms was converted to a kitchen. Windows in the sanctuary were re-leaded in 1951 and gas heaters were installed in 1952 replacing coal burning stoves.
The church is currently heated and cooled by a central unit located to the rear of the building.
These minor modernization efforts constitute the major changes to the church. The overall form, detailing and interior elements remain virtually intact.
Early Pelzer – Wilson’s Ferry
John Wilson, born in 1773 engaged in farming in Anderson County and operated a ferry across the Saluda River at a spot called Wilson’ Ferry. Later a bridge, named Wilson’s Bridge was constructed near a shoal and water fall where the ferry originally crossed. Wilson later served as a member of Congress around 1812.
Upon his death Congressman Wilson was buried in the family graveyard in what is now the Pelzer Community Building and “Monkey park” area. According to oral histories, older residents believe dozens of residents were buried there with the last known burials between 1880 and 1890.
The Pelzer Heritage Commission has recently (As of Nov. 2011) been cleaning up both of Pelzer’s historic cemeteries.