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Pelzer Upper Mill


The Lower Mill:

Cotton Mills No. 1, 2 & 3

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of the Lower Mill

November, 1902

September, 1908

Both of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are views of the Lower Mill before construction of the Piedmont & Northern Electric Railway in 1912. The date is when they were surveyed and may not be completely accurate.

Cotton Mill No. 1 - 1881

September, 1908 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map

The first mill constructed by the Pelzer MFG. Co. was completed in 1881 and designed for an identical addition to be constructed at a later date. The basement floor was mainly used for the hydraulic system (shown as the 'Gearing' and 'Pulley Room' on the map), which was powered by the two water wheels inside the generator room shown on the far right of the building. In the main building, the 1st and 3rd floors were carding, 2nd weaving, and 4th spinning. The 'Picker House' at the bottom left of the map used the basement floor as a dust room, 1st as cloth room, 2nd picker room, and 3rd slashing. In 1885, the identical building, Mill No. 2, was completed and in 1888 Mill No. 3 was completed below the picker houses.

Cotton Mill No. 2 - 1885

September, 1908 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map

In 1885, Mill No. 2 was completed as a large expansion, identical to Mill No. 1. All of the floors were the same of Mill No. 1's with a fire wall dividing the two mills in the center. The building also includes a separate cloth room on the first floor of the picker house. The Lower Dam transformer house for Mills No. 2 was located just outside the main building.

Cotton Mill No. 3 - 1888

September, 1908 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map

Mill No. 3 was the final addition to Mills No. 1 & 2 completed in 1888. The building was three floors and included a basement for the hydraulic system. 1st floor was weaving, 2nd carding, and 3rd spinning and had a  connection with Mills No. 1 & 2. Mill No. 3 was driven by a 400 HP Harriss-Corliss engine until 1895. The Lower Dam transformer house was located beside Mill No. 3's tower.

Hydraulic Power 1881 - 1895

Before electric motors and lighting, cotton mills were very dark, dusty, and dangerous places to work. In Mills No. 1 & 2, the original power source for the equipment and machinery was a transmission system of ropes, belts wheels and pulleys turned by two water wheel located to the far right, under Mill No. 1's main building. A masonry dam was completed in 1881 upstream a few hundred feet on the Saluda River from the mills. A water race off fed the two wheels while the main flow poured over the dam. The hydraulic system was located in the basement of the mills and fed belts to each floor. From there, the belts powered all of the machinery from the ceiling, saving space on the floor. Mill No. 3 was powered hydraulically by a 450HP Harriss-Corliss steam engine. Even though electricity improved the mills, they were still dirty and dangerous.

Electrical Power 1895 - 2000s

By 1895, the Lower Hydroelectric Dam was completed 3 1/4 miles downstream from the Lower Mill and power was transmitted directly to transformer houses where lightning arrestors, switches and transformers were located. Pelzer mills had incandescent lighting installed, General Electric motors to run machinery, and motors running ventilation systems. A single General Electric motor drove the machinery and ventilation units in Mill No. 3. In 1914, the two hydraulic water wheels located under Mill No. 1 were replaced with turbines and generators providing an additional power source. The Upper Hydroelectric Dam was completed in 1920 and the old 1881 masonry dam was converted to produce hydroelectricity for the Lower Mill. The Upper Dam's short transmission line lead to Mill No. 1's generator room where transformers and switches were housed. As the mills grew, more generating units were added to the hydroelectric plants.

In 1989, the Upper and Lower Dams were sold by Gerber to private owners and electricity was bought from the Duke Power Company. Pelzer mills owned and operated the hydroelectric plants for 94 years.

Cotton Warehouses

September, 1908 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map

Four cotton warehouses were built near the Lower Mill with railroad freight platforms. Both the Southern Railway and the Piedmont & Northern Electric Railway built spurs for importing cotton and exporting the finished products. Warehouses No. 1, 2 & 3 were brick and identical with three units separated by brick firewalls. Warehouse No. 4 was wood with a brick firewall separating two units.

After the mills were demolished in around 2004, Warehouse No. 1 remained on the Lower Mill site along with part of Warehouse No. 3. Warehouse No. 1 was recently used as a storage facility for old wooden pallets to be recycled by Carolina Pallet and Recycling. As predicted the warehouse burned. A barrel of scrap wood was burned the embers set a stack of pallets on fire in April, 2012. The fire destroyed all of the wood roofing inside and outside of the building and caught the remains of Warehouse No. 3 on fire. Today, the brick walls and fire barrier on Warehouse No. 1 still stand. Warehouse No. 4 was destroyed by a fire when old cotton bails stored inside ignited. Shortly after the fire the brick firewalls and remaining wood structure were cleaned up.


Picture of the 1881 masonry dam in 2010.

A photo of the flume and 1920 Upper Dam powerhouse. Photo by Bill Cunningham.

Cotton Mill No. 1 keystone with a date of 1881. Photo by Bill Cunningham.

View of Cotton Mill No. 1's main building from the Upper Dam powerhouse. Photo by Bill Cunningham.

Looking toward the Saluda River and Upper Dam with Cotton Mill No. 4 in the distance. Photo by Bill Cunningham.

Power lines leading from the Upper Dam powerhouse to the generator room. Photo by Bill Cunningham.

Looking up the chimney. Photo by Bill Cunningham.

Warehouse No. 1 in 2010 before a fire broke out in April, 2012.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from the University of South Carolina Digital Library


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