PIEDMONT HISTORY (compiled by Don Roper, Piedmont, S.C.):
Piedmont: A spot on the Saluda River where the sparkling water rushes over huge rocks on its way from the mountains to the sea. The place has had several names; the Indians and early settlers called it “Big Shoals of the Saluda,” later it was Garrison Shoals and then Piedmont. From the time the Indians used the big rocks of the shoals as a crossing, through the several bridges, Piedmont has been a crossroads for generations.
The five foot red headed Irishman, David Garrison, built his grist mill upon the shoals, giving it its second name, Garrison Shoals. About this time around 1850, the first bridge was built, a covered wooden bridge. During the early part of the century, a more modern steel span was added, and in 1948 the present cement structure.
When Henry Pinckney Hammett, son-in-law of William Bates, builder of the first successful cotton mill in Greenville County, bought the property for his cotton mill, using the water power of the shoals, the name was again changed, this time to Piedmont, “Foot of the Mountains.” This name was added to his charter for Piedmont Manufacturing Company and also as a railroad station.
Mr. Hammett and his cotton mill are the reason there is a Piedmont today. Being stalled by the War Between the States, Mr. Hammett was finally able to begin producing cloth in 1876, but not before a problem for which he found a unique solution. When he ran short of money, He made a trip up north to where the Textile Machinery Manufacturers were located. he obtained financing to complete his mill by offering stock in his company as payment for the machinery he needed to start production. Saco Lowell and Whitin Machine Works furnished his needs and production began. Some of the Saco Lowell original machinery, as modified, was still operating in 1964.
The company continued after his death in 1893 with the Beattie family from Greenville taking over and running it until 1946 when the giant chain run by J.P. Stevens and Co. Inc. took it over.
The water power was used to produce electricity to run the machinery in the 1880s and also furnished the employees homes from the 1920s until Duke Power expanded after WWII.
The Piedmont Plants operated continuously until 1964, when Stevens built the modern Estes Plant about two miles away from the Saluda Shoals. Moving most of the employees and part of the machinery, Estes is still being operated today as a part of Delta Woodside Industries who bought it from Stevens in 1983.
Mr. Hammett’s original building burned in 1983 and the Anderson County plant was completely torn down by 1995.
Over the years Piedmont had the reputation of turning out quality products, being the first to export cloth to China in the late 1880s through the 1930s. Another name given to Piedmont was “School of Superintendents,” as over the years scores of the South’s Mills were presided over by graduates of Piedmont.
Another credit for the Piedmont Mills was an early library, Lyceum, YMCA, for both men and women. Schools for the children of workers and support for churches in the community.
In the early 1870s, Hammett reached up to the north, Connecticut, and hired a “yankee veteran,” Albert Smith Rowell, to come work in his mill. Rowell, besides working as a bossman in the clothroom, ran the above mentioned programs for Mr. Hammett, although early history of our region does not give him any credit. Rowell was also the town postmaster, and editor of “The Bridge,” a monthly paper printed by the mills from 1918 until his death in 1922. In the latter part of the 19th century he started a program for young boys of the community, calling them Young Explorers. They were a forerunner of today’s Boy Scouts who didn’t get started until 1909 in England. He was truly an outstanding man.
Today, the town is a commuter neighborhood, more than a mill town, with the area around the Saluda River’s Big Shoals hosting a population of over 16,000. Several small businesses are located in the community, and with I-85 being only four miles away, it is still an enticing location for more.