Brandon Mill was founded by J. Erving Westervelt of Pinopolis, S.C. Westervelt, along with a group of investors envisioned a five-story, iron-framed, fire resistant structure which would house 10,000 spindles and 400 looms. Ground was broken and work began in late February of 1900, building what was once described as "one of the prettiest cotton mill settlements in the state". The Brandon Mill Community was only as good as the citizens who lived there, and they were salt-of-the-earth, down home, good people. Honest, hardworking and frugal (because they had to be), mill workers gave their all to their job, their faith and their family. Between 1900 and 1903, 450 homes were built to house the men, women and children who poured out of the mountains and foothills of South Carolina and the surrounding states to seek a better way of life. By 1907, the mill employed 420 workers, most living in the small but expanding village. This expansion drove land prices in Greenville up, moving from $150.00 an acre in 1901 to $1000.00 per acre by 1907.
In 1905, the mill sought more workers to meet their increased production needs, so they sent agents to search the hills and mountains for farmers and struggling sharecroppers hoping to lure them to the mill. A "Great Migration" occured when hundreds of workers poured into the village to claim their stake in the new American way of life. The mill village provided a job and home, space for a garden and a pasture for their cow, an elementary school and church, a bank, and a baseball field. It was this field that produced one of the greatest baseball players that ever lived. Joseph Jefferson Jackson, also known worldwide as "Shoeless Joe". At the age of six Jackson began to work for the Brandon mill. Little Joseph Jackson loved to play baseball so at the age of thirteen he joined the Brandon mill baseball team. He out hit and out pitched every one on his team. A baseball legend was born. He went on to get picked up by the White Sox professional Baseball team.
History - Continued
In 1913, Westervelt ran into financial difficulties and the mill went into receivership. That year Aug W. Smith was named president and New York agents Woodward and Baldwin gained control of the mill's stock. Aug Smith was a visionary man, adding the Brandon Duck Mill, which produced heavy cotton fabric, as well as adding a steam power plant and a warehouse. These additions were designed by the Greenville firm of J.E.Sirrine. In the late 1920s, Brandon became an unhappy place. Facing falling prices for their products, mill owners instituted the "stretchout" - a ploy to increase employee's workload by forcing fewer operatives to work more looms. At the same time, older employees were forced out and wages were lowered. Cotton prices fell dramatically in 1926 and cotton mill stock lost it's value. By now, a full three years before the great depression would cripple the rest of the country, Brandon employees were working sixty-six hour weeks for an average of $19.00 per week. This led to a series of strikes with a full walkout at the mill on March 27, 1929. Two days later, 500 workers at the Duck Mill and neighboring Poinsett Mill joined the strike. This action led to an investigation by the South Carolina General Assembly, which formed an investigatve committee to study the issues, The report stated that life for the mill workers was "deplorable" and most mill families were in real need. Pastor John Wrenn of Brandon Baptist Church urged a settlement of the strike and helped to start a relief fund for mill families, who had been without income since the strike began. On May 16, only one day after many Brandon employees met with and filled out an application for membership with the United Textile Workers Union, a compromise was reached with the mill owners to raise wages, add more looms and hire new workers. As the economic depression worsened, the Brandon Corporation wrestled with bankruptcy and actual closing. Workers were putting in only fifty-five hours a week, thereby earning less. When president Aug W. Smith went to New York to try to raise funds to keep the mills open, his former backers refused to help and suggested that he close the operation. A newspaper story written years later quotes the president: "I will resign as president of Brandon Corporation before I shut down a mill. Thousands are depending on these mills for a living, and I will not allow any of them to suffer while I am president". Through declining cotton cloth sales and through the Great Depression, Smith managed to keep his mills open. His loyalty to his workers proven, that loyaty was repaid in 1934 when a general strike was called by the United Textile Workers Union. When the Union entourage arrived at Brandon with the goal of closing the plant, they were met with picker sticks, rifles and shouts of "keep going!"
1930's thru 1970's
War and the Post-War Years
At the outbreak of World War II, many textile workers were called into service and the mill geared up for war production. Nearly 500 mills existed within a 100-mile radius of Greenville. Here, we made parachute strappings, mattresses that doubled as flotation devices, canvas, bandages, bedding, surgical masks, nylon tire cord, gas masks, raincoat fabric, and dozens of other materials. Mill operatives infused a sense of patriotism into their work and took pride in their wartime contributions. By the end of the war, many servicemen returned to Brandon to an ever-changing landscape. The old ball field, which hadn't heard the crack of a bat since the war began, was refurbished and the Brandon Foundation was setup to help combat the issue of juvenile delinquency. The old laundromat was converted into a skating rink and bowling alley, giving teens and adults alike a recreation facility. None of the other mills provide anything like it. In 1946, Abney Mills acquired control of the Brandon Foundation, merging with it in 1949. They then began selling the mill houses to the employees. Thus ended the mill's responsibiity of maintaining the roads, police protection and recreation. Meanwhile, new opportunities were opening up for younger workers in other parts of the city and state. Better pay elsewhere, coupled with improved machinery which eliminated jobs, caused many to leave Brandon. By the end of the 1960's, Brandon Mill was a ghost of it's former self. In 1977, Abney closed Brandon Mill. The sound of 1000's of looms were finally silenced for good.
West Village Luxury Lofts
The beautifully restored Brandon Mill opens as Greenville's brand new luxury apartment loft community. Rustic charm meets modern elegance at The West Village Lofts. Expertly designed, each one, two, and three bedroom unit is comprised of 16’ ceilings, exposed beams, 10’ windows and white washed brick walls. With open floor plans, stainless steel appliances, and granite countertops, each loft brings luxurious comfort and modern conveniences to your every day.