Garco Mill — North Charleston, South Carolina
SC Picture Project | Charleston County | Garco Mill
This former mill building in the Park Circle neighborhood of North Charleston was originally known as the General Asbestos and Rubber Company, better known by it acronym, GARCO. The name became ubiquitous in the area and is generally accepted as Garco. The asbestos mill was built in the early twentieth century – some say 1901, others say 1911 – and was the area’s primary employer along with the Naval Base. Neighborhoods were established to house mill workers throughout North Charleston, and even though the company’s name changed to Raybestos-Manhattan in 1924 and was later called RM Industrial Products followed by M-Tec Corporation, the mill and surrounding area were always called Garco by locals. Among the materials manufactured at GARCO were rubber soles of the astronauts’ boots for the Apollo 11 mission.
The company was sold towards the end of the twentieth century, and the Beach Company developers bought the building in 2003 along with surrounding property – around 40 acres – with plans to create an industrial park. However, as the Park Circle neighborhood became popular with young professionals, the Beach Company decided in 2008 to change course and develop the Garco site as a mixed-use community with living and retail space. Many of the mill’s surrounding buildings were torn down for the project, which includes a new apartment complex called the Factory at Garco. The former mill building was sold to the City of North Charleston in 2013 for use as an arts center. However, restoring the mill proved cost-prohibitive to the city, and presently plans to develop the building are underway from light manufacturing company Urban Electric.
Urban Electric purchased 23 acres of Garco land from the Beach Company for a manufacturing site near the mill building. In September of 2015 the company purchased the mill building, which it plans to renovate for retail and office space. A park between the old mill and the new Urban Electric plant is in the works, and the city will be able to use the park for events and even have the option to buy the park. Below, a local business has already made use of a Garco mill metal addition.
The redeveloped area will continue to be known as Garco Park. The name honors the manufacturers who brought jobs and housing to the North Charleston neighborhood, and after being called Garco for over 100 years, the area is unlikely to ever be called anything else.
Garco Mill is listed in the National Register:
The GARCO plant was integral in the Charleston economy throughout the 20th century. The company provided jobs for the community and was a local leader in exports, while being directly tied to some of the most significant national events during the twentieth century. Therefore, the GARCO Main Mill building is locally significant under National Register Criterion A for significantly contributing to the industrial development of North Charleston and for the plant’s role in manufacturing asbestos and rubber products that met the needs of the nation and beyond. GARCO helped supply the American war efforts during both WWI and WWII, producing asbestos brake lining for Allied tanks, among other products. Later, the company also played a role in supplying NASA’s Apollo program. Built in 1915 the current building is the last surviving structure associated with the major GARCO manufacturing presence in the Charleston area and operated as a wind and loom facility. The end date of the period of significance, 1972, was chosen to coincide with the conclusion of NASA’s Apollo space program. GARCO produced important materials, most notably an elastomer adhesive known as REFSET (Raybestos-Manhattan’s Elastomer for Space Exploration and Travel), that was used on the Apollo spacecraft. The rubber soles of the astronauts’ boots for the Apollo 11 mission were also made in the North Charleston GARCO factory, making them one of the first man-made products to ever touch the moon.
Housing – Garco Mill
Across an empty field, adjacent to the old mill building, a row of houses used for mill employees still exists. These homes on Hyde Avenue were built in a variety of styles and are presently privately owned with most being inhabited. Across from these homes is a new development, named The Factory in homage to the site’s rich industrial history.
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Garco Mill Info
Address: Empire Avenue, North Charleston, SC 29405
GPS Coordinates: 32.883566,-79.974968