The ruins of Laurens Cotton Mill still watch over this small town, serving as a reminder of the Upsatate’s once-booming textile industry. Early manufacturers took advantage of the area’s natural water power and prolific cotton crops as early as the nineteenth century.
The first Laurens Cotton Mill was built on Rabon Creek by Richard Simpson. That mill burned in 1837. Train tracks were laid in the area following the Civil War, enabling cotton farmers to more efficiently transport their harvests to mills and markets. As a result, the South Carolina textile industry thrived. In 1895 businessmen John W. Ferguson, Nathaniel B. Dial, and W.H. Martin established the new Laurens Cotton Mill.
The mill operated under steam power until 1926 when it was converted to electricity. The Milliken family, who owned textile plants throughout the Upstate, bought a controlling interest in the mill in 1905. Under the leadership of the Millikens, the company replaced housing in the mill village in 1920 and built a school for the children of mill workers (no longer extant).
Though the price of cotton fell in the 1920s, the Laurens Mill survived and even expanded over the years. By the mid-century the mill complex included not just the main mill building but also a warehouse, cloth room, packing and shipping area, waste house, and water tower.
Towards the end of the twentieth century most Upstate mills were forced to close due to competition from cheap foreign labor. Though this mill has largely been demolished, Milliken and Company continues to operate a textile manufacturing company in Laurens called the Gilliland Plant.