These blue granite ruins, visible on the banks of the Saluda River along the River Trail at Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens, are all that remain of the old Saluda Factory. Built in 1834 by businessmen Shubel Blanding and David Ewart, the West Columbia factory functioned as one of the earliest textile mills in the South. Today, its ruins remind us of industrialization’s impact upon a region as well as its tenuous rewards.
At the time of the Saluda Factory’s inception, the mill was opposed by area planters who saw industry as a potential threat to the state’s culture. In particular, agrarians feared that wage labor would allow lower-class workers to become financially independent and gain their own political voice as a result. Nonetheless, plans for the factory proceeded and the mill was built on 200 acres along the Saluda River.
The planters’ fears were unfounded, as the Saluda Factory was operated entirely by slaves. Owner David Ewart placed an ad to sell the fledgling business in the Charleston Courier on September 3, 1839, which included “valuable cotton manufactory and Slave Operatives for sale.” The announcement goes on to advertise “3838 spindles and 64 looms – also 64 slaves.” In fact, the primary product made at the Saluda Factory was brown shirting, also known as “Southern strips,” a material used to make slave clothing. The factory later produced military uniforms.
The factory was modestly successful before the Civil War. From 1864 until 1865, however, the grounds swelled with makeshift huts that housed 1,300 Union prisoners. One of only a few Confederate prison camps, it was called Camp Sorghum for the main fare fed to inmates. In advance of Sherman’s march, the prisoners were transferred first to a lot next to the Insane Asylum in Columbia, and from there to Charlotte, North Carolina. Troops led by General Howard of the US Army burned the factory to the ground in February of 1865. The sketch seen below was featured in the April 1, 1865 edition of Harper’s Weekly.
In 1874 the factory was rebuilt of wood atop the original stone foundations. Ten years later, in 1884, that structure also burned. Saluda Factory was not rebuilt after this fire, but its ruins can still be seen. Also of interest within the boundaries of the former mill are traces of the old Cherokee Path, designated as the State Road by the Board of Public Works in 1820.
Saluda Factory is listed in the National Register:
The sites of Saluda Factory, Camp Sorghum and old State Road are principal parts of a section that is linked together geographically and historically, its significance including industry, commerce, military and transportation. The Saluda Factory Ruins are part of the early history of textile manufacturing. Begun in 1834, this factory was among the first textile firms in the state and as such was opposed by a number of influential South Carolinians who preferred a wealthy agrarian society. The factory was burned in 1865 by General Howard’s column of Sherman’s army. After the Civil War a wooden factory three stories high was built on the original granite foundation. This building burned on August 2, 1884 and was never rebuilt.
All that remains are the granite foundations which give a clear outline of the building’s dimensions and the granite sluices used for diverting water to power the mill. The site of Camp Sorghum was one of a handful of Confederate prison camps. 1300 Northern soldiers were confined there from the autumn of 1864 to February 1865, when news of Sherman’s approach prompted the Confederates to transfer the prisoners to an enclosed yard adjacent to the insane asylum in Columbia. When it became obvious that Columbia would be forced to surrender, the prisoners were moved north to Charlotte, NC. The old State Road which bounded Saluda Factory and Camp Sorghum on the east was originally the Cherokee path. In 1820 the Board of Public Works designated this road the State Road and thereby perpetuated one of the oldest and most traveled routes in the development of the South Carolina upcountry.
More Pictures of the Old Saluda Factory