Granby Mill Village Historic District

Columbia City, Richland County, SC

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Saltbox style home on Williams Street

Photo: Circa 1897 Saltbox style home on Williams Street in the Granby Mill Village Historic District. The District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2994. Photograph from the nomination document, accessed November, 2021..

The Granby Mill Village Historic District [†] is located one mile south of the South Carolina State House in Columbia. This planned community, begun 1897, is situated on a flat area above the banks of the Congaree River, which is located 1/4 mile to the west. It was the second cotton mill in Columbia designed by W.B. Smith Whaley and one of two Whaley mills operating in the city at the turn of the twentieth century. The main mill building lies just outside the city boundary, south of Heyward Street. The village presently consists of the main mill building, the mill gate house, the mill office building, commercial buildings, a church and operatives' houses. The main mill building sits on a gently sloping site bordered by the Olympia Mill to the east and the mill office building to the north. The mill office building is located across the street from the mill street entrance on the corner of Heyward and Tryon Streets. The main mill buildings are the product of the engineering and design firm W.B. Smith Whaley and Company, of Columbia. The principal operatives' housing in the village is architecturally based on New England antecedents—the "saltbox" house form. The village was laid out on a standard grid pattern with two major thoroughfares, Whaley Street and Williams Street, both with tree-lined medians. The majority of the housing dates from 1897, although an additional phase of 60 houses was constructed in 1898. The historic district includes 97 contributing properties and 26 noncontributing properties.

The location and site of the Granby Mill Village provided for a distinct and insular community. Though tied to the adjacent Richland Mill Village by ownership and management, the Granby Mill Village, like the Olympia Mill Village to follow, developed its own sense of identity, diminishing the significant effect of predetermined, continuous village boundaries. Whaley's promise of "perfecting subsequent work" and taking "pride in the fact that every cotton mill they have designed has been an improvement on the one previous to it," translated as well into the design of mill villages for his company-owned enterprises.! Whaley's studies and training of the cotton industry in the Fall River Valley of Massachusetts reflect much about the nature of the design and layout of the Granby Mill Village.

The Granby Mill was designed and constructed by W.B. Smith Whaley and Company of Columbia in 1897. Though it is less ornamented, is similar to other structures designed and built by W. B. Smith Whaley. It is a large rectangular shaped, flat roofed, Romanesque Revival style four-story brick building having uniform fenestration with buttresses inserted at regular intervals. The exterior ornamentation consists of simple brickwork of round headed arches, monochrome red brick, and decorative brick work including belt courses and corbeling. Similar to other Whaley mills, the Granby Mill has two projecting five story entrance towers on the front facade. The two towers have round headed arched windows and door openings; a cornice separates the forth and fifth levels. The interior of the mill is a simple large open design, to accommodate the vast rows on textile machinery. The segmental-arched windows were in-filled with brick in the 1950's, when modern air conditioning was added to the mill.

The mill office building was designed and constructed by w. B. Smith Whaley and Company of Columbia in 1902. The building is a two-story, square, five bay, monochrome brick building on a concrete platform, with a flat roof. The windows are segmental­arched, with a granite keystone located in each brick arch in each bay. A concrete belt course that runs around the building, separates the first and second stories, and between the second story and parapet.

The adjacent mill village designed by Whaley truly reflects the experience and training he received in his formative years in the Northeast, where he worked for the firm of Thompson and Nagle as a mechanical engineer. The Village was located close to the mill in order to facilitate the constant coming and going of mill workers. Fifty-five operative houses were originally constructed in the mill village, and later increased to approximately 120. The original 55 houses constructed for operatives of the Granby Mill are now indistinguishable from the 113 houses existing in the community today. It is assumed that the original housing built is that located closest to the mill, probably in the area just north of the mill bounded by Catawba Street on the north (originally known as Tobacco Street), Gist Street on the west, Heyward Street on the south, and the mill spur track of the Southern Railroad on the east. It is believed that the second phase of 60 houses was started in 1898, but since it occurred so closely to the date of the construction of the original mill houses their exact location within the village in unknown.

The pattern and layout of the Granby Mill Village depict typical characteristics associated with mill village design. Broad streets through the middle of the village provided space for the placement of medians on Whaley Street (since removed) and Williams Street -- a common feature of many mill communities aimed at providing open space for workers who generally came from a rural, farming background. The houses are arranged with economy of space and convenience in mind, separated by only 20 feet between houses and serviced by a rear alley. Swept dirt yards enclosed by three-foot high wire fences in the front and five-foot high fences in the rear allowed many of the residents to house chickens often brought from the farm. The overriding design philosophy executed at Granby was the proximity of the housing to the Mill itself. The lack of automobile transportation and the long working days put in by the operatives necessitated the village's proximity to the mill.

The most widely constructed style of operative housing in the village is architecturally based on the New England "saltbox" house form. These houses were designed to accommodate for two families in a side-by-side duplex arrangement. Interior spatial arrangement consisted of four rooms on the first floor and two rooms above with two small stairways leading from the rear kitchens to a small "hall" or sleeping loft beneath the rear slope of the roof. The identical housing units in the village were built with connecting double and single doors from one dwelling to the other for use by extended families. The economically conservative design is denoted by simple balloon-frame construction, weather board siding, steeply pitched gable roof broken at the rear by a centrally located chimney.

Two other house types were built in the Granby Mill Village during its earliest period of development and included a two story, gable-front house more commodious than the standard operative housing and believed to have housed shop foremen and overseers; and, a one story, side gable house built for single family occupation. The original supervisory housing, located on the south side of Whaley Street due east of the Southern Railway line that bisects the village, conforms to the "saltbox" type house, but was constructed as a single family unit and distinguished by a two-tiered gable porch on the front facade and decorative wood shingle work in the gable ends. Additionally, the one story bungalow style houses were built in 1918, on vacant lots at the ends of several streets -- Whaley, Huger, Church, and to the south of Heyward Street. Each of these house styles is still present in the village.

The Granby Mill Village, like other mill communities established during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was designed and built to be self-sustaining, and largely maintained and controlled by the company. The mill owned all of the houses not only for the operatives or workers, but also those built for company managers and supervisors. As the mill continued to prosper economically and increase its production capacity, new workers and company-sponsored programs increased. In the winter of 1899 in the midst of constructing an addition to the Granby Mill and building the additional 60 housing units to accommodate new employees, Whaley saw an opportunity to attract "a better class of operatives" by providing an "operatives boarding house ... for operatives who have no families ... " The "boarding house" as described in The State was to be a "two-story brick building, 150 by 28 feet, which will be fitted up with modern conveniences, such as water, sewerage and steam heat ... the downstairs for men and the second story for women." The idea as plainly stated was to compete with other mill companies in offering "attractions and comforts" to single operatives, which might induce them to "remain with the mill permanently." This concern for providing better conditions and "attractions" for the mill operatives was a growing endeavor of the mill owners, for they felt that making "the lives of their operatives comfortable and pleasant ... has a mercenary side in that better work is obtained from a steady and satisfied set of hands". The boarding house, referred to in later years by residents of the community as "the old hotel," was located behind the mill offices between Williams Street and Tryon Street (originally named Tobacco Street). The "old hotel" was demolished sometime between 1939 and 1970.

The Granby Mill Village was served by three churches (though only one was actually built prior to 1900), all of which, according to lifelong resident w. P. Hill, were supported initially and for many years by the mill to help pay the preacher's salary. The first church erected in the village was the Whaley Street Methodist Church (originally named Granby Church), built in 1897 at a cost of $1,500.00 on the northeast corner of Whaley and Church Streets adjacent to the Company Store building. The congregation was organized in 1896 at the home of Raford Smith in the Richland Mill Village. In 1903 a new church building was erected on the same site at a cost of $5,500.00, and the church was made a station charge. The name of the church was changed in 1912 from Granby to Whaley Street Methodist Church. R. E. Ebert donated funds in 1934 to erect an addition to the church to be used as an educational building. The design of the church and 1934 addition represent finely crafted examples of the Gothic Revival style denoted by pointed arched windows, crenallated parapets and buttressed tower capped by a slate-roof spire. The architect for the church is unknown, though its similarity to the Baptist church and Episcopal church (designed by W. B. Smith Whaley and Company) suggest the work of the same firm.

In the Granby Mill village a variety of improvements were initiated under Lewis W. Parker's leadership between 1907 and 1910, particularly involving the operative housing. Some of the main streets throughout the village were paved and curbing added. Due to a concern over the health of the mill workers, numerous drainage projects were initiated to eradicate standing water in a swamp located behind the mill and behind workers' homes. Parker commissioned a topographical survey of the area to plan drainage paths, and by 1907 much of the work had been completed. During the year 1910 the houses in Granby were upgraded by the addition of screen on windows, fences surrounding the houses (in a three block area of the village), and the most significant improvement to date --indoor plumbing that replaced the privies located at the rear of the yard of each house.a Bathroom facilities added to the houses first included only toilets and sinks, receiving bathtubs sometime later. The additions to the houses were all added to the rear and executed by enclosing a portion of an open back porch. When bathrooms were enlarged to accommodate tubs, a second portion of the porch was enclosed.

The Pacific Mills Company purchased the Granby Mill in 1916, and continued to upgrade and maintain the plant and neighboring mill village. The Pacific Mills Company sold the operative houses to then occupants and investors in 1940-41. The sale was handled by Pacific Mills and Ebert Realty Company of Columbia. The houses were offered to mill workers first, at a reasonable price with the mill acting as the mortgage holder. The housing not purchased by mill workers were sold to real-estate companies and private investors. After the sale of the operative housing, varied and significant changes in style and ornamentation were performed by the new owners. Such modifications as the installation of various types of replacement siding — asbestos tile, asphalt shingle, and aluminum were common. Modification to the front porch supports, foundation and decking with brick and concrete was also performed as a means to limit maintenance costs and replace rotted wooden structures. Also, a common change in porch design was made by adding a second tier, which significantly altered the original salt box form. Rear roof line modifications with second story dormers also affected the original saltbox style in an effort to maximize floor area. Though many changes have taken place, there are still several excellent examples of the original house forms in existence.


The Granby Mill and adjacent Granby Mill Village were designed, built and managed by the prominent textile mill designer William Burroughs Smith Whaley whose firm was one of the Southeast's most prolific and innovative. Granby, initially constructed in 1896-1897, was the second Columbia mill built by Whaley--the first being the Richland Mill built in 1894-1895. Granby represented Whaley's first major technological improvement in mill design, being the first cotton mill in the state to be powered by a "remote," off-site source of hydroelectric power. The Granby Mill Village depicts one of the best preserved turn-of-the-century mill villages found in the state with some 112 of the 121 originally built dwellings remaining with most retaining a high degree of physical integrity. The Granby Mill Village is architecturally noteworthy because its predominant "saltbox" operative dwelling design based on New England antecedents truly reflects Whaley's training and experience during his formative years in the Northeast. The Granby Village's physical neatness, cohesive character, and predominant "saltbox" design present a distinctive and striking visual impact characteristic of the translation of the traditional New England mill village design to a late 19th century Southern setting.

The dramatic growth of textile industry, particularly throughout the last decade of the nineteenth century and into the first few years of the twentieth century has been credited in part to the work of w. B. Smith Whaley and Company of Columbia -- an architectural and engineering firm who specialized in the design of cotton mills. The Company's advanced technological ideas and sophisticated designs during the period 1893-1903 attest to the firm's contribution and position as South Carolina's preeminent textile mill designer. The firm's work throughout the Southeast during this period made them a company of regional and national importance.

The dramatic growth of textile industry, particularly throughout the last decade of the nineteenth century and into the first few years of the twentieth century has been credited in part to the work of w. B. Smith Whaley and Company of Columbia -- an architectural and engineering firm who specialized in the design of cotton mills. The Company's advanced technological ideas and sophisticated designs during the period 1893-1903 attest to the firm's contribution and position as South Carolina's preeminent textile mill designer. The firm's work throughout the Southeast during this period made them a company of regional and national importance.

It was in 1892 that Whaley first ventured south to determine the possibility of establishing a business devoted to the design and construction of cotton mills operated by hydroelectricity. After trips to various sites throughout the state, Whaley decided that Columbia posed the most probably city for the development of cotton mills and "that it was destined to become a great mill city and therefore offered opportunities. Whaley relocated to Columbia in 1893 and established himself as a mechanical engineer specializing in the design of textile mills. He was warmly received by the local business community and favored in numerous articles published in The State newspaper. His enthusiastic attitude toward industrial development and progress gave him great favor with political and financial leaders.

Granby Mill was the second Columbia mill designed and built by Whaley, the first being the Richland Mill, built in 1894-1895. It received its charter on September 11, 1895, with Whaley presiding as president. This mill, as reported by The State on May 29, 1895, would be "half as large again as the Richland mill," and "the site selected for the Granby mill is on the extension of the canal, at the upper end of the Green property near the line of the C.C. & A. Railroad track." From the outset, Whaley intended the Granby Mill to be the city's largest mill to date, with 30,000 spindles and operated by hydroelectric power generated by the Water Power company from the Columbia Cana1.lO The location of the mill was specifically chosen to place the mill in proximity to the proposed expansion of the adjacent canal owned and operated by the Columbia Water Power Company. The construction of a new central power plant enabled the Granby Cotton Mill to come on line, and in January of 1897 the mill began operation, though with only half of the machinery installed, and powered by surplus electricity from the Columbia Mills.II

The development of the Granby Mill Village from 1897 until 1903, when Lewis W. Parker was appointed President of the four mills previously owned and operated by Whaley, was marked primarily by clashes with labor and the evolving unions. Though Whaley had attempted to provide his workers with the most convenient and suitable living atmosphere, as was the case with most mill owners at the turn of the century, "Whaley's uncompromising stand on labor unions demonstrated deeper problems" and even his increased effort to provide additional social services in his mill villages did not dissuade the growing sensibilities for unionization. Granby Mill workers were involved in the "Labor Day" lockout that resulted in a strike by the local union at Olympia, Granby and Richland Mills in the fall of 1901. Continuing disputes over labor and the critical debt problems faced by Whaley's four Columbia mills reached a breaking point in 1903, and the board of directors of the mills ordered a complete reorganization of the mills. Whaley's resignation as president of the mills signaled a new era for all four mills, including new leadership and programs for mill workers and their families.

Following the appointment of Lewis W. Parker as president of the Whaley Mills, the concern over shortages of labor intensified, leading mill management to institute welfare programs similar to those established by Parker at his Monaghan Mills in Greenville, SC. Parker, in conjunction with the mill management, began a program in 1906 to attract and hold good workers by upgrading the housing and services provided to all of the mills previously owned by Whaley. This trend toward providing for the welfare of mill workers coupled with technological advancements in urban water and sewage systems enabled the mill to upgrade its facilities while establishing more activities for operatives and their families.

The Pacific Mills Company purchased the Granby Mill in 1916, and maintained ownership until 1954. Pacific Mills held ownership of the Granby Mill longer than any previous owners. Pacific Mills initiated an improvement program to upgrade the plant and neighboring village. Pacific Mills chose to liquidate all of the operative housing in 1940-41, so as to reallocate funds toward upgrading machinery. The houses were offered to all mill workers first, at a reasonable price with the mill acting as mortgage holder. The housing not bought by mill workers was sold to real estate companies and private investors.

† Larry G. Young and Bob Guild, Granby Hill Alliance, Granby Mill Village Historic District, 1993, nomination document, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C., accessed November, 2021.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Catawba Street • Church Street • Denmark Street • Heyward Street • Huger Street • Pall Mall Street • Picadilly Street • Tryon Street • Whaley Street • Williams Street

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