Teacher's Guide

Beaumont Mill: A Story of Textiles in the South

Smokestack and brick building with windows in black and white
Photo caption

Beaumont smokestack and back, 2019.

Opened in 1890, Beaumont Mill served as the heart of the surrounding community in Spartanburg, South Carolina, for 107 years. Its dynamic story includes significant moments that shaped the people who called the mill home, the Spartanburg community, and the nation. Beaumont Mill lived a life of constant growth and adaptation as the world transformed around it. Its opening signified a turning point in the local and regional economy. When the social, political, and economic foundations of the country changed in such a way as to make the mill obsolete, its closing marked an era of possibilities for new entrepreneurs and visionaries attempting to recreate the region once again. Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the Beaumont community witnessed the struggles of a changing society. The stories of the people of Beaumont, through each era of its existence, are windows into the history of Spartanburg, the textile industry, and broad themes of American history.

This guide includes resources for investigating the history and legacy of the textile industry with a focus on Beaumont Mill. The guide is organized around important steps of conducting community history and highlights sources specific to Beaumont Mill as well as general resources that can support the investigation of any community. 

Guiding Questions

What do textiles tell us about the history and culture of Spartanburg?  

How did race and class shape Beaumont Mill?  

To what extent is Spartanburg still a textile town? 

What factors influence how Beaumont Mill is remembered? 

How did the creation of Beaumont Mill Village influence the relationship between workers and the mill?  

What does Beaumont Mill’s story reveal about changes in the local, regional, and national economy? 

What happens to a community when an industry collapses? 

What determines if a community is worth preserving? 

The History of Southern Mill Towns

The Beaumont Mill of Spartanburg, South Carolina, was part of the industrial boom that swept across the South and the United States during the decades following the Civil War. In 1890, the factory began making twine for sacks and carpet warps, later becoming an integrated cloth mill. It was one of many textile enterprises that had been opened in the Upcountry region of the Palmetto State over the previous decade. It stood adjacent to the Air-Line Railroad that connected the town to Atlanta, Georgia, in one direction and Richmond, Virginia, in the other.  

It relied on New England for much of its machinery and on New York commission houses for capital backing, marketing, and advice. Like the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, it subsumed all of its production within a single facility; unlike the small weave shops of Philadelphia, it produced staple goods in bulk using low-skilled workers. For labor, it used the system pioneered at the Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and later at Graniteville, South Carolina, in that it recruited entire families.  

As became the norm across the South, workers at Beaumont lived in a self-contained “village” on the outskirts of town.” The company provided houses, built churches, sponsored sports teams, and ran a store where workers could purchase goods on credit. Beaumont issued its own coinage. Although it did not offer schools as did many other mills after South Carolina passed laws curbing child labor and instituting compulsory education, it did have a kindergarten. This kind of paternalism—similar to that practiced by George Pullman—was hardly unique to the textile industry. It was a double-edged sword, particularly for former farmers, who enjoyed the luxuries of electric lighting, indoor plumbing, and a regular income in exchange for a regimented work schedule, repetitive tasks, and loss of independence. 

Conducting Background Research

“It was a life, and mill people made the most of it. In their own villages, textile workers could think of themselves with pride as ‘the best people in the world,’ as they so often claimed. Off the villages, however, was another story. Mill workers were still seen by others as a separate social caste.”

– G. C. Waldrep III, Textile Town, p. 166

Background research situates Beaumont Mill’s story within the broader historical narrative. This research will inform the question that anchors the inquiry and the selection of resources to guide the inquiry.  

Beaumont Resources 

  • Textile Town (Hub City Press) – Describing itself as “one part historical narrative, one part scrapbook, one part encyclopedia,” this book pairs the work of various writers and historians with a wealth of primary source material to explore the influence of textiles on Spartanburg over the past 200 years.  

  • WYFF’s Remaking the Mills – A one-hour special program produced by a local television station examines the rise and fall of the textile industry in the Upstate and how many mills are finding new life today. 

  • One Spartanburg – New Spin on History – A brief review of recent renovations of four Spartanburg mills, including Beaumont Mill. Written by Brad Wright in collaboration with HubCity Writers Project. 

General Resources 

Visiting Places
Crowd of people waiting to board a bus, others walking on sidewalks
Photo caption

Beaumont Mill buses on Liberty Street, n.d.

In-person and virtual tours of Beaumont Mill deepen one's understanding of the geographic and socioeconomic features that influenced its construction and continue to shape its legacy.  

Beaumont Resources 

  • Beaumont, Whitney, and Drayton Mills Driving Tour – A guided driving tour of Beaumont, Whitney, and Drayton Mills created by Dr. Andy Myers, Professor of American Studies at University of South Carolina Upstate. The tour examines how physical geography, transportation networks, and social spaces contributed to the textile mills’ “sense of place.” 

  • Beaumont Village Virtual Tour – A virtual StoryMap, designed for online or in-person use, based on a guided walking tour of Beaumont Village created by Dr. Andy Myers, Professor of American Studies at University of South Carolina Upstate. Primary source materials and discussion questions are provided to facilitate an interactive examination of the development and evolution of the mill and village.

  • A Tour of Textile Town – Self-guided tour of 14 sites connected to Spartanburg’s textile history, including Beaumont Mill. The tour, created by the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, includes photographs, descriptions, and brief audio recordings about select topics such as mill life, integration, and the influence of global competition.

General Resources 

Gathering Voices

“You didn't lock doors. You knew everybody in the neighborhood. I knew virtually, I'm sure every kid in the neighborhood. And so everybody knew each other, they cooperated. It didn't hurt that we had the police chief living on our block. And I guess if somebody did get out of line a little bit [laughs] you might speak to him.”

– Jay Adams, Jr., Beaumont Oral History Collection

“...[s]ome of the people in the neighborhood who had a TV, they would put their TV's out on their front porch. So that the men could watch the World Series. And I remember going to a neighbor's house to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. And that was just fascinating to me that we could see what was going on in England from Beaumont.”

– Malinda Willard, Beaumont Oral History Collection

Interacting with people who lived and worked at Beaumont Mill uncovers lesser-known stories of the community and emphasizes why many citizens are committed to preserving and sharing its history. 

Beaumont Resources 

  • Beaumont Oral Histories – The 14 oral histories presented in this collection were recorded in the summer of 2019 and the fall of 2021. They include perspectives from residents of Beaumont Mill Village, mill workers, and people involved in the closing of the mill as well as its rebirth and restoration for other uses.  

  • Documenting the American South – Oral Histories of the American South – A three-year project to select, digitize, and make available 500 oral history interviews gathered by the Southern Oral History Program (SOHP). Histories categorized under “Textiles” and “South Carolina” are most pertinent.

General Resources 

  • Kentucky Oral History Commission – The Kentucky Historical Society houses the Kentucky Oral History Commission (KOHC), the only state commission in the nation committed to statewide oral history documentation through granting programs and outreach. KOHC reaches across the state to record and preserve the diverse stories that make up Kentucky’s rich and colorful history.

  • Southern Oral History Program – Oral History Resources – Since 1973, the Southern Oral History Program has worked to preserve the voices of the South. The general resources linked on this page provide tools to design and implement oral histories in many different institutions.

Examining Artifacts
American flag and Army-Navy E flag, heading reads National Cotton Week May 17-22
Photo caption

The Beaumont "E," May 1943.

Photographs, maps, and newspapers from Beaumont Mill reveal how living and working in this community was influenced by social roles, international events, and economic shifts. 

Beaumont Resources 

  • Beaumont "E" Newspaper Collection – The Beaumont "E" was a monthly publication produced by the Beaumont Manufacturing Company beginning in October 1942 for the people of the Beaumont Mill community and their soldiers and sailors serving in the military. The University of South Carolina Upstate Archives has digitized 76 issues of the Beaumont "E," which are viewable in the South Carolina Digital Library. 

  • SCPL – Textile Industry in Spartanburg Collection – The selected documents and photographs in this collection illustrate many aspects of company and village life and the degree to which the textile industry drove Spartanburg’s growth.   

  • SCDL - Carolina Textile Mills Collection – The Carolina Textile Mills Collection provides photographs, maps, blueprints, ephemera, letters, guidebooks, and more items documenting textile mill history in Upstate South Carolina from various textile mill related collections held by the Clemson University Special Collections and Archives.

  • Library of Congress – National Child Labor Committee Collection (Spartanburg photos page) –  Working as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), Lewis Hine (1874-1940) documented working and living conditions of children in the United States between 1908 and 1924. The collection consists of more than 5,100 photographic prints and 355 glass negatives, given to the Library of Congress, along with the NCLC records, in 1954 by Mrs. Gertrude Folks Zimand, acting for the NCLC in her capacity as chief executive.

  • Library of Congress – Sanborn Maps Collection (Spartanburg maps page) – Fire insurance maps are distinctive because of the sophisticated set of symbols that allows complex information to be conveyed clearly. In working with insurance maps, it is important to remember that they were made for a very specific use and that although they are now valuable for a variety of purposes, the insurance industry dictated the selection of information to be mapped and the way that information was portrayed. Knowledge of the keys and colors is essential to proper interpretation of the information found in fire insurance maps.

General Resources 

  • National Archives Document Analysis Worksheets and Library of Congress Primary Source Analysis Guides – Document analysis is the first step in working with primary sources. Teach your students to think through primary source documents for contextual understanding and to extract information to make informed judgments. Use these worksheets—for photos, written documents, artifacts, posters, maps, cartoons, videos, and sound recordings—to teach your students the process of document analysis.

  • Digital Public Library of America – The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) empowers people to learn, grow, and contribute to a diverse and better-functioning society by maximizing access to our shared history, culture, and knowledge. DPLA works with a national network of partners to make millions of materials from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions across the country available to all in a one-stop discovery experience.

Finding Partners

Local historical, educational, and community organizations can help unearth additional resources to support the inquiry and serve as authentic audiences with whom students may share the summative products they create.

Beaumont Resources 

  • Spartanburg County Public Library – The library strives to curate collections that connect people, ideas, and information and preserve the full history of Spartanburg County.

  • Spartanburg County Historical Association – The association works to promote interest in the history of the county; to bring about a closer relationship among persons in the county who are interested in its history; and to encourage the preservation of historical sites, materials, and records of the area.

  • Beaumont Village Association – The Beaumont Village Association is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Beaumont Village is one of two in-tact textile mill villages in the state and was designated a city historic area in 2011.  

General Resources 

  • American Association for State and Local History – The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) is dedicated to helping the history community thrive. For the better part of a century, AASLH has provided leadership and resources to its members who preserve and interpret state and local history to make the past more meaningful to all people. AASLH is the professional association for history-doers.

  • National Council on Public History – The National Council on Public History (NCPH) is dedicated to making the past useful in the present and to encouraging collaboration between historians and their publics. NCPH establishes professional standards, ethics, and best practices; provides professional development opportunities; recognizes excellence in a diverse range of public history activities; fosters networking and a sense of community among public history practitioners; and supports history education.