The Mill Villages were self sustaining communities within larger towns. Newberry had three distinct villages at one time. First was West End, then came Mollohon, and finally Oakland. All the villages centered around the cotton mill which was the main source of income. The Villages all had their own schools, parks, churches, and stores. Houses were typically one of 3 main floor plans: a three room house, a four room house, and a six room double house. These houses were built and owned by the mill and rented to their workers. Eventually in the 1940's they sold them. Many times the stores were mill-owned. There were boarding houses for single people to live in
When the mills started up in the 1890's and early 1900's, there were no child labor laws. My grandmother, for example, left school after the second grade and went to work in the cotton mill when she was 10 years old. Children often went to work young to help support their families. Granny worked there for 46 years when she retired. My grandfather worked first shift, and she worked third. When she would come home in the mornings, she would cook breakfast, get 9 children off to school, get lunch ready, and sleep in the afternoon while the kids were in school. She would get up and cook supper, and then go in and start all over again. Granddaddy would come home and work his gardens until it was too dark to see. While the village was in the city limits, they still had gardens and raised hogs to butcher in the winter. He was even known to raise a possum or two to eat.
The mills eventually unionized in the 1930's...a much needed thing at the time. It helped push wages up and get rid of the child labor.
The mill families were really big extended families. Everyone knew everyone else and were always willing to help each other out when things got tough. A death on the 'hill' meant all the neighbors banding together and providing food and emotional support. Every mill hill wife had their own specialty that they would take to grieving families. My great grandmother Stribble and some of the other mill wives, would make small coffins and line them with 'mill cloth' to provide the often struggling mill families a means to bury dead infants and small children. The people of Newberry are still today very immersed in that culture, even though all the mills are now a thing of the past. No wonder Newberry has always been known as the 'City of Friendly Folks'.
So here you have a diverse group of people who lived together, worked together, played together, suffered together, celebrated together, and worshiped together. An insult towards one was an insult towards all. They looked after their own. Call one of them a 'lint head' and you had better run....fast.
The three villages in Newberry were very competitive with one another, both in production, and outside the mill. Baseball was the big sport. Many young men from the Newberry Mills went on to play minor and major league baseball. Somehow it is only fitting that when they demolished the Mollohon Mill, they turned it into a recreational complex with ball fields and tennis courts. The villages also had their own bands and they were about as competitive as the ball teams. Each village's park had a band stand where they would play on summer evenings for the entertainment of the villagers.
In short, mill life was a hard life, but it made for strong backs, strong work ethic, and strong character. Families made do with what they had and overall had good lives.
I was recently at a funeral talking to Representative Walt McLeod, whose district covers part of Newberry County. We were talking about how the people of Newberry were different from most people in their friendliness and willingness to help a neighbor out in times of need. He said, "I don't know how to explain it, but there's something special there in that town, in those people, that I have never seen anywhere else." I told him I could tell him in two words...MILL CULTURE. I explained how the people of the villages relied on each other in times both good and bad, and he said, "I never thought about it like that, but I think you just hit the nail on the head."
Here is the link to a good video available about the Mill Baseball Leagues in Newberry,