RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Company Store

The Mill Village Company Store

When new mill workers left their homes in the Appalachian mountains. they brought little. A farm wagon carried both the family and their household goods. The mills provided houses to rent, schools for the children, sometimes a rec hall, and a company store.

Image result for photo of company stores at mill village

 

Image result for photo of company stores at mill village

Looking back at his childhood memories, Gerald Teaster recalls the  Company Store where his parents worked.

The best way to describe the Company Store is to say that it was a smaller version of a Wal-Mart store today. It was way before its time. It had many more items for sale than a typical small town general store of that era. It was a combination hardware, furniture, grocery, clothing, shoe and sporting goods store, all under one roof. 

There was no other store anywhere close to Pacolet that had the variety and quantity of things for sale that the Company Store had. In looking back, there were almost no stores in the city of Spartanburg that had the variety of things it did. Probably, the only store that could have come close to matching it would have been a Sears store. Spartanburg did have a Sears but I don’t think that it was opened until the early 1950’s.

As a child, I remember my parents taking me to the Company Store to buy me shoes and boots, usually when school started. (Many children, myself included, went barefooted almost all of the time from about May 1 until the first day of school in the fall.) 

When I came to the store with my parents for other things, I always left them to go and look at the sports equipment, particularly the baseball gloves and bats. The store also sold all sorts of fishing equipment, and if I remember correctly, rifles and shotguns, .22 bullets and shotgun shells. I think that you could also order coal for your fireplace and ice for an icebox at the store.

During the Depression, the mill sometimes paid their employees with their own script. These paper coupons could be used in the company store just like money. Also, employees could set up a charge account at the store. Charging items one week would be subtracted from their pay checks the next.

John’s mother bought most of her staples at the company store at the Union Mill. Lois had a twenty-five pound bin in a kitchen cabinet with an attached sifter, so she would buy that size bag of Martha White flour to fill it up. She bought five pounds of dried beans, ten pounds of sugar, salt, hog feed all in cloth bags. All these cloth bags were recycled into either clothes or household uses.

She filled her own metal cans from an available metal drum; Tom and John lugged it home for her. The Excelsior Mill made socks and threw away the tops when they were trimmed. All the women went to the mill’s trash bin to gather up the sock tops. Then they made hot pot pads with them. The boys used those pads to carry the kerosene can. (Those pads also made good Christmas presents.)

King Syrup was another staple in her household. This maple syrup in a one gallon can didn’t last long with four sons. Lois baked biscuits every morning, and they were drenched with homemade butter and syrup. A church key opened the can, and it had to be wiped clean after use to keep the ants away.

Image result for photo of tin of King Syrup

Sewing notions were a popular item at the company store. Lois bought material, buttons, snaps, zippers, and thread. Using her pedal-driven Singer sewing machine, she was a whiz at creating clothes from her own patterns that she had made from newspapers.

Image result for photo of pedal driven singer sewing machine

Mason jars were another staple in the Ingle household from the Company Store. Lois put up everything from her garden and fruit trees. Then whatever anyone else shared was canned for use later.

John and Tom owned a Radio Flyer. Each time, Lois went to the store, the wagon traveled with her. Empty on the way there, but filled to overflowing on the road back home.

Tomorrow, I am meeting some friends at a restaurant here in Spartanburg. The name is The Standard, and it is located in the old Company Store at Drayton Mills.”The building has a cruciform layout, a slate hipped roof, and pressed tin ceilings inside. During the mill’s heyday, the building housed a grocery store, post office, business offices, and other operations.”

Isn’t it a good thing when buildings can be restored? I believe I will wonder where the King Syrup and bolts of cloth once were available.

 

 

Advertisements

Christmas at the Cotton Mills

Related image

There was always a Christmas program at the mill school. Children memorized parts of the Christmas story from Luke, stood in a row, and recited it, verse by verse. The children learned carols, and some sang solos. The school presented its program during the week of Christmas during school  hours. If parents weren’t working the first shift, they attended, sat in uncomfortable straight back chairs, and beamed at their children’s performance. Mothers were the mainstay of those in the audience.

The company filled the bags with just the right amount and variety of fruit, candy, nuts, peanuts, and jelly. Because fruit was scarce and sweets were dear, these bags were appreciated.  Folks who were unable to come to the mill received home delivery. Some mills gave each family a turkey for Thanksgiving and a ham at Christmas.

 photo scan0162_zpsc7d4abf8.jpg

Most mills presented to each employee of one year service or longer, a check in the amount of one week’s salary. Those who had been in the employ of the Mills for less than one year received checks in proportion to their time of employment. The workers, who were children, would receive monetary gifts of $1-$3.

Image result for how cotton mill workers celebrate Christmas

Fireworks were part of the celebrations in the village. Early in November, catalogs from distant companies arrived in the company store. Orders would be shipped by railroad express. Packages of All American Boy, Noisy Boy, and others would arrive for only a few dollars.

 photo 82a_Inez_Camilla_John_Sidney_Goodson_zps89727183.jpg

Parents worked hard to put food on the table during the Great Depression. Sometimes the dad would trade for silver bombs for their sons. It made a powerful popping sound, and soon the air was full of those pops. Late-sleepers had a sudden awakening when a silver bomb was thrown on their porch.

Most families had a tree. Christmas trees were decorated with lead icicles and small  snow  flakes that the mothers crocheted. Strings of popcorn and berries were woven around the limbs.The cut trees were either a small pine or holly found in the woods and nailed to a wooden base.

The wives baked chocolate and coconut pies, fruitcakes, and chocolate and coconut cakes. They were for company and family who might drop by and couldn’t be touched until Christmas day.

Mill families lived a hard life. It took the adults and children working to make ends meet. Christmas didn’t erase this life style, but for a day they were forgotten.

 

 photo scan0254_zpsd46d9674.jpg

Bill Shephard writes about what he bought for his family in 1935 with money he earned by selling trees he cut down and splitting some wood for a neighbor.

My Christmas earnings now totaled ninety cents! If I didn’t earn another penny, I could purchase a gift for every family member and have some left for myself, and that is exactly what I did!

A small tea-set for my sister cost a dime. A pretty box of ladies handkerchiefs for Mom cost another dime. A necktie for Dad, which he never wore, and a pair of socks for each of my brothers, cost ten cents each. I still had forty cents left for myself! I purchased a box of ten rolls of caps for the cap-pistol I knew I would get from Santa, and six boxes of firecrackers, along with two boxes of sparklers. I still had a nickel left with which to buy a large bag of p-nut brittle for me.

Mr. Shephard learned early how to stretch a dollar.

Flour Sack Dresses

Until I started researching about the lives of Appalachian women who worked in the cotton mills, I had never heard of flour sack dresses.

We tend to think that recycling as a new thing, but Solomon tells us plainly that, “What has been will be again; what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

During the Great Depression, all had to be salvaged; scrimping and saving was a way of life. It was not an option. Clothing for growing children was, of course, a necessity, and cloth was expensive.

Going to buy one of their staples, flour, at a mill’s Company Store created a new market for the flour sacks. Mothers made dresses, shirts, pillow cases, curtains, and kitchen towels out of empty sacks.

flour sack dresses, depression dresses, feed sack dresses, depression fashion, great depression fashion

Manufacturers weren’t slow on picking up on this, so they packaged their flour in printed bags of cotton. Even animal feed sacks followed suit to help their consumers out. Notice the variety of patterns in the Sun Bonnet Sue Flower below.

flour sack dresses, depression dresses, feed sack dresses, depression fashion, great depression fashion

During World War II, there was a shortage of cotton fabric for the civilian population, and the recycling of bags became a necessity, encouraged by the government. The military was using cotton for their uniforms.  Using feed sacks for sewing was considered patriotic, and women still enjoyed finding attractive prints on feed sacks  One feed sack could have easily made a child’s dress or shirt, and three identical sacks to make a woman’s dress. One study said that over three and half million women and children were wearing clothes created from feed and flour sacks.

Flower Sack Dresses From the Flour Mills

Looking at these old patterns, it is obvious that manufacturers aimed to please a variety of tastes in their consumers. They are bright, beautiful, and useful.  It was a great marketing ploy as women picked out flour, sugar, beans, rice, cornmeal and even the feed and fertilizer for the family farm based on which fabrics they desired.  Some sacks displayed lovely border prints for pillowcases.  Scenic prints were also popular.  Manufacturers even made preprinted patterns for dolls, stuffed animals, appliqué and quilt blocks. Rodkey’s Best Flour sold a bag with Alice in Wonderland characters printed on it.

One of the vignettes at the Textile Museum in Englewood, Tennessee, includes this quote, “I washed five feed sacks and made me a bedspread.”

I have several flour sack kitchen towels that were my Nanna’s. Even after all these years, they are the best drying cloths I own. And if you want some similar ones, try the Vermont Country Store. You won’t have to buy flour with these!

The 1930’s Flour Sack 
by Colleen B. HubertIn that long ago time when things were saved, 
when roads were graveled and barrels were staved
and there were no plastic wrap or bags, 
and the well and the pump were way out back, 
a versatile item, was the flour sack.

Pillsbury’s best, mother’s and gold medal, too
stamped their names proudly in purple and blue. 
The string sewn on top was pulled and kept
the flour emptied and spills were swept. 
The bag was folded and stored in a sack
That durable, practical flour sack.

The sack could be filled with feathers and down, 
for a pillow, or t’would make a nice sleeping gown.
it could carry a book and be a school bag, 
or become a mail sack slung over a nag.
It made a very convenient pack,
That adaptable, cotton flour sack.

Bleached and sewn, it was dutifully worn
as bibs, diapers, or kerchief adorned.
It was made into skirts, blouses and slips.
And mom braided rugs from one hundred strips
she made ruffled curtains for the house or shack,
from that humble but treasured flour sack!

As a strainer for milk or apple juice,
to wave men in, it was a very good use,
as a sling for a sprained wrist or a break,
to help mother roll up a jelly cake,
as a window shade or to stuff a crack,
we used a sturdy, common flour sack!

As dish towels, embroidered or not,
they covered up dough, helped pass pans so hot,
tied up dishes for neighbors in need,
and for men out in the field to seed.
They dried dishes from pan, not rack
that absorbent, handy flour sack!

We polished and cleaned stove and table,
scoured and scrubbed from cellar to gable,
we dusted the bureau and oak bed post,
made costumes for October (a scary ghost)
and a parachute for a cat named jack.
From that lowly, useful old flour sack!

So now my friends, when they ask you
As curious youngsters often do,
“before plastic wrap, elmers glue
and paper towels, what did you do?”
tell them loudly and with pride don’t lack,
“grandmother had that wonderful flour sack!”

Flour sack dress from the 1930's

There’s something “that long time ago” that we shouldn’t forget.