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.
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.
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.
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.