The Pacolet River Flood of 1903

The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 (HM128I)

Location: Spartanburg, SC 29307 Spartanburg County
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Country: United States of America
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N 34° 59.645', W 81° 49.949'

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At dawn on the morning of June 6, 1903, floodwaters roared through the Pacolet River valley. As the high water thundered downstream from mill village to mill village, people in the path of the flash flood had no warning it was coming. Before the morning was over, the day would become the deadliest flood event in state history.

Historical accounts claim 70 deaths from the flood, but the toll was likely many more. The flood's fury destroyed four textile mills and inflicted heavy damage to two others, laid waste to at least 75 homes and wiped out warehouses filled with cotton bales. Many of the victims were never found; others were buried where their bodies were discovered, some as far away as Union County. The flood left a 12-mile-long path of devastation strewn with textile machinery, downed trees, flattened houses, washed-out bridges, and the bodies of its victims. More than 4,000 cotton mill employees from Converse to Pacolet were without paychecks for many months.

The loss of life began here in Converse, where the Clifton No. 3 mill was hit with a wall of water 20-25 feet high and moving at 40 mph. The power plant gave way first, followed by the smokestack, the entire mill, and then the dam. Only three of the mill's 198 7,000 pound looms were ever found, discovered several miles downstream. Sixteen mill houses washed off their foundations on this side of the river, taking the lives of at least a dozen people. A highway bridge over the Pacolet just down river from Clifton No. 3 was destroyed, and the electric trolley rails were ripped up, never to return to Converse.

Two miles farther downstream, at Clifton No. 1 mill, a foot bridge used by workers to reach the factory washed out in the first wave of floodwater. Sections of the mill began to fall soon after, until one-third of the structure was gone. Muddy water, slimy silt, and tons of detritus poured through the openings and filled the mill to the ceilings. Riverside homes washed into the torrent, and people on the shoreline reported seeing flood victims clinging to the rooftops that had become unlikely rafts in the deadly river. Onlookers were able to do little as the horrible scene unfolded in front of them.

The floodwaters moved downstream and continued its attack. At Clifton No. 2 mill and the nearby Santuck community, families scrambled to the tops of trees, but the flood still exacted its greatest human toll. No one knows for sure how many people were in the dozens of mill houses there that washed away, but at least 60 people in the area - including 11 in one family - were reported killed in just a few hours.

The flooding on the river's tributaries only added to the debris that roared down the Pacolet. Below Clifton mills, Lawson's Fork Creek - swollen with floodwater from heavy rains in northern Spartanburg County - carried four collapsed cotton warehouses, hundreds of bales of cotton, and a Southern Railway trestle three miles from Glendale Mill and dumped them in the Pacolet to batter the communities downstream.

As waters in Converse were beginning to recede, 12 miles downstream in Pacolet the destruction was just beginning. Residents were evacuated to higher ground and watched in horror as Pacolet Mill No. 1 fell first, followed by mill No. 2, where floodwater poured from the second floor windows as it collapsed. Shortly thereafter, the flood carried out its final assault when a large section of No. 3 mill broke loose and tumbled into the swift water.

The current mill building on the hilltop (known as Converse Mill) was rebuilt soon after the flood - farther from the river - as were all of the factories and many mill houses downstream.
HM NumberHM128I
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Saturday, October 11th, 2014 at 7:17pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)17S E 424028 N 3872703
Decimal Degrees34.99408333, -81.83248333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 34° 59.645', W 81° 49.949'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds34° 59' 38.70" N, 81° 49' 56.94" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)864
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 3029-3063 E Main Street Extension, Spartanburg SC 29307, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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