History of Pacolet

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Compiled by the staff of the Kennedy Room of Local and South Carolina History, 2004
Property of the Spartanburg County Public Libraries; duplication is not permitted without consent.

• Established: ca. 1755
• Location: East of Spartanburg
• Fun fact: Originally called Buzzard’s Roost

Pacolet has a rich history that dates back to the time around the American Revolution. The textile industry shaped it strongly in the following century. But what happened around it on June 6, 1903, will forever hold a place in Spartanburg history. On that day, the worst natural disaster ever to hit the county wreaked havoc.

An extra evening edition of the Spartanburg Journal announced: “By Raging Waters, Cotton Mills, Warehouses, Cotton and Goods Washed Away; Appalling Calamity of Rainfall.” A second article reported: “3 Pacolets Gone; The Entire Manufacturing Plant Swept Away by the Waters; Dead Bodies Floated by in Stream; Presbyterian Church Among the Destroyed; Thousands Idle There.”

The calamity later was estimated to have killed nearly 70 people, left 600 homeless, 4,000 jobless and caused more than $670 million worth of damage in today’s value.

Pacolet’s beginnings were much more bucolic. The first settlement in the area was around Grindal Shoals, a shallow stretch of the Pacolet River several miles southeast of the present town of Pacolet. Settlers led by Elijah Clark, known as the “Daniel Boone of Spartanburg,” began farming around there after a treaty was struck with the Cherokee Indians in 1753.

The first major landowner around Pacolet was the Tolleson family. By 1791, there were enough prospective customers for John Tolleson to establish a tavern. The tavern served as a voting precinct in 1816. A post office was established nearby in 1831.

Railroad fever brought plans for lines through Pacolet in 1840, but it wasn’t until 1855 that the Spartanburg and Union Railroad laid tracks through the town. The railroad drew new businesses and residents. In 1894, a granite quarry was created after a local farmer discovered the mineral on his land. Pacolet was incorporated on May 6, 1896, with Major H.F. McDowell as its first mayor.

Pacolet originally was known as Buzzard’s Roost. When the railroad built Pacolet Station in 1859, the town wisely changed its name.

The origin of the name Pacolet has two camps of thought. Both, however, agree that the river was named first. One camp says the name is of Cherokee Indian origin and means “fast running horse.” The other camp says the river was named after a French settler named Packolette. The name can be traced to “Valentine and Orson,” a 15th-century French prose romance set in the 8th-century rule of King Pepin. In it, a dwarf in the service of Lady Clerimond rides a swift, winged horse named Pacolet.

Whatever the origin, the theory of the fleet horse was so widely held that a running horse was the logo of Pacolet Manufacturing. Elderly Pacolet residents of the 1980s recalled a shipment being returned from China in the early 1900s because it did not bear the stamp of the running horse. Chinese authorities did not consider the textiles authentic without that horse.

Pacolet Manufacturing brought dramatic changes to the area when it chartered a textile mill in 1882, and the village that grew up around it took the name Trough Shoals or Trough. In 1930, it changed its name to Pacolet Mills.

The Pacolet area was split into four communities: Pacolet, Central Pacolet, Pacolet Mills and an unincorporated area known as Pacolet Park. Today, only Pacolet and Central Pacolet exist as separate towns.

By 1907, Pacolet Manufacturing not only was the largest manufacturer in Spartanburg County, it was one of the largest in the South. The powerful Pacolet Manufacturing, later run by Roger Milliken, was closed in the 1980s.