History of Fort Mill South Carolina
Highlights in Fort Mill’s history include:
- Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Cabinet passed through the area in their flight from Richmond in 1865. The last meeting of the full Confederate Cabinet was held at the White
Homestead in Fort Mill.
- Main Street, circa 1900s Photo courtesy of Fort Mill Times. Fort Mill was the home of Elliott White Springs, WWI flying ace, author, industrialist, and member of the South Carolina Hall of Fame.
- In the mid-1700s Thomas Spratt and his wife Elizabeth were traveling through upper South Carolina in their wagon. They spent a night among the friendly Catawba Indians and were invited to stay and live in the area on a large tract of land given to them. They became the first white settlers in the Fort Mill area and their descendants still live here. The same spirit of friendliness and hospitality still exists today.
From the resort community of Tega Cay to the small-town charms of Fort Mill to the unspoiled rural stretches of Indian Land, people are finding it the ideal place to call home. It’s no wonder since Fort Mill Township has a rich history that enlivens the community.
Much of the area’s history stems from the Catawba Indians, the only surviving Native American tribe in South Carolina.
At one time, 30,000 Catawbas roamed this area. Unfortunately, few records exist about the tribal nation before 1760, when smallpox and other European diseases diminished it to 1,000. The oldest artifact dates to about 600 A.D.
In 1763, the English “gave” the Catawbas 144,000 acres-land originally theirs anyway-as a reward for helping them defeat the French in the French and Indian War. That original reservation sprawled both the township originally called Fort Hill, and Indian Land. The Catawbas began leasing that land to settlers soon afterward, renting between 30 and 1,000 acres to each.
Both settlers and Catawbas used the ancient Nation Ford Road, which dates back to at least 1650, to travel and trade from Pennsylvania to Charles Towne (now Charleston). The trail passed through the Catawba Nation’s five villages and crossed the Catawba River where the railroad trestle now exists.
Parts of the trail can still be seen, especially on the Anne Springs Close Greenway.
Settlers opened a post office in 1820. By 1826 the Catawbas had rented all their land out, an event that forced them off their own reservation. In 1840 the Catawbas signed the Treaty of Nation Ford and sold the land to the state, which ended their control over this area.
Because there was another Fort Hill in South Carolina, settlers changed the name to Fort Mill around 1830, after an old grist mill near Steele Creek and a small garrison fort built by the British in the 1750s, just south of the town limits.
In 1852, the Charlotte, Columbia, and Augusta Railroad first traveled through the area, with a station in Fort Mill. The trestle over the Catawba River, built in 1851, burned down during an 1865 Civil War skirmish and was rebuilt a year later.
Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Cabinet passed through the area in their flight from Richmond in 1865. The last meeting of the full Confederate Cabinet was held at the White Homestead near downtown Fort Mill. Thirteen years later, in 1873, Fort Mill received its charter as a town.
In 1887 Samuel Elliot White founded the Fort Mill Manufacturing Co., a textile business. A second mill was built five years later, which paved the way for Springs Industries, the area’s main employer for generations. White’s great-great-granddaughter, Crandall Close Bowles, is now the fifth generation to run the textile giant as both chief executive officer and chairman of the board.
The following sites in Fort Mill are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Springfield Plantation (before 1806), White Homestead (1831), Fort Mill Downtown Historic District (17 buildings built between 1860 and 1940), Wilson House (c. 1869), Banks Mack House (c. 1871), John M. White House (1872), Thornwell-Elliot House (c. 1877), Mack-Belk House (c. 1890), Mills House (1906), National Guard Armory (1938) and Unity Presbyterian Church Complex (church, manse, Unity Cemetery, Old Unity Cemetery).
Historic Downtown For Mill
Take a walk through Fort Mill’s historic downtown and you can step back in time. Some of the buildings on Main Street date back to the late 1800s and provide evidence of the growth of the business district during this period in time.
The Catawba Indians made their homes here for many years. In the mid-1700s, Thomas Spratt and his wife, Elizabeth, were traveling through upper South Carolina in their wagon. They spent a night among the friendly Catawba Indians. The Catawbas invited the Spratts to live in the area, offering them a large tract of land on which to settle. They became the first white settlers in the Fort Mill area, and their descendants still live here.
Both settlers and the Catawbas used the ancient Nation Ford Road, which dates to at least 1650, to travel and trade from Pennsylvania to Charles Towne (now Charleston, SC). The trail passed through the Catawba Nation’s five villages and crossed the Catawba River where the railroad trestle now stands.
Scotch-Irish settlers began arriving in the 1750s and 1760s, and a small settlement soon developed. Fort Mill grew rapidly in the 1800s as textile mills were established.
The town gets its name from a colonial-era fort started but never finished by the British, and a grist mill on nearby Steele Creek.
Even though that mill has long since been reduced to a few foundation stones, Fort Mill has a wealth of historic and interesting places to visit. It also has a unique perspective on neighborliness that survives to this day. The original fort, for example, was intended to protect the Indians.