By John Nolan
In spring 1882, the area behind the Cox & Markley Carriage Co. (now Larkin’s on the River) was open land with only one small house. By August of that year, the Huguenot Mill, Greenville’s third mill on the downtown stretch of the Reedy River, was up and running.
The operation was primarily organized by the former Charlestonian Charles H. Lanneau and a local lawyer/businessman, T.Q. Donaldson. However, Lanneau single-handedly planned and supervised its construction at every stage without the traditional help of an architect or machinist.
The Camperdown mills at the Reedy River Falls were putting out basic yarn, thread and cotton sheeting products like most mills in South Carolina. Lanneau, Donaldson and the other organizers realized that plaid cloth was a highly marketable product, and North Carolina mills were filling the local need. Consequently, the Huguenot became the first mill in the state to manufacture plaids.
Its creative output included over 20 different plaid patterns with new ones being added almost weekly. Furthermore, its colored yarns were woven rather than stamped like many of its competitors’ fabrics. Within its first year, the mill’s 150 operatives were making almost 10,000 yards of fabric per day.
Despite its location on the shore of the Reedy, the mill did not rely on the river for its power. It pioneered utilizing steam to run its 220 looms while also using the water for its boiler and fabric-dying process. Electric lights illuminating its dark interior spaces were another pioneering aspect of the mill. Word of the Huguenot’s innovative success reached Northern newspapers, with the Detroit Free Press in 1883 declaring, “Yankee enterprise must get up early in the morning to beat Greenville.”
Uncertain economic times and high cotton prices caused the mill to close in 1908. It was resurrected two years later as Nuckasee Manufacturing, a pioneering garment-making factory in a city full of mills still making raw textile products that were sent elsewhere for finishing. Nuckasee closed in 1952, and Carolina Blouse was next to occupy the space, manufacturing women’s blouses before being replaced by Ruth Fashions in 1963.
Though the old building has been used by a number of different textile companies over the years, today it retains its original name and serves as offices and a popular event space. Visitors continue to appreciate the handmade bricks, massive beams and wood floors that have been a part of the fabric of Greenville for 183 years.
John M. Nolan is owner of Greenville History Tours (greenvillehistorytours.com) and author of “A Guide to Historic Greenville, SC” and “Lost Restaurants of Greenville, SC.”