When Ebenezer Gower and Thomas Cox started their carriage-making business on the north bank of the Reedy River in 1835, the village’s first significant industry was born. Business grew briskly over the next decades, and the partnership expanded to include Gower’s younger brother, Thomas, and a local businessman, H.C. Markley. According to DeBow’s Review, it was the largest carriage company located south of the Potomac.
After the ravages of the Civil War and mounting debt, the Gowers got out of the business, and Markley took the business forward. The first years of the new century brought big expansion to the carriage and hardware facilities. The premium land the carriage factory occupied for 70 years was filling up.
In 1905, Markley changed its name to the Markley Wagon and Hardware Company and added more buildings, including sheds and a new paint shop (now the Wyche Pavilion) on the premium riverside land. The only additional room left to build the large new warehouse was south… on top of the Reedy River. The approximately 20-by-50-foot metal building stood on cement pillars over the river about 75 feet west of the Main Street bridge and held carriages on the second floor and hardware on the first floor.
As successful as Markley was over the years, the timing of expanding a carriage company amid the growth of the new automobile industry was ill-fated. Soon the carriage company folded, and the warehouse in the Reedy River was taken over in 1911 by the American Machine and Manufacturing Company, who cut new windows in the sides, added heavier floors, and added a skylight running the length of the building. The American Machine and Manufacturing Company became one of the largest suppliers of cotton oil mill machinery in the Southeast and also supplied firms throughout Japan, South America and Russia.
The Carolina Waste Company took over the building in 1917 for the purpose of cleaning and handling all grades of cotton waste — a product in good supply, with scores of textiles mills throughout the Upstate. However, this company’s time in the building was short-lived.
In 1924, the building continued to be used to clean cotton waste products when J.R. McDonald and Claude Ramseur organized the River Mills with $20,000 of capital. For the next 17 years, the facility serviced older established mills like the Camperdown and American Spinning as well as newer mills.
The building’s demise came on March 31, 1941, when the highly flammable materials inside caught fire and burned throughout the afternoon and evening. The large flames and spectacle drew crowds along the Main Street bridge for hours and lived on in local memories for generations to come.