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Converse in Spartanburg County, South Carolina — The American South (South Atlantic)
 

The Pacolet River Flood of 1903

 
 
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
1. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
Inscription. 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
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
2. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
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
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
3. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
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.
 
Location. 34° 59.645′ N, 81° 49.949′ W. Marker is in Converse, South Carolina, in Spartanburg County. Marker is at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Brooklyn Road, on the right when traveling west on U.S. 29. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Converse SC 29329, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 6 miles
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
4. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Clifton Baptist Church / First Baptist Church (approx. 0.8 miles away); Clifton World War II Memorial (approx. 0.8 miles away); Cowpens Depot (approx. 2.2 miles away); Cowpens Veterans Memorial (approx. 2.2 miles away); First Baptist Church, Cowpens (approx. 2.2 miles away); Early Iron Works (approx. 3.5 miles away); Welcome to Glendale Shoals (approx. 3.6 miles away); Camp Croft (approx. 5.3 miles away).
 
Regarding The Pacolet River Flood of 1903. How It All Unfolded,

Devastating floods struck the Pacolet River valley on the morning of June 6, 1903. An estimated 30-foot wall of water roared from the river's headwaters to its confluence with the Broad River in Union County, affecting mill villages from Fingerville to Pacolet.

Nearly 75 homes washed downstream. The floodwaters destroyed four mills and badly damaged two others, and much of the textile machinery that washed from the mills vanished.

May 31 to June 5, 1903
Gentle but continuous rain falls in Spartanburg County.

Saturday, June 6
In the predawn hours, violent storms began forming over much of northwestern South Carolina. Areas in the upper reaches of the Pacolet River watershed are particularly hard hit. Around midnight, rainfall intensifies to catastrophic
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
5. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
proportions.

3:00 a.m.
Pacolet River at Clifton Mill No. 3 is 10 feet out of its banks.

4:00 a.m.
River at Converse has risen another 10 feet.

4:30 a.m.
Large tree crashes through the roof of the Clifton Mill No. 3 boiler room, flooding it and the machine shop.

4:31 a.m.
Smokestack at Clifton Mill No. 3 crashes into Pacolet River. Powerhouse is swept away in a thunderous crash.

5:00 a.m.
Bridges at Clifton Mill No. 1 break loose and wash downstream. Tracks to electric train line connecting the Cliftons with Glendale are twisted loose, and a large section of the mill topples into the torrent. Unlike the other textile villages on this end of the Pacolet, no one is killed.

5:45 a.m.
Meeting hall crashes into a corner of Clifton Mill No. 3 and rips it away, setting the stage for the morning of horror that followed.

6:00 a.m.
The rest of Clifton Mill No. 3 begins to crumble and finally crashes into the floodwater. At least 11 people die when 16 mill houses built near the river's edge wash away and join the growing piles of debris headed toward the Cliftons.

6:15 a.m.
Storekeeper wakes and hears water gurgling in the shop below his quarters. One end of the mill is torn loose and tumbles into the river. At least 50 people die as
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
6. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
floodwaters rip through 60 homes and wash them downstream. By now, the river is a mass of mill machines, downed trees, homes, boulders, and human remains.

7:00 a.m.
Debris piles are growing as floodwaters and refuse from the Lawson's Fork Creek become part of the catastrophe that's underway on the Pacolet. The Presbyterian Church washes downstream, only to be recovered 35 miles away, almost intact.

7:30 a.m.
Several buildings and a warehouse constructed in the area called "The Flat" are torn loose and destroyed in the floodwaters.

8:00 a.m.
The Pacolet River in Converse slowly starts to recede.

9:00 a.m.
Pacolet Mill No.1 washes away, leaving No. 2 plant heavily damaged.

10:00 a.m.
Pacolet Mill No. 2 gives way as well. Water is pouring from the second level of the building as it falls.

11:00 a.m.
A little farther downstream, a large portion of Pacolet Mill No. 3 falls, putting everyone who lives in the village, then known as Trough, out of work.
 
Categories. DisastersWaterways & Vessels
 
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
7. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
8. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
9. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
10. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
11. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
12. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
13. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
14. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By James Stickley
15. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix, June 16, 2012
16. The Pacolet River Flood of 1903 Marker
Pacolet River Flood Memorial - Panel One image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix
17. Pacolet River Flood Memorial - Panel One
Pacolet River Flood Memorial -Panel Two image. Click for full size.
By Michael Sean Nix
18. Pacolet River Flood Memorial -Panel Two
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on June 16, 2012, by Michael Sean Nix of Spartanburg, South Carolina. This page has been viewed 770 times since then and 66 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. submitted on June 16, 2012, by Michael Sean Nix of Spartanburg, South Carolina.   15. submitted on July 23, 2013, by James Stickley of Campobello, South Carolina.   16, 17, 18. submitted on June 16, 2012, by Michael Sean Nix of Spartanburg, South Carolina. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page.
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