The Clothmaker Legacy
Spinnin’ Good Yarn to Weave Good Cloth
A Column Written By Dave Chatham
Director of the James H. Thomason Library
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this series of columns are those of the author or persons quoted and not those of Presbyterian College.
Installment 1: The Clothmaker Legacy
Both parents of Pat Lanford (born 1944) worked for Clinton Cotton Mills in the weaving department, his mother as a battery filler and his father as a “blow down overhead guy.” Pat was a good baseball player while attending Academy Street elementary school.
One evening during the 1950s, Pat and his dad were at Louie Thornton’s restaurant “gettin’ us a drink and a hot dog when in comes Mr. Bailey, Si Bailey, asked Daddy, said, ‘You gonna be here for a while?’ And Daddy says, ‘Yes sir, I can.’ He says, ‘Well, I’d like to take the little man there to the ball game.’ So he took me to the Cavalier ballpark and sat there in the bleachers. Any time the popcorn man, or the Coca Cola man, or anything else that was being given, or sold, as a food, he’d say, ‘You want one o’ this?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ So, I got my fillin’s that night. And then he brought me back to the restaurant and told Daddy, ‘Have him here again tomorrow night.’ Two nights in a row I got to go out with the person that I assumed owned the mills.”
This heart-warming story of a mill village boy’s unexpected nights out on the town with the mill “owner” gains another dimension when Pat Lanford adds, “But now he knew my daddy, so he called my daddy by name.”
James Buchanan recalls a Saturday afternoon in the early 1980s when his parents were visiting from out of town and his father suggested going to the PC football game. They were standing in line to buy tickets when James “saw Mr. Vance walkin’ up. Mr. Vance, he’s the president, CEO of our company at that time. ‘James, how ya doin’. ‘Doin’ fine, Mr. Vance.’ ‘Well, whatcha doin’?’ ‘I’m gettin’ in line to get a couple o’ tickets to the game.’ ‘Oh, here’s two. Go enjoy the ballgame.’”
Mr. Buchanan continues, “That meant somethin’ to me. Here I am, just, you know I’m Training Director. The President of the company, CEO comes up, knows my name, gives me two tickets. He didn’t have to. He could’ve walked right on by. But that’s the way they were. That’s why I say, it was more of a family-type atmosphere than anything else. That made a big impression on me. And it did my father, too, ‘cause he worked in textiles himself. It just don’t happen anywhere.”
It happened with Clinton and Lydia Mills by design, starting in 1948 with the leadership P. Silas Bailey brought to his new role as President and Treasurer of Clinton Cotton Mills and Lydia Cotton Mills and continued by his successor, Robert M. Vance. Si Bailey recognized the increasing importance of strengthening the mill villages as communities through social and recreational programs. He also understood that the companies would benefit if employees came to feel a spirit of community within the textile plants themselves.
His “President’s Message” launching a company newspaper in February 1952 states in part: “The purpose of this newspaper is to bring all of us closer together. Fellow workers in one plant will know what is going on in the other one. You will know what is happening to your friends and neighbors. You will get to know more about the entire operation of these plants instead of just your immediate work.”
The “Message” continues, “The freshness of Spring will soon be here, serving as an inspiration to each and all of us as it gives us a fresh outlook on our work and our everyday living. We hope this newspaper will reflect on our new outlook, blending all of us together into a closer working team which will result in a spirit of cooperation better than can be found in any other textile plant.”
It appears that The Clothmaker did effectively communicate information about developments in each of the three existing plants, operational processes common to each of the several departments within each plant, various activities and events in the two mill villages, as well as regular brief notes and occasional columns about individual employees and their families.
We can learn much about what was going on in the plants and the villages by reading The Clothmaker, and most of the issues published from 1952 through 1984 are now accessible online. A guide to accessing and reading The Clothmaker is available from the PC Library at https://lib.presby.edu/c.php?g=848852 These issues were given to the archives of Presbyterian College by Mrs. Robert M. Vance. Upon request by PC, The University of South Carolina Libraries agreed to digitize and add The Clothmaker to its online collection, Historical Newspapers of South Carolina. We hope that anyone with issues missing from this collection will contact Dave Chatham at 833-7028 or firstname.lastname@example.org