Just down S.C. 160 from the bustle and construction of the multi-million dollar Kingsley Village development and what’s billed as the future site of a new hospital, is a home priceless to Fort Mill’s history.
The White Homestead, flanked by horse pastures and secluded from traffic on the town’s main road by stately trees, was built in 1831 for William Elliott White by contractor Thomas B. Hoover for $5,000. It was later the home of Samuel E. White, who founded Fort Mill Manufacturing Co. in 1887. The company was the forerunner of the textile company Springs Industries, Inc. which once employed thousands in York, Chester and Lancaster counties.
The White Homestead is significant to Fort Mill for many reasons, said Crandall Close Bowles, the grand-daughter of the colorful and iconic Elliott White Springs, who turned Springs Industries into a global textile giant. The original part of the home, which remains unaltered since the 1830s, was built on land leased from the Catawba Indians by the White family, she said. It was the second brick structure built in York County, with bricks made from clay on-site, in rented molds imported from England, said Ann Evans, archivist and curator for the Springs Close Family Archives.
The home is on the National Register of Historic Places, qualifying because the last Confederate Cabinet meeting was held on the front lawn of the home on April 27, 1865. At the homestead are artifacts, documents and other historic remnants of cotton farming, slavery and the Civil War, including an original signed copy of the Secession of South Carolina from the Union. Samuel White, Bowles’ great-great grandfather, and his four brothers fought for the Confederacy.
The outdoor kitchen the home once had was burned by Union troops in 1865.
Bowles’ grandfather, known as “The Colonel,” made additions to the home. In the 1920s, a sunroom, butler’s pantry and kitchen were added. The family later hosted Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco in the sunroom, Evans said.
In 1936, the Colonel added a wing for his growing children, Anne and Sonny, which included their bedrooms and a game room where they could entertain friends. Another addition in the 1950s was a combination greenhouse and indoor swimming pool, which the Colonel and his wife, Frances, named the “Nataborium.”
“My grandfather was interested in anything new, and the White Homestead had the first air-conditioning in upper South Carolina, in only one room,” Bowles said.
The Colonel died in 1959, willing the homestead to his eight grandchildren. In 1991, following damage to the home by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the siblings decided to restore the homestead to its former glory. All flooring and wall coverings were removed, which revealed that Thomas Hoover, the contractor, intended for the home to last through the ages. It is supported by arches three bricks thick and its hand-hewn oak beams measure 14-by-16 inches.
The pine floor joists are 4-by-12 inches.
Its connection with the Civil War, a textile boom and its architectural significance were enough for the White Homestead to earn a place in local, state and national history. But it is also home to heirlooms and memories significant to the White, Springs and Close families, Bowles said.
The Colonel was a larger-than-life figure.
He was sent to work early by his father, Leroy, the founder of the Lancaster Cotton Mill, selling peanuts to textile workers near the entrance of the giant plant when he was a boy. His peanut cart is now displayed in the homestead’s game room. The Colonel was a World War I flying ace, and part of a German plane he shot down in Europe also hangs in the game room, along with photos and a commemorative plate his wife, Frances, received when she was the 1,000th passenger on the Hindenburg airship.
The Springs’ daughter, Anne Springs Close, was also a passenger during that voyage, prior to the ship’s last journey when it caught fire in New Jersey in 1937.
All over the home hang original drawings of the textile company’s plants, along with drawings and paintings from the novels and hundreds of short stories Col. Springs wrote. In his study, which The Colonel modeled after one of his favorite college haunts, Princeton’s Old Nassau Inn, there is a diary he kept from 1913-17. Giving a tour of the home, Evans reads a page dated Sunday, Jan. 2, although the year is unknown.
“Went to church. Saw Mrs. Stonewall Jackson, who sat in our pew,” Springs wrote.
First editions of books dating back to the time of Samuel White are housed in the library, added by the Colonel during the 1936 renovation. Historical documents dating back to 1760, including plats, deeds, wills, account books and diaries are archived at the homestead. Both Evans and Bowles have their offices there.
“I have the best job in the world,” said Evans, who once discovered love letters between Samuel White and his wife, Esther, from before they were married, stashed away inside a ginger cookie tin. She began cataloging such items when she began part-time work at the homestead in the early 1990s.
“Every day was amazing,” she said of that time, when boxes of personal belongings and documents not touched for decades and removed during the restoration were brought back to the home for her to archive.
For Bowles, there are priceless family memories, including those of her “very fun” grandparents, at the White Homestead. The Colonel took the grandchildren to visit the nearby Springs offices on weekends, allowing the children to climb ladders and crawl through the tunnel-like air-conditioning ducts.
“My grandparents were the last ones to live continually in the White Homestead,” Bowles said.
“I’m one of eight grandchildren; we lived very close by and visited them all the time. One of our favorite rooms was the game room where our grandmother loved to play gin rummy with her friends and smoke cigarettes. She taught us to play gin and backgammon. She also taught us good table manners; she would only allow two of us at a time to eat with her. My grandfather built an indoor pool with a dragon slide in the middle, and of course, we loved that.”
Clear Springs Development was founded by the Close family in 1997 and developed Baxter Village, which now has 1,400 homes and 450,000 square feet of commercial space. It is now developing the $101 million, 626-acre, mixed-use community Kingsley Village. The Lash Group moved into one of the corporate centers in the development in March, and the company expects to eventually employ 2,400 workers there. Construction continues on LPL Financial, slated to open in October 2016, which will eventually have 3,000 employees.
A Courtyard by Marriott hotel is also under construction in the development and slated to open in 2017. There are plans to build a Fort Mill Medical Center, a 100-bed hospital, nearby, at the intersection of S.C. 160 and U.S. 21 – though court battles involving other health care companies has stalled the project for more than 10 years.
“As you can imagine we have mixed feelings,” Bowles said of the rapidly changing Fort Mill.
“It is sad to see many of the woods, fields, lakes and orchards replaced by houses, commercial enterprises, office parks. But these are also signs of progress. Fortunately we have preserved 2,100 acres, the Anne Springs Close Greenway, which will remain natural, undeveloped and available to all the people of Fort Mill in perpetuity.”
That conservation easement protects the White Homestead, so that the house cannot be significantly altered and none of the property developed, Bowles said.
“The White Homestead should be there longer than any of us will be around,” she said.
The homestead remains a private residence. Bowles’ mother, Anne Springs Close, now 90, still lives nearby, and walks the grounds frequently as she did since she was a young girl. The home was part of the Fort Mill History Museum’s Tour of Homes in December 2015, and it will be part of the tour again Dec. 10, 2016. For details, visit fmhm.org.
“Many Fort Mill citizens have toured the house to experience this history,” Bowles said. “It’s fun (working in the house). I see my mother every day, and lots of other people go in and out. Many people like to see the house and we are always happy to show them around.”
By the Numbers: The White Homestead
18,790 Square feet
4 Stories, including attic and basement
5 Living spaces
1 Conference rooms
Famous guests: Have included members of the Confederate cabinet in 1865, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, former President Bill Clinton and author Carl Sandburg
Source: Ann Evans, archivist and curator for the Springs Close Family Archives