Andrew Dys

Springses felt like part of the family on mill hill

FORT MILL -- One day out of the 40 years worth of days Myrtle Broom walked to work at the two Springs textile plants in Fort Mill, a young man named Bill Close appeared by her side.

"He wanted to learn payroll, and he did," Broom said. She's 85 now. "I taught him. He started at the bottom. He learned the weaving. The looms. He learned all the jobs."

Bill Close, dead many years now, wasn't just another worker. He was the husband of Anne Springs Close of the Fort Mill Springs family that owned those two mills and so many others in Chester, Lancaster and other counties. At one time, the family had the largest textile empire here, or anywhere.

People such as Broom found out Thursday that Crandall Bowles, Anne and Bill Close's daughter and the last family member to run the company, was leaving the business. The company merged with a Brazilian textile giant long ago. But Bowles' leaving meant no more would a Springs be the big boss.

What I found Thursday on those hot mill hills where most houses had four rooms if they were big and three if they weren't, is people loved the Springs family because the mills offered jobs. And those former workers still do love the Springs family.

"Del Close (Bowles' brother) was two grades ahead of me. I remember him wearing the same blue jeans to school I wore. One time he had a rubber band around the front of his shoe to keep it from flapping," said Clarence McWaters, who still lives in the same mill hill house his parents lived in. "The Springses gave a lot to Fort Mill, still do. I go to the same place to get my hair cut Anne Close goes to. I see her and say, 'Ms. Anne, I hope you are doing fine,' and she says to me the same thing. You wouldn't know she had a dime."

The Springs family has billions of dimes. The Springs and Close families earned a fortune over more than a century from the toil of mill hands who worked in those mills.

Yes, they have given much back to Fort Mill, benefactors of recreation and so much more, but reality is people had to work hard for what they got from the Springs family.

And then the mills closed. Cheap foreign competition was the villain. The Springs family is no different from any other business owners: They make textiles now where the labor is cheap. Fort Mill people expect to make a decent wage. The working man's job was gone.

But working people, many anyway, hold no grudges. For more than a century, the Springs family provided jobs to people who had few or no other job options, gave the poorest farmers and sharecroppers a chance to leave land that was risky or worse for a steady wage. Springs gave a chance for people to save, to build, to raise children who could work in the mill after them. Or many times, get those kids educated so the next generation did not have to work in mills.

"All my children, they went to the mill day care that cost about 20 cents a day," Broom said. "My husband's family, they all worked there. The credit union they made, it was a lifesaver. They sold us our house. Springs was nice to employees."

Broom still lives down the mill hill from one of the plants. Her house is her second Springs mill house. The first was over by the other plant, on the other mill hill. Her father was a farmer from Indian Land who worked as a Springs carpenter during winter months of the Depression. He likely built the mill house in 1934 she lives in today. The Springs mill was for her -- and thousands more -- the only escape from the cotton fields.

"If you had a job at Springs, it was there for you," Broom said. "They expected you to work. You did, you were paid. I think the Springs family treated me pretty good."

A few doors down lives Kathleen Wilson, also 85. She and her husband worked for Springs for decades.

"The Springs, they were good to us workers," Wilson said.

Right across the street from the White Plant entrance live Randall and Susan Achorn. They moved in three years ago. They sit on the porch in retirement -- they came from Florida and hand-picked this 620-square-foot house with three rooms.

Dozens, maybe hundreds, Susan said, have stopped at their front door over three years.

"People say they lived in this mill house, or worked across the street," she said.

The Springs family name comes up every time, Randall Achorn said, and people say they loved the Springs family.

Around the corner lives another lady who retired from the White Plant in 2002, after 36 years. The plant closed the next year. She did every job in the place, was raised up the mill hill just a stone's throw away.

Her grandparents, extended family, herself, raised children because of jobs from the Springs family.

"Springs won't be the same without the Springs family," she said. "If it wasn't for Springs, I wouldn't have my house. The day I retired, I took pictures going up the hill and coming down the hill. I cried."