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The History of Fort Mill

History of Fort Mill Much of the area's history stems from the Catawba Indians, the only surviving Native American tribe in South Carolina. At one time, 30,000 Catawbas roamed this area. Unfortunately, few records exist about the tribal nation before 1760, when smallpox and other European diseases diminished it to 1,000. The oldest artifact dates to about 600 A.D. In 1763, the English gave the Catawba Indians 144,000 acres of land as a reward for helping them defeat the French in the French and Indian War. That original reservation sprawled both the township, originally called Fort Hill, and Indian Land. The Catawba's were constantly threatened by attacks from other warlike tribes including the Shawnees and the Cherokees. They asked that the colonial governor of North Carolina offer them protection by constructing a fort. At that time, the state line between North Carolina and South Carolina had not clearly been drawn. Construction of this fort was started but it was never completed. It is from this fort that the Town of Fort Mill drew part of its name.

The Catawba's decided to capitalize on their land and lease it to settlers. The Indians had used stones to create an underwater roadbed in a shallow place in the river. Named Nation Ford after the Catawba Indian Nation, this provided the only crossing for many miles. Parts of the trail can still be seen, especially on the Anne Springs Close Greenway. In 1850 a railroad trestle bridge was erected over the ford. The trestle over the Catawba River, burned down during an 1865 Civil War skirmish and was rebuilt a year later. The road on each side of the ford became Nation Ford Road. This crossing brought traders to the area dating back to 1650. The road carried the traders from Pennsylvania to Charles Towne (now Charleston). Parts of this trail can still be seen on the Anne Springs Close Greenway.

Just a short distance from the Indian Fort, was a spring that provided fresh water for Indians and settlers for centuries. Kanawha Spratt camped there with his wife on the first night of their journey to Fort Mill. The Catawba approached them with an offer of 4,000 acres of land if they would stay and live among the tribe and Spratt became the first white settler. In October 1780, Lord Cornwallis and his troops camped at Spratts Spring on their withdrawal from Charlotte. Cornwallis had planned to cross the Catawba River at Nation Ford and move on to Winnsboro. However, the river was flooded with heavy rains, forcing the general and his troops to stay at the spring. Years later the waters from this spring were dammed and now the spring is under a lake.

Other settlers began moving into the Fort Mill area, leasing 30 to 1000 acre tracts from the Catawba. In 1775 a gristmill was erected on Steele Creek where they could grind their corn, wheat and grains into meal and flour. The first village, Little York, sprang up around the mill. There were a few homes, a store, a tavern and a church. In this way the mill provided what was to be the other part of the town's name. Settlers opened a post office in 1820. By 1826 the Catawbas had rented all their land out, an event that forced them off their own reservation. In 1840 the Catawba sold their land to the state by way of The Treaty of Nation Ford. Because there was another Fort Hill in South Carolina, settlers changed the name to Fort Mill around 1830, after an old grist mill near Steele Creek and a small garrison fort built by the British in the 1750s, just south of the town limits. Fort Mill received its charter as a town in 1873.

In 1790 John Springs constructed a spacious plantation house named Springfield in Fort Mill. It is the oldest dwelling in eastern York County. During the final days of the Confederacy, President Jefferson Davis and some cabinet members spent 3 days and nights there as guests of Col. Andrew Baxter Springs. Following his visit to Springfield, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet came down the road to the White homestead. Built in 1820 by William Elliot White, this is where the final meeting of the cabinet took place in 1865. Col. Elliot Springs White brought his bride there in 1922 after the home was totally renovated. Elliott White Springs was a WW1 flying ace, author, industrialist, and a member of the South Carolina Hall of Fame. They lived out their lives there and raised two children, Anne Springs Close and Leroy Springs. Fort Mill's Confederate Park contains the nation's only monument to slaves fighting on the Confederate side of the American Civil War.

On a morning in 1887, four Fort Mill men met for a morning whittling session. Led by Capt. Samuel White, they discussed the need for industry to provide employment in Fort Mill. With cotton growing in abundance, they decided that Fort Mill needed a cotton mill. A public meeting was held, stock was sold and a corporation was formed. The Fort Mill Manufacturing Company, now known as Springs Mills, began operation in 1888. Today Springs Industries has grown to be one of the nation's largest textile complexes, with 40-odd plants in the U.S., France and Mexico.

The following sites in Fort Mill are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Springfield Plantation (before 1806), White Homestead (1831), Fort Mill Downtown Historic District (17 buildings built between 1860 and 1940), Wilson House (c. 1869), Banks Mack House (c. 1871), John M. White House (1872), Thornwell-Elliot House (c. 1877), Mack-Belk House (c. 1890), Mills House (1906), National Guard Armory (1938) and Unity Presbyterian Church Complex (church, manse, Unity Cemetery, Old Unity Cemetery).

In the 1980s, Fort Mill was the home to TV evangelist Jim Bakker's now defunct Heritage USA (now reopened as Heritage International Ministries) and PTL club (now the headquarters of TV channel The Inspiration Network (INSP)).

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Education in the Fort Mill Area

Education in the Fort Mill area is of prime importance to the citizens of Fort Mill.  Below is listed some of the schools that a child in the Town of Fort Mill may be assigned and their school reports, for private schools click here.  The first link is to the school's website and the second is to the school report card.



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