Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Turkeypaw History Lesson

Since I've been getting hits on my blog from all over the world, some by searching on Google and some by accessing from other blogs, some of you may be wondering about the http:// address of my blog, turkeypaw.blogspot.com. Or, maybe you haven't wondered but humor me anyway. The name "Turkeypaw" derives from the word Tucapau, which was the name of the small mill village in which I was born and have lived all my life. That is until it changed to Startex sometime in the 40's. In the early 20th century the people who lived here were country folk that had come from farms far and near to work in the brand new cotton mill that was built because times were tough and the mill provided a steady wage. It also provided affordable, company owned, housing. Even though they weren't mansions it was a roof over their heads close to their work. When these people said Tucapau it came out Turkeypaw so that name kind of stuck.

For the sake of those who have never heard of it I'll give a little history as I know it and as was told to me by my father, who also was a lifelong resident. I'll even provide pictures of the early settlement. For those of you who do know Tucapau, it could be interesting or it could be boring because you may know more about it than me. At least you may enjoy the pictures. and again, I apologize for the pictures because I still can't figure out how to fix it where you can click on the picture to make it big so it's easier to view. Anyway, here goes.

Sometime in the 1890's a group of business men from Spartanburg got together and travelled out into the countryside, either on horseback or by horse and buggy. Most probably on horseback since the area had not been widely settled at the time. Some say they were on a fishing expedition and others say they were scouting out a place for a textile mill. Either way, they came upon a spot on the Middle Tyger River called Penny Shoals. It was said that in the early 1800's, and before, this area had been the hunting grounds of the Cherokee Indian tribes located in the North Carolina mountains. It looked like a great place to build a textile plant so they began the process of purchasing the land on both sides of the river. After the land was purchased and plans were finalized, they built a four story structure on the north bank of the river. They called the mill Tucapau Mill. The rumor is that Tucapau was a Cherokee word meaning "strong cloth" but I've heard conflicting meanings of the word over the years with the other being "red hills" because of the red dirt around here. Through my research I've not been able to confirm either.
The mill started operating in the late 1890's and around the turn of the century houses were built to house the employees because transportation back then was almost nil.. They were basically just places to keep people in the dry and a place to sleep. Most of the first houses built were the New England saltbox style meaning the roof line was long in the back and short in the front with a shed style front porch. They consisted of 6 rooms, 4 rooms downstairs and 2 rooms upstairs. They were, however, split into two family dwellings. Each family had 2 rooms down and 1 room up. In some cases the families had several children so the accommodations were tight to say the least. Some of the next houses built were still the saltbox style but they were only 4 room houses. They didn't have the upstairs rooms but were still divided into two family dwellings. Later, they went back and constructed 3 room, shotgun style, houses in between the 6 room houses and these were all one family dwellings. By shotgun style I mean the 3 rooms were all in a row with a hallway all the way down one side. When we first got married we lived in one of these 3 room houses until our family outgrew it. Below is a picture of a couple of the 6 room houses taken in 1923.

Also, a picture of a 4 room house that has had an additional room built on to the rear, also taken around 1923.


In the beginning none of the houses had running water and the bathroom was outside in the back yard. There was a spring about a half mile from the mill from which residents could haul water to their homes. Later on, water mains were laid and running water was installed in the houses but only in the kitchen.

At first, there was a small, one room building used as a school for the children in the village. As the mill expanded and the population grew, a larger school building was needed so one was built in the late teens or early 20's. below is a picture of the new school.
There was also a hotel built in the village I think sometime in the late teens but I'm not real sure of the year of construction. I do know that unmarried school teachers that taught in the Tucapau school were allowed to stay there for next to nothing. My grandmother came to Tucapau as a teacher straight from Winthrop College and stayed in the hotel until she married my grandfather, (She later became the Post Mistress for the U S Post Office in Tucapau and remained so for about 40 years until she retired). The hotel also had a kitchen that provided meals for the guests, as well as anyone else that wanted to eat there. A lot of the supervisors would go there for their lunch every day. Below are some pictures of the hotel.




The old hotel was closed sometime in the 50's and torn down in the early 60's. I can remember it still standing with the windows boarded up and being told by my daddy not to play around the old building. I also remember getting my tail tore up with his belt when I was caught inside it.

The mill was sold in 1936 to Walter S. Montgomery Sr. who owned some mills in the Spartanburg area and he made Tucapau part of his Spartan Mills organization. The mill had expanded and included a finishing plant, as well as a sewing operation. The mill started producing the Startex brand of linens and towels (You can still find them today on Ebay by searching on "Startex" or "vintage linens"). Anyway, when Mr. Walter, as he was affectionately called by the employees, bought the mill, he decided to legally change the name of the mill to Startex Mills, a Division of Spartan Mills because of the popularity of the Startex brand name. Then a few years later, around 1947, he changed the name of the village from Tucapau to Startex. To the best of my knowledge, the only two remaining things with Tucapau in the name is the Tucapau Baptist Church and the Tucapau Masonic Lodge. Below is an aerial picture of the mill and some of the village taken in the early 60's. I know this because the old hotel is still standing and in the distance you can see the original fire dept that was built in the latter part of 1962. As you can see, the mill is quite a bit bigger than the original building which is about 3/4 of the building in the foreground of this picture.

Mr. Walter made a lot of improvements to the "mill hill" including paved streets, sidewalks, a sewer system which allowed him to add bathrooms in the houses and a lot of other improvements to the houses themselves. Startex was a self sustaining community in that we had a company store that sold everything from toothpicks to caskets. We had a doctor who had an office in town and a service station for the ones who were fortunate enough to have a car. There wasn't many that had cars because they really weren't needed because, like I said, everything you needed was within walking distance. There was even a theater in the community building that also housed showers and a laundry in the early days before the houses had bathrooms. The theater part had already been closed down by the time I came along but I remember daddy telling of when he was a kid in the late 20's and early 30's. He said back then they showed the silent movies and there was a man that played the pump organ along with the movie. When there was a scene of the good guys chasing the bad guys he would be really pedaling that old organ and playing real fast music and when there was a love scene he'd play real soft and slow. Eventually, when the "talkies" came out they installed sound equipment in the theater. My brother tells of when he was a kid in the early 50's, he'd go to the Saturday afternoon matinee. They were all cowboy movies and they would show several movies every Saturday like The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Hop a long Cassidy to name a few. The school also held it's Christmas plays and graduation ceremonies in this building. Different clubs and organizations also held fund raisers in the theater such as a womanless wedding that was held to raise funds for the PTA. Below is a picture of the community building.


You can't really tell it in this picture but on the back side the building it is actually 3 stories and the community showers were on the bottom floor. The front of the building looks like it is 3 stories but actually the top 2 sets of windows were both in the theater section. It also had a balcony which is where the upper set of windows are.

Our little small village even hosted the President of the United States in 1980. Jimmy Carter stopped here in September of that year while he was out on his re-election campaign trail. He was here about an hour total. He took about 30 or 40 minutes to tour the mill and then made a 15 or 20 minute speech to all of the employees and citizens of the town out in the parking lot. There must have been 300 to 400 people present. It was probably the biggest thing that ever happened, or will ever happen, here. The mill closed in 1998 for the same reason that most all of the other textile mills in North and South Carolina have closed. Foreign imports.

The main part of the mill has been torn down and recycled. The bricks and heart pine flooring were sold to construction companies mostly in Louisiana and Mississippi. They were cleaned and reused to build houses because of their old antique look. The big 20"X20" heart pine beams were sent over to England to be refinished and sold to build post and beam houses. It was sad to see it come down and a lot of memories went with it but I guess that's progress.

For the most part, Startex is still a quite little Southern town where you can go to bed at night and leave the door open and not worry about somebody coming in on you. I can't think of any place in the world that I'd rather live.

I have probably 30 or 40 more old pictures of the village and the inside of the mill but this is already real long so I'll stop for now. I just wanted to share a little of my town with you.

5 comments:

colbymarshall said...

Man, this makes me really glad that I don't have to use a community shower.

Robin said...

Yeah and they only had a shower once a week, on Saturdays, whether they needed one or not.

Meredith said...

I loved reading this, Robin!

Donald said...

Robin, I have a nicely framed,
handwritten document that lists W.G.S. O'Shields as a Spartanburg County Magistrate in 1897.
Was this your great-grandfather?
Let me know if it is, i will give
this to you to add to your Tucapau/
Startex collection.
Donald Jones, Birmingham, Al
nod2632@aol.com,
800-853-9843

Jennifer Kinsler Of One Accord Ministry Appalachia said...

Hi Robin,

I am trying to find out some information about my great grandparents who may have worked in this mill in the 1930-1940 era. Marvin and Ethel Owens, I found in the census records. Do you have your photos uploaded to the web somewhere? I'd love to see them.

Jennifer K
Jennifer.kinslerooa@gmail.com