This tiny town in South Carolina has known its share of grief, loss and turmoil in the 170 years since the community sprang up around the South’s first mass production cotton mill. She’s a small community of only 2,700 people, but to those who live here, her dark history will never be forgotten.
Graniteville, South Carolina is located 5 miles west of Aiken. The "town" was built by the owner of that first cotton mill, William Gregg, to house and support the workers. A sketch of the mill is portrayed on the signage above welcoming folks into Graniteville.
The mill's owner, William Gregg, is said to have built the town before he built the mill.
By 1849, the town consisted of nearly 100 homes, several stores, two churches and a school for mill children. All paid for by William Gregg, who was highly regarded by everyone in Graniteville for putting his employees first.
You can imagine the importance of the railroad to the first mass production cotton plant in the South. The railroad runs parallel and just steps away from Railroad Avenue in Graniteville. It was the 1904 site of the first train tragedy in this community on July 4, 1904.
As reported by the New York Times on July 5, 1904, the wife of a local merchant was walking with her young daughter along the railroad tracks. Mom was on the street and the young girl had wandered over to the other side of the tracks, only a few feet away.
Mrs. Engle heard and saw a train approaching and feared the approaching train would cause her small child to attempt to cross the tracks. As a mother's instinct often does, she reacted in the only way she knew to save her child. Mrs. Engle stepped toward her child and into the path of the oncoming train. The child survived, but mom was hit by the train.
Exactly 100 years, six months and two days later this tiny town in Aiken County would suffer yet another monumental loss of life at the hands of those busy railroad tracks at the heart of the community.
Twelve days after Christmas a freight train rolling through Graniteville struck a parked train at this rail "intersection." The collision ruptured a tank carrying liquid chlorine, which released a poisonous chlorine cloud.
One hundred years and some change after Mrs. Engel stepped in front of a moving train to save her daughter, nine people died several hundred yards from the same spot. Hundreds, 550 to be exact, were injured.
To be sure the lives of those lost in the 2005 accident would never be forgotten, the town's people built a memorial in a park at the site of the accident. The park is shown above. The memorial is just below the flags.
The memorial for Mrs. Engle's life is presumed to be in The Graniteville Cemetery.
Graniteville’s Historic District was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Have you ever been to this charming little community in Aiken County? It’s on US 1, five miles west of AIken. Did you know of her dark and tragic history?
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