Merchant, entrepreneur, manufacturer. Springs was born in Fort Mill on November 12, 1861, the seventh of eight children of Andrew Baxter Springs and Blandina Baxter. Aggressive as a youth, Springs found college life too confining. At the age of twenty, after completing only two years at the University of North Carolina, he became a traveling merchant for Burwell and Springs of Charlotte, North Carolina, selling groceries from a wagon. He opened his first business, Leroy Springs & Company, in Lancaster, South Carolina, when he was twenty-two. In 1886 Springs founded a lucrative cotton-shipping firm, and he established the Bank of Lancaster in 1889. By 1892 he was worth $1 million. He founded Lancaster Cotton Mills in 1895. With these ventures, Springs laid the foundation of the family fortune. On December 28, 1892, Springs married Grace Allison White, the daughter of Samuel Elliott White, also a textile mill owner. The couple had one son, Elliott White Springs, who would eventually succeed his father as head of the family’s textile business.
Grace White Springs died in 1907. By this time Springs was heavily involved as a partner or sole proprietor in numerous businesses.
Leroy Springs & Company now had five South Carolina branches and one in North Carolina. Springs was the president of five mercantile companies, four cotton mills, two banks, a railroad, a power company, and a cotton-compress company serving cotton shippers in South Carolina and Georgia. He sat on the boards of directors for Southern Railroad and eight South Carolina banks and held seats on cotton exchanges in New York and New Orleans.
A volatile personality caused Springs problems during his lifetime. In 1885 he shot and killed a man in Lancaster after an altercation. He claimed self-defense, and his case was never brought to trial. His relationship with his son, Elliott, was tempestuous at best, marked by frequent disagreements and confrontations. In 1928 Springs was shot by one of his employees, whom he had recently fired.
In 1913 Springs married Lena Jones Wade, a widow who was head of the English department at Queen’s College in Charlotte. He died of respiratory failure on April 9, 1931, in Charlotte. Elliott Springs directed that his father be buried next to the enormous Lancaster Cotton Mill No. 3, where thousands of mourners attended the funeral. Elliott later expanded the plant over the grave of his father, allegedly commenting, “It’s what he would have wanted.”
Davis, Burke. War Bird: The Life and Times of Elliott White Springs. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
Pettus, Louise, and Martha Bishop. The Springs Story: Our First Hundred Years. Fort Mill, S.C.: Springs Industries, 1987.