In addition to establishing one of the most important industrial enterprises in Spartanburg County, Converse contributed to the educational institution in Spartanburg that bears his name.
Industrialist. Converse was born on April 21, 1829, in Swanton, Vermont, the second child of Orlin Converse and Louise Twichell. After his father died in 1833, Converse went to live with his aunt and uncle in Trois Rivieres, Quebec, where he worked in his uncle’s woolen mill until he was twenty-one. In 1850 he went to work in a cotton mill in Cohoes, New York. Converse was in school only a few years, but his real education came in his understanding of how the mill machinery worked and how the business was operated.
In 1854 Converse took this knowledge and went south to the Carolina Piedmont, where the textile industry was beginning to expand. He worked for a few months as the superintendent of a cotton mill in Lincolnton, North Carolina, before moving to the Bivingsville Cotton Factory in Spartanburg District, South Carolina, in February 1855. He soon became the mill’s manager and within a year was a member of the firm. With his career established, Converse married his cousin Helen Twichell on September 17, 1856. During the Civil War, Converse was assigned to run the mill rather than serve in the army. After the war, the Bivingsville mill made a quick recovery. When its founder died in 1868, Converse and his brother-in-law, Albert H. Twichell, bought the outstanding stock, and in 1870 they changed the company’s name to D. E. Converse and Company. The enterprise prospered even in the economically uncertain 1870s. In 1878 Bivingsville was renamed Glendale.
In 1880 Converse began the first of his two most important ventures. He bought Hurricane Shoals on the Pacolet River, the site of the former South Carolina Iron Works, and organized the Clifton Manufacturing Company. By 1882 Clifton Factory was in operation with 500 employees, 7,000 spindles, and 150 looms. At the end of the decade, Converse opened another mill near the first, Clifton Number Two. During the 1890s the profits from Clifton ranged between twenty-five and thirty percent. On the basis of this success, Converse opened Clifton Number Three in 1896, giving the Clifton complex the capacity to manufacture 150,000 yards of cloth each day.
In addition to establishing one of the most important industrial enterprises in Spartanburg County, Converse contributed to the educational institution in Spartanburg that bears his name. On March 29, 1889, Converse College was established to serve the needs of Spartanburg’s young women. Converse was elected president of the Converse College Company, and the college opened in 1890. Converse also helped establish a preparatory school in 1889 affiliated with the college. In February 1891 he moved his family from Glendale to a new mansion on Pine Street in downtown Spartanburg, where he died on October 4, 1899. Originally buried on the Converse College grounds, his remains were later moved to Oakwood Cemetery.
Kilber, Lillian Adele. The History of Converse College, 1889–1971. Spartan- burg, S.C.: Converse College, 1973.