Montgomery played an important role in the development of upcountry mill villages with the construction of company housing, schools, and shops.
Manufacturer, merchant. Montgomery was born on a farm in Hobbysville, Spartanburg County, on December 8, 1833, the eldest son of Benjamin Montgomery and Harriet Moss. In the early 1850s Montgomery worked as a store clerk and then a partner with his brother-in-law in a mercantile business. In 1857 he married Susan A. Holcombe. The union produced eight children. Shortly after marrying, Montgomery entered a general merchandising business with his father-in-law and acquired an interest in a local tannery. He served in the South Carolina Volunteers during the Civil War and attained the rank of captain. Following the war, Montgomery continued to engage in farming and mercantile activities. His successful experimentation with commercial fertilizers led to association with the Baltimore firm of John Merriman, for whom Montgomery became a salesman. In 1874 Montgomery moved to Spartanburg, where he joined the mercantile firm of Walker, Fleming and Company, which was the largest cotton buyer in the county.
In 1881 Montgomery and Walker, Fleming and Company purchased Trough Shoals along the Pacolet River in Spartanburg County as the site for a new textile operation. A year later the Pacolet Manufacturing Company organized with an initial capital stock of $103,000. Montgomery was chosen president and treasurer of the company, and the first mill became operational in 1884. Under Montgomery’s guidance, the Pacolet Manufacturing Company expanded to a second mill in 1888 and a third in 1894. By 1895 the company operated more than fifty thousand spindles and maintained a capital stock of $700,000. Montgomery’s success was due in part to his skill at attracting northern capital. He brought to Spartanburg Seth M. Milliken of the New York selling house of Deering, Milliken and Company. Montgomery also relied on connections to New England entrepreneurs for his second major mill project, Spartan Mills. Organized in 1888, Spartan Mills merged with Whitfield Mills of Newburyport, Massachusetts, the next year in an arrangement that brought all of Whitfield’s machinery to Spartanburg. Montgomery also briefly experimented with the use of black labor in textiles following the 1899 purchase of Charleston Mills. Renamed Vesta Mills, the factory operated only until 1901, when it closed due largely to high competition for both black and white labor in Charleston.
Montgomery played an important role in the development of upcountry mill villages with the construction of company housing, schools, and shops. In November 1885 the Spartanburg Carolina Spartan stated that the Pacolet Manufacturing Company served as a “monument of practical utility.” Although these mills did offer new opportunities, Montgomery was not always able to provide enough teachers for the schools, and like most mill managers of the period, he resisted unionization efforts.
By 1900 the upcountry mills under Montgomery’s presidency were consuming cotton at such a high rate that they had to look further south for enough supply of raw cotton. Two years later Montgomery opened two mills in Georgia, one in Gainesville and the other in New Holland. John Montgomery died on October 31, 1902, shortly after falling from a scaffold at the Gainesville site. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Spartanburg.
Carlton, David L. Mill and Town in South Carolina, 1880–1920. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982.
Obituary. Spartanburg Journal, November 1, 1902, p. 1.
Stokes, Allen H. “John H. Montgomery: A Pioneer Southern Industrialist.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1967.
Teter, Betsy Wakefield, ed. Textile Town: Spartanburg County, South Carolina. Spartanburg, S.C.: Hub City Writers Project, 2002.