Unlike other cotton mills in Columbia that used steam or hydroelectric power, Olympia had its own coal-fired electrical plant that supplied electricity to Olympia and Whaley’s three other mills, as well as the Columbia Street Railway Power Company.
Olympia Cotton Mill was one of four mills designed and built in Columbia between 1895 and 1904 by the industrialist W. B. Smith Whaley. Construction began in summer 1899, and by 1900 the mill was in operation. Unlike other cotton mills in Columbia that used steam or hydroelectric power, Olympia had its own coal-fired electrical plant that supplied electricity to Olympia and Whaley’s three other mills, as well as the Columbia Street Railway Power Company.
In addition to this innovation, Olympia was notable for its sheer scale. The main building was approximately 150 feet by 550 feet and housed just over 100,000 spindles, almost as many as Columbia’s other five mills combined. In 1907 Olympia’s weave rooms held 2,250 looms. During the first years of the twentieth century, Olympia was frequently lauded as “the world’s largest cotton mill under one roof.” Olympia was not merely the biggest mill in Columbia; in many ways it was also the best to work for. Partly in order to forestall unionization of the workforce, Whaley provided living conditions better than most mills of the time. The houses in the mill village were good, Olympia School was founded in 1901, and the mill started the first kindergarten and the first playground in the Columbia area.
The financial base of the mill was not so positive, however. Whaley was forced to sell his four mills to Lewis W. Parker in 1911, and the four were renamed Hampton Mills. Parker Cotton Mills Company hit hard times in 1914 and sold Hampton Mills to Pacific Mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1916. In 1954 Burlington Industries purchased the entire Pacific Mills chain and operated Olympia for another forty years. Olympia survived the wave of mill closings in the 1980s, but a Christmas Eve fire in 1995 seriously damaged the mill. Olympia Mill announced its closing a few months later on June 28, 1996.
Byars, Alvin W. Olympia Pacific: The Way It Was, 1895–1970. West Columbia, S.C.: Professional Printers, 1981.
Hughes, Bill. “Olympia-Granby Plant to Close.” Columbia State, June 29, 1996, p. A1.
Power, J. Tracy. “‘The Brightest of the Lot’: W. B. Smith Whaley and the Rise of the South Carolina Textile Industry, 1893–1903.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 93 (April 1992): 126–38.