June 15, 2008

Former Workers Bid Farewell to Cotton Mill

By Shireese Bell, Florence Morning News, S.C.

Jun. 15--DARLINGTON -- The 21st Annual West End Reunion held Saturday was a time for former cotton mill workers and their families to reminisce, and say goodbye to a building that is a part of the lives of many who attended the event.

Peggy Sheffield, treasurer of the West End Reunion Organization, said the group reunites each year to remember family members and friends who worked at the Milliken Mill in Darlington, which shut down in 1956 after a labor strike.

Sheffield said the organization was started by a group of mill workers who decided it was time to "get together for fellowship other than at funerals."

Sheffield, whose mother and father worked in the mill, said the meeting also was a chance for the workers to say goodbye to the mill.

The Milliken Mill was deemed by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control as contaminated by polychlorinated biphenyls, chemicals that were banned in the United States during the 70s. The chemicals were proven to cause cancer, liver damage and skin disorders in people, as well as causing immune system and neurological problems in children.

The cotton mill was inspected by DHEC staff and condemned because of the mix of chemical traces, water damage, mold and dead wood.

Several industries had occupied the mill, subjecting the site to high volumes of PCB chemicals.

Sheffield said she hoped there will be some salvageable parts from the building that could be used in a memorial to mill workers and their families.

President Jerry Cox said Darlington Mayor Tony Watkins was scheduled to provide an update on the mill at the event and the group would recognize former mill workers.

Mack Lemmons, a former supervisor at the mill, shared his experiences of serving 19 years at the mill.

Lemmons said he still has the silver dollars the mill paid its workers in an attempt to illustrate how much the mill's presence meant to the community financially.

The World War II veteran said he served in several departments in the mill and that he wasn't sad to to see the mill go.

"It needs to be demolished," Lemmons said. "I don't know if they can save anything. It's dangerous."

George Hutchinson, a mill worker from 1952-56, and Doris Thomas Lane, who worked at the mill in several positions for 13 years, both said they enjoyed the chance to see former co-workers and their families.

Thomas Lane said while she's happy to see everyone, she hates to see the mill be demolished.

Next year's reunion has been scheduled for June 21.


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