JB manager of Nesbitt Iron Works
This page last updated: 05/24/00
Bobby Gilmore Moss has authored several works on the history of Gaffney, S.C. and the
surrounding area. Many of his books/ articles mention Mintz "relatives" who lived in the area.
I found his book "A Voice in the Wilderness: A History of Buffalo Baptist Church," published in 1972, to be a tremendous genealogy lodestone.
Another great article written by B.G. Moss was an essay on the early Iron Manufacturing industry in South Carolina. John B. Mintz figures prominently in the article.
The following article by, Dr. Moss is an unpublished work.
COOPERVILLE: Iron Capital of South Carolina
B. G. Moss, Professor of History at Limestone College, Gaffney, SC
|Essays have been written to show how important
iron has been in shaping the destinies of men. Historians take interest in the fact that
at the time of the building of the pyramids the Egyptians knew something about iron,
and that two thousand years earlier the Sumerians quite likely had recognized iron as a
valuable commodity. It was not by chance, therefore, that the American Revolution centered
around the major iron-producing areas. Although Massachusetts and South Carolina had to be
subdued because they were centers of rebellious spirits, it was the capacity for iron
production in those two states more than the capacity for armed revolt that influenced
British commanders to pay special attention to the need for military operations in these
areas. It is of interest to note that South Carolina and Massachusetts had their "tea
party," both had their Liberty Tree, and in both states iron production was a major
industry during colonial and post-Revolution periods. Both before and during the
Revolution, iron was of such importance that the British prohibited its manufacture in
America, while the colonists refused to curtail it. Thus, at the beginning of the
Revolution, South Carolina, attempting to enlarge its number of iron furnaces, offered
liberal premiums to those who would establish additional ironworks. The citizens responded
slowly to the proposition because the major iron ore deposit lay in the Piedmont, and the
settlers of the area, who were chiefly Scotch and Irish, were not concerned with the war
until Ferguson invaded the Up Country. This invasion and the destruction of the existing
ironworks were the factors which tipped the scales in their decision to enter the
After the furnaces were destroyed, the patriots' surreptitious manufacturing of iron became a chief means of expressing rebellion, and several furnaces and forges were erected on the Broad and Catawba rivers. When Yorktown fell and peace returned to the Piedmont, additional furnaces and forges were built and iron production became a major industry of the Piedmont.
In 1810, when Tench Coxe, the United States geological surveyor, conducted his survey of ore and mineral production in South Carolina, he listed two bloomaries, or forges, in Spartanburg County, four in Pendleton County, two in Greenville County and one in York County. His survey is important , but since he makes no reference to blast furnaces or independently own ironworks, his statistics are incomplete.
To obtain a better picture of iron production in the state, it is necessary for one to include eight additional furnaces which had been constructed by 1856. One was constructed in Union, one in York, and six in Spartanburg District (all but one of the eight being located in what is now Cherokee County). Four of these furnaces produced 1,506 tons of charcoal iron in an average year.
At the same time three rolling mills operating alongside the furnaces produced 1,210 tons of bar iron and nails. There were also two bloomaries which jointly produced 640 tons of pig iron. These statistics are clear evidence of the national importance of South Carolina as an iron-producing state.
Of these iron manufacturing facilities, the Nesbitt Iron Manufacturing Co. was the largest and the most important. When the company organized in 1835 with a capital of $100,000, the stockholders immediately purchased land and began to set up a blast furnace, near the junction of People's Creek and Broad River. A village was begun and named "Cooperville" in honor of Dr. Thomas Cooper, President of the University of South Carolina and a stockholder in the company. During the same year, a hotel was built at Limestone Springs (four miles from Cooperville) and an Up-Country resort was developed.
Both villages grew as the iron industry profited, and received national recognition within a short time. Both became important: one as an industry, the other as a resort. Cooperville had one citizen who became a correspondent for Porte's Spirit of the Times, and he kept the racing world informed on events at the Limestone Springs Race Course.
The South Carolina Legislature recharted the company in 1836 with a capital stock of $300,000, and the company began construction of the Ellen cold-blast furnace one mile up People's Creek. One-hundred thousand dollars was invested in each furnace and the land necessary for its operation. The legislature, however, anticipated the company's growth and granted the organization the privilege of increasing its stock to $1 million within the next 14 years. That this was an attempt by South Carolina planters to enter the manufacturing field can be surmised by noting the names on the list of stockholders. Dr. Thomas Cooper, Gov. Pierce Butler, Franklin H. Elmore, Dr. James Nott, John C. Brown, J. M. Taylor, Joseph S. Shelton, Moses Stroup, Boyis J. Earl, Wade Hampton II, Congressman Wilson Nesbitt, and B. F. Elmore were the chief stockholders.
Over half the money from this second issue of company stock was used to purchase additional materials and to assemble them in order that the furnaces could be put into full production. Fifty-four thousand dollars was paid for 11,000 acres of land; $60,000 was used to erect dams, canals, buildings, and to install machinery; and the rolling mills and other improvements cost $70,000. The remaining money was used to purchase slaves, horses, mules, cattle, and hogs.
So that the river might be utilized as the chief means to transportation for the finished products, a canal was dug from the river to the South Twin furnaces. The entrance of the canal was upriver about one fourth of a mile, and in order that the natural flow of the river could be used, the canal was dug on a level below the river bed and a 300 yard long dam across Broad River. Water flooded the canal to a depth of six feet or more. As a precaution against overflooding, the canal was turned sharply away from the furnaces and angled downstream. A large earth dam impounded the water near the downriver end. As the water reached the level of the river, the river stopped flowing into the canal. Near the entrance of the canal, a waterlock held water in a square reservoir used to float barges out into the river.
A wooden tramway was constructed from Limestone Springs to the furnaces so that horses could draw wagons of lime to the industry for use as flux. (Years later a railroad track was laid on the old roadbed from the river to Gaffney.) The works consisted of several units: two high furnaces (cold blast), one puddling oven, one rolling mill of great power, one laying foundry for casting, two reheating ovens, one large machine shop, one flour and grist mill (the company owned 600 acres of corn land), one sawmill, one set ore stamper, a fine-nail factory containing seven machines, one store, a post office, and a dwelling housed the superintendents and slaves.
The stamping mill was designed so that it could use the available water power to lift the mechanical hammers. A water system which contained over 25 miles of canals carried the water from every stream that emptied into People's Creek to a huge wheel which operated the stamping hammer. A trompe utilized part of the water to turn the fans which forced the air into the furnaces. Each of the other departments -the furnaces, the forges, the casting division, for example depended on their own waterwheels for power. The eight waterwheels were kept operative by Wheelwright W. R. Reid.
A bridge facilitated transporting ore and charcoal from the east side of the river, and for a small toll, the public could use the bridge. Local citizens proudly claimed that it and the Ellis Bridge were the only two bridges over the Broad River in the Piedmont. As evidence of the superiority of their section of the state, they pointed out that the bridges were located within a few miles of each other. Iron manufacturing opened a number of jobs for the local citizens. Miners, waggoners and charcoal burners represented the largest number of self employed people to benefit from the thriving industry.
The prospects for a profitable business looked good. However, a serious financial problem developed for the company because of a series of events; chiefly the feud between President Andrew Jackson and the Bank of the United States, a widely spiraling inflation, and the stockholders' slowness in paying their installments. Only F. H. Elmore, Wade Hampton, and Wilson Nesbitt paid their entire subscriptions. Before the company could collect in full from the other subscribers, the United States Bank charter was vetoed by President Jackson. Local banks began to over-speculate, because the federal bank was no longer able to put pressure on them. It was this over-speculation that brought about the state wide financial crash of 1837.
When local banks refused to issue specie, cotton prices fell. Because of this the Cooperville investors were unable to pay for their stocks. The company managed to survive, however, by the superb management of funds secured on short-term loans. At this time Wilson Nesbitt stepped aside and the company elected B. F. Elmore as its new president. Elmore realized that these small loans, never exceeding $50,000, were not enough to get the industry into full production; therefore, early in 1839, F.H. Elmore and P. M. Butler journey north in search of capital. Dr. Thomas Cooper wrote to his old friend Nicholas Biddle, former president of the United States Bank, to ask for help in raising a loan of $150,000.
After making inquiries of capitalists in New York, Biddle sent Cooper a disheartening report: "the prospects of obtaining the loan is not flattering." Biddle had read the signs correctly, for Elmore and Butler failed to secure the funds they sought. Almost immediately, negotiations were opened with English investors, but again terms could not be agreed upon. Later, Cooper asked President Van Buren for government assistance, but his plea was to no avail.
To sustain operations, seven of the company's stockholders borrowed individual amounts of money totaling $91,898.97 from the Bank of South Carolina. These loans were made on the strength of the company's operations under the management of J. B. Mintz, and the samples of iron which he had sent to the Washington Navy Yard for testing. The navy found that these samples included 7/8 inch wire whose strength exceeded by 3.4 tons of a ton meeting the requirement that of other equal size iron wire tested at the yard, and 1 inch iron wire which came within seven-tenths requirement for 1 3/4 inch iron wire.
Since the samples surpassed the maximum requirements imposed by the Navy, the Nesbitt Co. received a contract for iron wire, shot and shell in 1847. After F. H. Elmore's death, shortly after he acceded to the vacant Senate seat of John C. Calhoun, the Nesbitt Co. was sold. In 1850, a charter which included the rights to the company, was issued to a firm known as the Swedish Iron Manufacturing Co. With Charles W. Hammerskold as manager, the Swedish company was able to prosper even though it had a number of problems. Among its chief problems was the securing of fuel. Fifteen years of cutting oak timber and burning it into charcoal had denuded the timber land and left behind a strip of land south of the present sites of Blacksburg and Gaffney which are to this day called, "the Coaling Grounds."
Pressure was brought upon the South Carolina Legislature to build railroads and canals so that coal could be brought into the area, but talk of secession took most the legislature's time and nothing was done immediately about the needed transportation. Another problem which the company faced was how to extract the ore from its depth in the earth. The shaft method of mining was employed , then abandoned, as the company came to realize the high cost such operations entailed.
1856 could be cited as a normal year of operation for the Swedish company. Although records of the North Twin and Ellen furnaces are not available, it is known that the South Twin produced 816 tons of metal, the Cherokee Ford works (rolling mill) produced 400 tons of merchant bars and the Cherokee Ford bloomary produced 240 tons of pig iron blooms. The chief finished products were guns, shells, cannon balls, farm tools, millworks, rice mills, sawmill parts, Franklin stoves, cob mills, cooking stoves, nails, kettles and washpots. Not many records exist to show the quantity of items produced: however, the records which do exist show that the stamping mill produced one ton of nails per day.
Shortly after the outbreak of the War Between the States, the Swedish investors sold their initial investment to the Magnetic Iron Company. Almost immediately the works were given more contracts by the Confederate government than it could meet. Cooperville took on new life and the future looked bright. The manufacture of iron was so important to the Confederacy that A. M. Latham, who had become the manage of the works, requested and received deferment from military duty for his workers. It is a tradition that some of the ironplating produced at Cooperville was used to construct the Confederate ironclads.
At the war's end, the company was near bankruptcy. It had lost all of its slaves, and its capital consisted of Confederate cash and bonds, which had become valueless. Even though the industry continued to operate until near the end of the century, iron manufacturing was to die in South Carolina. Today South Carolina and Vermont are the only two states in the country where iron manufacturing has been wholly abandoned. Only the ruins of the buildings, furnaces, forges, tramway, and canal remain as a monument to Cooperville: Iron Capital of South Carolina.