When James A. Chapman founded Inman Mills in 1901, he founded a company that would not only still be spinning and weaving fabric more than a century later, but one that would also become a family legacy so tightly woven into the history of Spartanburg County that it would be impossible to imagine life without it.
Indeed, from the first revolution of an Inman spindle, generation after generation of the Chapman family have sat at the helm of the company which is today, a dynamic, modern textile manufacturer employing more than 700 people at three plants—Saybrook in Inman, Ramey and Mountain Shoals in Enoree—along with Eastbank Textiles, LLC, a subsidiary in Macon, Georgia. The company’s specialty is high-quality greige or unfinished fabrics and yarns sold for home furnishings, apparel and technical uses.
Though a successful lawyer in New York and Middlesboro, Kentucky, his Spartanburg County roots and a vision to become a part of the ever-growing textile industry lured Chapman back to his native home just as the twentieth century got underway. He quickly went to work, raising $150,000 in capital and teaming up with his brother and uncle who already owned a prime building site—nearly 600 acres of farmland near Inman. He exchanged stock in the company for the land and on it Inman Mills’ first plant was built.
By 1902, the mill had commenced operations with 15,000 spindles and 400 looms and began growing and expanding almost immediately. In fact, within its first decade in existence, the plant had already doubled in size and, by its second decade, had more than tripled. To house all the growth, a new four- story addition was added in 1928.
At the same time the Inman plant was being expanded, Chapman and his son, James A. Chapman, Jr., were asked to manage another plant in neighboring Enoree. Built in 1883, Enoree Manufacturing Company had been floundering for years under a series of owners and managers. The father and son duo agreed to take on the challenge and with the help of the loyal town’s people managed to turn it around within just five years. This plant would soon become known as the Riverdale Plant and was officially acquired by Chapman and associates in 1934 and two decades later merged with Inman Mills.
Both the Inman Plant and the Riverdale Plant were built around the turn of the twentieth century when water and steam provided power for industrial plants. The mills, con- structed before electric technology matured, required multi-story buildings for power dis- tribution. In later years as electric power became the norm, these older multi-story plants became increasingly inefficient. During the 1950s, there was a significant impetus in research and technological development in textile machinery and productive techniques. Inman Mills management realized that its original plants were becoming obsolete. The challenge was to modernize the company to stay abreast of the rapidly changing times.
In June 1959, construction of a new Inman Mills plant began and was completed in July 1960. This one-story windowless building was constructed of masonry and steel and housed equipment for the complete operation from raw cotton through weaving of greige goods. This new, modern plant was named Saybrook because Saybrook, Connecticut, was settled in 1635 by Robert Chapman, a multi-great grand-father of the twentieth-century Chapmans. An expansion was made in 1964, which included adding to the size of the weaving and inspection areas as well as a new warehouse.
The same set of circumstances that existed at Inman were also present at Riverdale. It was determined that a new plant was required to correct the physical situation there. Construction on the new mill began in the fall of 1965 and was completed in the summer of 1966. This new mill contained 500 looms with supporting yarn facilities. The plant was named the Ramey Plant in honor of E. Lee Ramey, a vice president of manufacturing of the company.
In 1980, a major addition to the Ramey complex consisted of a separate modern weaving operation, inspection and warehouse. This addition is operated as a separate facility and was originally a part of the Riverdale Plant. In 1990, the Riverdale weaving facility was renamed the Mountain Shoals Plant, which was the original name of the Enoree Community. In 1995, a state-of-the-art slasher operation was added to the Mountain Shoals Plant.
Business was good and the new plants ran alongside the original ones until the start of the twenty-first century. When foreign-made fabrics began to flood the market, domestic companies began to close and Inman Mills had to make some hard choices. By 2001, the original Inman and Riverdale facilities were closed. Though the plants had become increasingly obsolete, it was still a very difficult decision because the entire Chapman legacy was founded on these two facilities. It was, however, one that had to be made if the legacy was to continue.
And continue it has from the founding James A. Chapman who guided the company from 1902 to 1935; to the second James A. Chapman who sat at the helm from 1936 to 1964 and who was succeeded by his son, James A. Chapman, III who served as president from 1964 until his death in 1983; to yet another son, W. Marshall Chapman, who was president and treasurer from 1978 to 1991 and then chairman and chief executive officer until his death in 1995; a cousin, Robert H. Chapman, Jr., served as vice chairman until his death in 1995 and his son, Robert H. Chapman, III who now heads the company as chairman, chief executive officer and treasurer, along with his cousin, Norman H. Chapman, who serves as the current president and chief operating officer. These men, like their forebears, remain fully committed to quality in everything that they do not just the company, but also for the communities in which they work and live.
Success in the technical textile manufacturing industry – and a full commitment to serving our surrounding communities – is woven into the DNA of our lineage in leadership.
Thanks to this legacy, today Inman Mills stands strong as one of the leading technical textile manufacturers in the United States, specializing in high-quality greige or unfinished fabrics and yarns for home furnishings, apparel and technical uses. More than 700 people are employed at three Inman Mills locations in South Carolina: Saybrook in Inman, and Ramey and Mountain Shoals in Enoree. Plus, there’s Eastbank Textiles, LLC, a subsidiary in Macon, Ga.
A team of Inman Mills sales representatives are based throughout South Carolina.