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Riverdale Mill Bell at Chapman Center is Permanent Link to Textile Industry

Written by Leon G. Russ, staff writer - Hometown News - August 23, 2007

The bell, which is more than 120 years old, was salvaged from the last 19th-century textile mill still operating in Spartanburg County before Riverdale Mill closed in 2001.

Rob Chapman spoke on behalf of his family. “This is a very special day for all of us at Inman Mills as we dedicate and donate this wonderful bell to the Chapman Cultural Center,” he said.

Brad Burnett, plant manager of Inman Mills’ Ramey Plant was on hand and explained the “bell was a very special part of the plant.” He went on to say, “Today is a true celebration as the bell finds a new home here at the Cultural Center. Our hope is that the bell will call visitors of all ages to the center.”
When the bell was first installed at the mill in 1890 it rang out to call the millworkers to work and sounded at the start and end of each shift. All mills of that era had these mill bells that were later replaced by steam whistles. It also rang out to mark special events such as the ending of a war, said Burnett, the last plant manager of the Riverdale Plant.

After the speeches were given, everyone took to the stairs and ascended to the second floor to watch as workers lifted the 2,400-pound bell into place.  

Once the bell was raised, the honor of ringing the bell for the first time inside the center went to Catherine Skinner, who worked at the mill for 50 years. She explained she began as a weaver and ended up as an office manager. She was followed by 8-year-old Catherine Chapman who then rang the bell on behalf of the Chapman family.

Mike Becknell, shipping and receiving manager at the Ramey plant also was on hand. Becknell is noted for his historical knowledge of the mills and was happy to see the bell set in place at the center. He stated the significance of the bell was to keep a link to the earlier time of the textile industry. He said, “Very little is left (of the textile industry), they’re tearing everything down, everything’s gone. It’s one permanent link to the beginning.”

Jennifer Furrow, executive director of the Spartanburg County Historical Association, explained, “This is the first artifact to come into the new regional history museum here at the Chapman Cultural Arts Center and it is a signal of what is to come.”

She said it “serves to represent the textile industry of the region … and it’s a beautiful symbol of all the workers.”
She stated the bell would serve as a welcoming site for those coming up the grand staircase that leads into the museum with a large display of the area’s textile mill history.

The bell was donated to The Arts Partnership by the Chapman family, owners of the mill, two years ago and it now hangs from a skylight in front of the entrance to the new Spartanburg County Regional Museum of History.