Ware Shoals is the site of an old water wheel grist mill operated in the early 19th century by William Ware at Rutledge Ford, on the Saluda River. Nat Dial of Laurens County envisioned the possibility of damming this river to power a cotton plant. Dial started the project, but ran out of funds before the power plant was completed. Benjamin D. Riegel bought the project from Dial and founded both the Ware Shoals Manufacturing Company and the town of Ware Shoals in 1902.
The construction of a power plant was completed in 1904, as a prelude to the construction of a state-of-the-art textile mill in 1906. That power plant originally provided for 4,800 horse power. The mill contained 30,000 spindles. By 1916 a new mill was constructed, containing 70,200 spindles and 1,300 looms.
Between 1904 and 1916, the population of Ware Shoals had grown from 2 men employed to maintain the newly constructed power plant, to 2,000. By the 1960s the mill was employing 5,000 people. The founders of the mill and the original officers of the Ware Shoals Manufacturing Corporation were Benjamin Riegel, president, Benj. D. Riegel, treasurer; James MacEnroe, assistant treasurer; and R. S. Oliver secretary.
MacEnroe was instrumental in the construction of the town's first school, at the cost of $20,000. The mill employed the school's eight teachers and required many of its employees and their children to attend classes.
In 1926 a large school building was constructed to accommodate the Caucasian students. This building is still used today as the Ware Shoals High School and remains one of the oldest school buildings in the use in the state of South Carolina.
In the 1950s, the Emma Maddox School was completed for African American Students. Maddox was a stern disciplinarian and much respected teacher and Principal. The Emma Maddox Building of the current Ware Shoals Elementary School was named in her honor, in recognition of her contributions to the educational, spiritual and civic lives of African Americans in the greater Ware Shoal's area. When public schools were integrated in 1969, Emma Maddox School became the Middle School for all students in the community.
Benjamin Riegel helped organize the town's first church when he brought a Presbyterian preacher, Rev. J. M. Dallas. That first church building was intended as a union church building and the Methodists and Presbyterians used it together, while the Baptists constructed their own facility.
By 1916, the town was as new and modern as any in South Carolina. In addition to the cotton mill and the school, the Ware Shoals Manufacturing Corporation, later known as Riegel Textile Corporation, helped give the town electric lights, water and sewerage and good streets. The mill operated a bank, a railway, an ice factory, a cotton gin and a cotton seed oil mill. A community center was built by the textile company at a cost of $40,000. "The People's Amusement Hall" is what Benjamin Riegel set out to build, but was so proud of it that he named it the Katherine Hall, in honor of his daughter. Katherine Hall at various times housed or hosted a movie theater, the community library, a Masonic Lodge, a pool hall, a teen canteen as well as showers and dressing rooms for the adjacent public swimming pool.
The mill also operated a department store, or "company store" as was common in mill towns through the South. The store began as a one-room shanty in 1906. By 1920, a newly constructed store was on its way to becoming one of the best and most modern department stores in the state. Here one could find everything from a cradle to a casket. There was a soda fountain where the community members socialized, toy department, pharmacy, candy counter, men's shop, ladies' ready-to-wear section, furniture department, bargain basement, grocery store, and cloth shop. The store's motto was "You can buy in one store anything from a paper and pen to a Ford automobile, from a baby girl's rattle to her wedding dress."
Beginning in the 1940s, "The Big Friendly" began an early shopper loyalty program by conducting a drawing just before Christmas to award an automobile to one lucky patron. "The Big Friendly" remained a central part of life in Ware Shoals until its closing in 1963. It soon became the SEO, or Southern Executive Offices of the Riegel Textile Corporation. With the closing of the mill and the end of Riegel Textile, the town bought the building and located its City Hall in the now-historic building.
Riegel Stadium was built in 1931 using workers from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's nation-wide job programs. The stadium was first used for football games in 1934. Lighting was installed a year later, allowing night games as well. Through the decades, Riegel Stadium has hosted high school teams, textile baseball leagues, and the Negro baseball leagues. In 1954, the stadium hosted an exhibition game between the Cincinnati Red Legs and The Washington Senators.
The town reached a peak in the early 1970s. However, gross mismanagement at the corporate level facilitated the rapid demise in this plant. The mill was then closed in 1985 and Riegel Textile was sold to Mount Vernon Mills. The town reached a peak in the early 1970s. However, mismanagement at the corporate level facilitated the rapid demise in this plant. It was sold off by corporate managers in 1985.
Ours is the story of a town that sprang to life because of a river. Ware Shoals' heritage and future are intertwined with the currents of the Saluda River. The very name of our hamlet of just over 2,000 folks comes from the shoals of large rocks, which create gentle rapids at a spot where Laurens and Greenwood Counties meet, along South Carolina's Heritage Corridor.
In the 1800's, people from the surrounding countryside hitched wagons and pitched tents on the banks of the river, here at the shoals, they would come to this place on the river to sit on the large rocks – or shoals. They would picnic, walk on the rocks, and take in nature's beauty, near where a Mr. Ware had set up a gristmill. Thus the spot grew to be known as Ware's Shoals. Later it was shortened to Ware Shoals.
Ware Shoals is located in the northern tip of Greenwood County on the banks of the Saluda River. Parts of town are also in Laurens County and in Abbeville County.