Fort Mill History Museum

Elizabeth Ford Living History Project

Click the links below to access the full raw footage interviews of our guests.

Interviews conducted prior to 2016 will be in multiple parts, all accessible from the same link. Interviews conducted in 2016 are combined into a single clip.

John & Mary Sanders Research Library

John Lester Sanders, Jr. was born July 23, 1914. He was a merchant, landscaper, lamp maker, photographer, furniture re-finisher, youth leader, avid historian, and brave civil rights advocate. His first job was shining shoes on Main Street; that is when he became fondly known as “Shine.” In the early 1950’s, Sanders opened Sanders Grocery Store in the Paradise community.

Sanders maintained a good work ethic, possessed strong integrity, and displayed exemplary leadership skills which made him a role model and spokesman for the Paradise community. He assisted the Fort Mill Police Department in organizing the George Fish School Safety Patrol’s summer trips to Charleston, South Carolina and he was a supporter of the Bethlehem Baptist’s Boy Scout Troop 160.

Mayor Cleve Lytle appointed Sanders to serve on the committee that was naming the first five streets in the Paradise neighborhood.

In 1998, U. S. Senator Lauch Faircloth nominated Sanders for the “Ageless Heroes Award” for community involvement.

Not only was Sanders involved in the community, but he was also a proud father. He raised his eight children at his home on Doby’s Bridge Road. Three of his children served in the Army, while two of them served in the Marines.

Sanders believed in man’s ability to improve himself, regardless of his station in life. “We only have a short time on this earth, and it is up to us to leave it a little better than we found it,” he said.

The library houses a collection of research volumes on various topics as well as original documents and photographs of people and events from Fort Mill’s history. The library and its computer are also available to visitors for genealogical research via Schedule an appointment with a research assistant by calling the museum during regular operating hours. 

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The Samuel Elliott White Gallery 

The Samuel Elliott White Gallery houses the museum’s permanent exhibit, Fort Mill History Through Artist’s Eyes

Samuel Elliott White was patriarch of a large family that would positively impact Fort Mill for generations. He was born at the White Homestead in 1837 and attended the Citadel in Charleston before signing up to fight for the Confederacy. Upon his return to Fort Mill, he turned his attention to several successful business ventures, including cotton production and banking, but it was his creation of Fort Mill Manufacturing Company in 1887 that would change the fortunes of an entire town.

His son-in-law, Leroy Springs, and his grandson, Elliott White Springs, would take what he started and turn the company into a worldwide brand leader. The precursor to Springs Industries and the Springmaid brand, the new mill brought employment to thousands and a ready buyer to cotton farmers in the region. Captain White, as he was known after his Civil War service, was responsible for planning and financing the development of Confederate Park and the monuments there. White died in 1911 and is buried at Unity Cemetery.

William Bradford Hall

William R. Bradford Jr. was publisher and editor of the Fort Mill Times from 1943 until 1979 and he was widely regarded as the town’s unofficial historian. Through extensive newspaper clippings, photos, magazines, and print artifacts the history of the town is revealed. An original print-proof press, which includes an inking table, and roller and hammer, along with Mr. Bradford’s historic L.C. Smith and Brothers typewriter,can be found in the artifact collection. Mr. Bradford was educated in the Fort Mill Schools and at Davidson College where he is a member of the Class of 1937, and served as Class Secretary for many years. He was editor and publisher of the Fort Mill Times for 36 years prior to his retirement. Under his leadership, The Times won several General Excellence awards given by the South Carolina Press Association citing the paper as the best weekly in the state, and he personally won numerous writing awards. Many of these were for his weekly “No Foolin’” column which was so popular that excerpts often appeared in The Charlotte Observer and other papers.

Bradford’s Extensive Career

  • Served with distinction as York County Magistrate for Fort Mill Township from 1982 until 1987.

  • Member of the Board of Trustees of the Fort Mill Schools including six years as board Chairman.

  • Charter member and Director of the Fort Mill Chamber of Commerce.
    Member of the Board of Directors of the Museum of York County.

  • Founder and President of the Fort Mill Township Historical Society.
    Chairman of the Fort Mill Election Commission.

  • Member and President of the Fort Mill Lions Club.

  • Active in the Sons of the American Revolution.

  • Member of the Committee for the Elderly at Piedmont Medical Center.
    Member of the organizing board for the University of South Carolina at Lancaster.

  • Voice of the Fort Mill Yellow Jackets football team, serving as play-by-play announcer at all home games from 1954 to 1968.

  • Served as Fort Mill’s Scoutmaster.

In 1991, Bradford received the first Lifetime Service Award given by the Fort Mill Chamber of Commerce, and in 2005 he received the Fort Mill Citizen of the Year Award. In 2009, he was the first living member inducted into the Fort Mill Hall of Fame and in 2012 he received the York County Regional Chamber’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He authored “Out of the Past”, a popular book on the history of Fort Mill and was a frequent speaker at club meetings and area functions.

A member of Unity Presbyterian Church since boyhood, he served as Deacon, Elder, Trustee, and Church Historian. For more than half a century he and his wife of 69 years, the late Helen Bradford, lived in the family’s Fort Mill home where they raised their two children, Camille and Billy. He was a member of the Centennial Class of 1937 at Davidson College. 

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J.B. Mills Gift Shop

The J. B. Mills Gift Shop offers unique items with ties to Fort Mill and South Carolina including books, custom home decor and Christmas ornaments, and apparel items made from vintage Springmaid fabric.

John Barron Mills, Jr., born in 1906 and known as J.B., was a native of Fort Mill, a business owner, avid golfer, and dedicated historian around town. After attending Presbyterian College he returned to his hometown and opened Mills Self-Service Store on Main Street in 1928. The store carried grocery items at the time, but he later enlarged the scope of the business to include hardware and changed the name to Mills Hardware, where he operated until a 1947 fire destroyed the store. He reopened on White Street. Mills raised a family on nearby Confederate Street, served on the town council and the school board, and became one of Fort Mill’s foremost historians. His collection of photographs and anecdotes from the early 20th century has brought town history to life for thousands. He died in 1993 and was inducted into the Fort Mill Hall of Fame in 2012.

 Outreach Programs

The Fort Mill History Museum is more than what is contained in one building.

We serve the community through a variety of outreach programs throughout the year with something for all ages. These are a few of our current programs:

Fort Mill History Days

This annual two-day event takes place in Walter Y. Elisha Park with a mission of educating the community about Fort Mill’s rich and important history. Thousands attend for a trip through a living timeline of the town’s history including the early Native American inhabitants, the Catawba, and on through the colonial period with a showcase of the area’s Revolutionary War era. The Civil War period follows before the rise of the textile industry in Fort Mill and the two great World Wars that reached across oceans to touch a little town in South Carolina. Through re-enanctments, hands-on drills, unique exhibits, and demonstrations by talented craftsmen, visitors get a taste of what life was like in times gone by.

School Day

This is special day of Fort Mill History Days set aside for students from our district schools. More than 700 students attend on this day to take part in demonstrations and exhibitions that bring the history in their textbooks vividly to life.

This is My Town—the History Trunk Project

This program is unique to the FMHM and was developed by a team of educators in conjunction with representatives from the South Carolina Department of Education utilizing curriculum standards for second and third graders. Our first traveling trunk featured the history of the Catawba tribe and the timeline of the town. More than 600 students had an up-close look at these artifacts right in their own schools. A second traveling exhibit is in development to coordinate with the eighth grade curriculum in our middle schools.

Timeline Tours

Second graders walk in the footsteps of town pioneers with visits to the Anne Springs Close Greenway and downtown Fort Mill historic sites ending with a visit to the museum for a peek into the history trunks.

The museum continues to develop outreach programs that bring history to life and take it out into the community.

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