History of Fort Mill
Prior to settlement by Europeans, the area of Fort Mill was part of a large territory of the Catawba Indians. Thomas Spratt was the first known white settler. He was passing through on the Catawba Path in a wagon to settle farther south. Thomas and his wife, Elizabeth, stopped to spend the night amongst the friendly Catawba Indians. He was invited by the Catawbas to live among them. Other early settlers were the families of Erwin, White, Elliot and Garrison who negotiated for land with the Catawbas. The original settlement was north of present day Fort Mill, where the Nations Ford Road crossed Steele Creek and was know as “Little York”. There was a grist mill, store, tavern, church and homes. By 1830, the current town became known as Fort Mill and was named for the old grist mill at the original site, and for a small fort built by the British in the 1750s to protect the Catawba Indians from warring tribes to the north. Fort Mill was incorporated in 1873. Over time, the center of the community moved southward to the present location of Main Street. Unity Church was moved to its current location in 1804. The post office opened in 1820. In 1840 a treaty was signed with the Catawba Nation and most of the tribe was moved to a reservation on the other side of the river, near what is now the town of Rock Hill. The Catawba population had decreased due to disease and the impact of white settlers.
In 1852 a railroad was completed connecting Charlotte, Columbia and Augusta. A rail station was built in Fort Mill where farmers from surrounding areas could bring their cotton and other crops for sale and shipping. This influenced the development of commercial buildings along Main Street. Residential areas began to be built to house the local merchants. During the Civil War, the Fort Mill train depot served an important purpose as a supply point and trading post. In 1865, President Jefferson Davis passed through the town of Fort Mill and stayed at the Springfield Plantation. The Confederate Cabinet held the last meeting on the grounds of the William Elliot White House. Both of these homes are now listed in the National Register.
The town continued to grow. And in 1887, a group of local investors led by Samuel Elliot White, formed a textile operation called the Fort Mill Manufacturing Company. Two textile mills were constructed which evolved into Springs Industries. The Fort Mill Manufacturing Company built 30 mill houses for workers. By 1907, employment had reached 475. Some of the mill workers also lived in larger boarding houses around the town. By 1889, the town had 8 general stores, a bank, insurance company, a drug store and the mill store. The buildings were constructed of wood, which caused fires. One fire in 1894 destroyed 5 store buildings. The wooden commercial structures were replaced with masonry buildings.
Samuel Elliot donated the land for Confederate Park around 1890. Monuments were erected between 1891 and 1900. The gazebo, locally called “the Bandstand” was constructed in 1904. Confederate Park contains the nation's only monument to slaves fighting in the Civil War.
Growth declined from 1920 to 1940 due to the effects of the Depression. But the Springs family made every effort to keep workers employed. A limited number of new buildings were constructed during this period. But several churches were constructed during this time, as well as the Armory.
In the 1970s to the 1980s, Fort Mill was home to TV evangelist Jim Bakker where he developed Heritage USA. The town held a public hearing in October 2008 to propose an annexation that doubled the towns size.
As of the census of 2010, there were 10,811 people, 4,168 households, and 2,184 families residing in the town. The population density was 661.6 people per square mile. There were 4,479 housing units at an average density of 676.9 per square mile.
For more than 100 years, the Fort Mill Manufacturing Company and later Springs Industries expanded and merged with various acquisitions. Textiles are no longer the predominant industry, but Fort Mill continues to grow and evolve into a modern, vibrant community with a colorful history.