Residents refuse to let Graniteville die

By: Jonathan Martin
By: Jonathan Martin

A deadly train wreck a year and a half ago is still defining the future for much of Aiken County.

But the tight-knit mill town of Graniteville says it's home...with or without the mill.

As the town braces for nearly 2000 layoffs, News 12's Jonathan Martin looks at what may lie ahead.

When many Avondale employees found out the news Monday, they took it pretty hard...but as Graniteville's fire chief said, the town that's survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, and a train wreck won't let a mill closing shut down the town.

Jimmy Rhodes has 68 years worth of memories living in Graniteville.

His sunglasses reflect one memory he'll never forget.

His eyes often burn...an effect from last year's chlorine spill. And now, news of Avondale Mills' closing affects his family. His wife is a 25-year employee.

"She was real upset," Rhodes says. "She was crying. She's been there 25 years, and I can understand she would be upset."

Monday, Graniteville's largest employer announced plans to shut down in July...ending their 150 year history in textile manufacturing. Some said it would likely be the end of the road for the town itself.

Fire Chief Phil Napier is not one of them.

"We're going to survive," he says. "We are not ready to throw the towel in."

Chief Napier is one of many pushing for the incorporation of the towns of Graniteville, Vaucluse, and Warrenville into one city. This would make them eligible for state and federal grants...help they haven't gotten before.

"Since the train wreck, our government has done nothing to help us--county or state government," Chief Napier says.

But help is there for the thousands who may be laid off, according to Avondale spokesman Stephen Felker. He says most of the employees have a fully funded mobile 401K plan.

"When they go somewhere else, they'll be able to roll those funds into whatever kind of benefit plan their future employers offer," Felker says.

And while Avondale Mills has an ongoing lawsuit against the railroad company Norfolk Southern., Chief Napier says he thinks what they've done is enough.

"They haven't satisfied everybody, they'll never satisfy everybody, but they have been good to a lot of people," he says.

Very little seems to be certain about the future of Graniteville...but Rhodes knows one thing for sure.

"Doggone it...I've been here all my life," he says. "I'm going to stay--this is my hometown."

There is a town council meeting on June 1 in Graniteville...that is where discussions and possibly a vote about incorporating the city are expected to take place.

Also today, Stephen Felker with Avondale told News 12 that the Townsend plant, which is one of the plants in Graniteville, is very close to being sold. That would save about 250 jobs.

We're also told there is possibly a Wal-Mart coming to the area.


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