E. W. Montgomery Cotton Warehouse
Backstory and Context
Greenville was dubbed "The Textile Capital of the World" and once contained 19 textile mills. Spurred on by World War I and the demand for textiles, the cotton farmers of Greenville County were producing close to 30,000 bales per year in the 1920s. The industry's heyday lasted until through the 1940's.
Edmund Warren Montgomery was a successful cotton merchant and broker in upstate South Carolina. His business, the E. W. Montgomery Company, became one of the largest cotton businesses in the country. The E. W. Montgomery Cotton Warehouse building in Greenville was purchased by Montgomery in 1933 and turned into the company's headquarters. The company bought and sold cotton to send to textile mills across Eastern North America, Canada, and Europe. Montgomery operated from this office building/ warehouse until his death in 1962. The building is the only one still standing closely associated with Montgomery's business.
The massive brick building was constructed in 1928 for the Harbro Furniture Manufacturing Company. The structure is two stories tall, 553 feet long (only two feet less than the height of the Washington Monument in D.C.), and 60 feet wide. the original building was only 4 bays long; the rest was added in three stages by Mr. Montgomery. The seven-bay building ended up having over 68,000 square feet. The building parallels the tracks of the Southern Railway Company; a former rail spur linked to the warehouse for loading and unloading cotton bales.
Special natural light-enhancing features were constructed to make sorting cotton easier - clerestory windows and a skylight helped workers see the differences among the raw cotton's color, staple length, and texture. This activity and the offices were in the seventh, westernmost bay; the rest of the building was used for warehousing. The company's warehousing operations were massive; they leased additional warehouse spaces in other parts of the U.S. The company hired a man to work on the floor of the New York Cotton Exchange for them; a ticker tape machine in the office displayed cotton futures so they could balance potential losses from sales with profits from short futures.
The building was converted into multi-family low-income housing units in the 1980's. The exterior was covered in plywood siding and many of the windows were filled with wood framing around new aluminum frame windows. The interior contained 74 apartments separated by wood framing and drywall partitions.
The building was listed on the National Register in 2012 and is locally significant in the areas of commerce and for its association with Mr. Montgomery in the period from 1933 to 1962. Mr. Montgomery learned the business from his father in Yazoo, Mississippi, and moved to Greenville in 1913 where he worked as a cotton buyer and bookkeeper for Judson Mills. The President of Judson Mills, Bennette E. Gear, allowed Montgomery to set up his own business in a separate building on the company grounds in 1921 to buy cotton for other mills. This was the beginning of the E. W. Montgomery Company. The warehousing enterprise began gradually winding down in the 1950's and the E. W. Montgomery Company mainly focused on supplying cotton for their own mill, Pisgah Mills, in North Carolina, until it closed in 1960. Most of the warehouse part of the building was leased in 1953 to the J. P. Stevens Company.
A real estate development company purchased the property in 2011 and is working on gutting the interior to convert the building into 60 luxury loft apartments. A fire delayed the process, but the Elements West Apartments project was back on track for construction in 2018 with a projected finish date of late 2019.
Ferrell, Stephanie. NRHP Nomination form, E. W. Montgomery Cotton Warehouse. Washington, D.C.. National Park Service, 2012.
Greenville County Historical Society. Textile Collection: Images from Greenville's Textile Crescent, Photo Collections. January 1st 2019. Accessed December 3rd 2019. https://greenvillehistory.org/photogallery/textile-collection/.
Haire, Chris. Elements West Apartments: Demolition Begins.... Greenville Business Magazine. June 18th 2018.
By Upstateherd - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74868916