John Walter Nichols
(Steam Engine Operator)
Story furnished by Clarence Crocker

Though the two old mills built in 1856 and 1890 were still being powered by a 24 foot water wheel, a turbine and a few large electric motors, the new plant built in 1902 was powered by two steam engines. The engines turned a large pulley (about 24 feet in diameter, (if I remember correctly) which pulled overhead shafts on each floor of the new mill by ropes, which in turn pulled the individual machines by belts. John Walter Nichols was given charge of these steam engines. While shop men on the second and third shifts looked over the steam engines during their shifts, Walter, though not a Supervisor, was chief operator and in charge of their maintenance for almost 50 years.

Walter, the son of John and Margaret Rhinehart Nichols, was born June 8, 1888 in Haywood county N.C. Coming from Pacolet Mills, S.C. where he had ventured into the mill with his father as a young boy and had worked for a short time, “Walt” as he was called, was employed by Glendale Mills on June 3, 1903 at the age of fifteen. His first job was in the spinning room where he worked as a doffer which involved removing bobbins of thread from the spinning frame to be used as filament. When Walt first came to Glendale, he lived in a log house on the outskirts of the village. 

Walt married Eva Allen Bagwell, born August 10, 1903 and they became the parents of five children. One daughter, Lee Ila and three sons, Dewy L, John Irby, and Virgil Nichols. An infant daughter, Andra died at birth, October 9, 1936. 

After the looms, spinning frames and other machines had been individually motorized in the late 1940s and early 50s, the steam engines which Walt had operated most of his life, were discontinued. For a short while Walt worked as an electrician helping to motorize the machines. He retired at 64 years of age after 49 years with Glendale Mills, having taken time out only to serve as a cook in the U.S. Army during WW1. He saw action on the battle fields of France. 

At the time of his retirement, Walter, his wife and children who were still at home, were living in one of the renovated original homes in the village. It was one of the first ten or twelve houses built in Bivingsville by Dr. Bivings back in the 1830s on “Main Street” as it was first called. In an interview he gave to a Spartanburg Herald Journalist following his retirement, he related how he had gone to work for twenty five cents per day with pay day coming only once per month.

 Mrs. Eva Nichols died on October 29, 1954. Her obituary which was published in the Spartanburg Journal, Saturday, October 30, stated that she had died on Friday morning at her home following several weeks of declining health. Her funeral was held in the Glendale Methodist Church with interment following in the upper Glendale Cemetery. She was survived by her husband and four children.

John Walter Nichols 81, died February 18, 1970. His obituary published in the Spartanburg newspaper on Thursday, February 19, 1970 stated that he had died on Wednesday in the Spartanburg Medicenter after a brief illness. He was survived by; one daughter, Mrs. Lee Ila Nichols Hall,; three sons, Dewy L, John Irby, and Virgil Nichols, all of Spartanburg, S. C. He was also survived by two sisters,; Mrs. Nannie Jackson of Leicester, N.C. and Mrs. Etta Burnett of Glendale; five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. His funeral was held at the Bobo Funeral Chapel with interment following in the upper Glendale Cemetery. 

Lee Ila Nichols married Albert Jack Hall . Lee Ila died in May of 2001 Dewy L. Nichols married Christine Hunter. Dewy died in June of 2010 John Irby Nichols married Sally(maiden name not known) Irby  who died in April 2005. Virgil B. Nichols married Ann l. Rash. Virgil died in February of 2002.

Walter and his family were very active in the community life and were well known and appreciated by all his neighbors. This writer knew Walt and his family all his life and was happy to call them “my friends“. 

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