John Taylor Varner- Senior, Glendale Mills's Master Mechanic

The following story was furnished by Rev. Clarence Crocker, a life long Glendale resident and a nephew of Mr. Varner.

John Taylor Varner, Sr. was born June 22, 1868, in Hobbyville, S.C., a small Spartanburg County rural village located near the intersection of the Cross Anchor Highway and the Rocky Ridge road, just slightly west of I-26. He was the son of Mr. Hiram Varner, born July, 1820 and died about 1905 in South Carolina and Mrs. Rebecca Taylor Varner, born about 1830 and died July, 1879 in South Carolina.

Census records show the family address being Glenn Springs, S. C. in 1870. Mr. Varner’s address in 1880 was Cross Anchor, S.C. The 1900 census gives his address as Sixteen street, Glendale, S.C. He moved to Broadway street, third house from the mill in the early teens, where he lived for some twenty years before retiring and moving into the house he had purchased on the Glendale-Clifton road.

Taylor, as he was called by most everyone, went to work with a railway company in North Carolina in 1885 at the age of seventeen and was assigned to laying track and building trestles. He assisted in clearing a train wreck on the Saluda grade, removing the wreckage, repairing tracks, etc. on one occasion.
Coming to work for the D. E. Converse Co. Glendale Mill’s plant during the construction of the new #3 mill addition as a machinist about 1895, he was promoted to master mechanic sometime in 1897-98. Exact date not recorded.

For the first 70 years, the primary energy source for mill plants #1 and #2 was a 24 foot water wheel. The new #3 plant’s primary energy was supplied by two large steam engines. In both cases, the bulk of the productive machines were pulled by belts coming from overhead shafts which were powered by the water wheel or the engines. A few shafts were pulled by 50 and 100 horsepower electric motors.
As master mechanic during the construction and equipping of the new mill which was opened in 1902, Taylor had oversight responsibility in the installation of the boilers, steam engines, overhead shafts and pulleys which pulled the machinery through-out the #3 plant.

Taylor told his son John, and others, including this writer, how he ate his lunch on top the new mill smokestack the day it was finished. Taylor had nerves of steel.

A few years after production had been started in the new mill, it was decided that some steam lines must be moved. A steam-fitting construction firm from Pennsylvania was contacted about the job. Coming to Glendale and looking over the job, they estimated that the work would require shutting the mill down from 10 days to three weeks. Taylor told the mill officials if they would shut the mill down on Thursday evening, he would have the job done and ready for the mill to start production on Monday morning. The contractors from Pennsylvania said that it couldn’t be done. Mill officials took Taylor at his word and shut the mill down as he had suggested.

Taylor, with his men rotating shifts and working twenty four hours a day, did the job and the mill started production again on Monday as he had promised. The Company from Pennsylvania offered Taylor Varner a job with their company on the spot but Taylor turned the offer down. He was a well rounded, top notch, mechanic and engineer.

I have papers which show that he along with 167 other employees and supervisors of Glendale Mills petitioned the S.C. State Senate and House of Representatives Tuesday February 7, 1905 requesting that they pass no laws affecting the hours of labor in the cotton mills of this state.

Taylor was a very quite man, well liked and appreciated by his co-workers and neighbors. He was of great influence in the community, assisting some of the churches in their construction programs. He loaned money to some for their building programs and gave advice to others when sought. Taylor was a favorite Uncle of mine.

Purchasing a piece of land, a store, a large warehouse and a home on the Glendale-Clifton road before he retired, he allowed the newly organized Pentecostal Church to use the large warehouse for quite some time as their first Church house. The store business was first owned and operated by Spurgeon Kirby. Over time, others who operated the store were, Milt Padgett, Andrew Thomas, Ellis Hunter, John Quinn and Clarence Crocker, this writer, for a short while.

He also owned a couple more houses and land across the river from the mill. He retired in 1938 after serving as Master Mechanic for more than forty years, making him the longest serving Master Mechanic on record at Glendale Mills. Perry Lyda served as Master Mechanic for about 8 years following Taylor’s retirement. After Mr. Lyda’s resignation, the position of Master Mechanic was changed by mill authorities to that of Mill Engineer. John T. Varner Jr. was made Shop Foreman and George Hodge was hired as Engineer, taking supervision of the mill machine shop personnel. George resigned in 1955 and this writer assumed supervision of the department, remaining until the mill merged with Indian Head in 1957.

Following Mr. Varner’s retirement, he, his wife and son John, who was still living at home, moved into their home on the Glendale-Clifton road where he remained until his death.

Taylor was twice married.
He was first married to Mary Elizabeth Williams, daughter of Thomas J. and Nancy Caroline Littlefield Williams. She was born March 18,1866 and died on Oct.24,1918. She was 52 years of age. Their children were:
Norah (Nora),born, August 4,1888 ; Leeona (Leona), born August 5,1893; Hiram Thomas(Tom),born March 25,1885; Louie Winfred, born November 16,1897; Vivian Mae, Born January 23,1900; Idelas, born December 16,1903; Palmer Edward, born May 17, 1907 and died April 1, 1912.

Mary Elizabeth Varner’s obituary was published in the Spartanburg paper on October 25, 1918, Page 5, but no copy or film of the paper  was available when I checked. Her funeral service was held in the Glendale Baptist Church and she was buried in the Varner square in the Glendale Cemetery.

Taylor’s second marriage was to Maggie Lougenie McCombs, the daughter of George W. and Maggie Zimmerman McCombs of Glendale, S.C. She was the sister of this writer’s mother. She was born November 16, 1877. Their only child, John Taylor Junior, was born November 14, 1920.

Maggie Lougenie, (Genie, as she was called) was a faithful, supportive member of the Glendale Baptist Church, being active as a teacher, missions worker and also served on various committees.

Her obituary published, March 3, 1941 in the Spartanburg Herald, page 5, stated that she died March 2, 1941. She was 63 years of age. She was survived by her husband and one son, John T. Varner Jr., and four step-children, Mrs. S. M.(Nora) Padgett of Spartanburg, Mrs. E. B.(Vivian) Covington of Raleigh, N.C., Mrs. Dewitt (Idelas) Guthrie of Old Fort, N.C., and L. W. Varner of Rock Hill, S.C.

She was also survived by her father, George W. McCombs and five brothers, Vernon, Will, LaFoy, Brice and Bunion McCombs; two sisters; Ollie Wiggins and Ella Crocker. Funeral services were held at the Glendale Baptist Church with interment following in the Varner square in the Glendale Cemetery

Taylor died Sunday April 7, 1957. His obituary appearing in the Spartanburg Journal on April 8,1957, page 12 stated that he died at his home in Glendale, after several weeks of declining health. He was almost 89 years of age. He was a member of the Glendale Baptist Church where his funeral service was held, followed by interment in the Varner square in the Glendale cemetery.

He was survived by one son, John T. Varner, Jr. of Glendale, three daughters, Mrs. Nora Padgett and Mrs. E. B.(Vivian) Covington of Spartanburg, S.C. and Mrs. Idelas Guthree of Old Fort, N.C., twenty grandchildren, 17 great grand children and three great-great grandchildren.

Mrs. Milton (Nora Varner) Padgett died October,1962 in Spartanburg, S.C. 

Mrs. Earnest (Vivian Varner) Covington died October,1966 in Spartanburg, S.C.  .

Leona Varner was born and died in 1893 and was buried in Fairview Church Cemetery, Spartanburg, S.C.

Hiran Thomas (Tom) died in 1940 in Raleigh, N.C.

Louie Winford (Windy) died in 1943 in Concord, N.C.

Palmer Edward born May 17, 1902 died April 1, 1912 at Glendale, S. C.

Idelas died in 1963 in Old Fort, N.C.    
Taylor Varner’s last remaining child, John Taylor Varner, Jr. died Saturday December 19, 2009 at the age of 89. He had followed in his dad's footsteps, working as a machinist for some 51 years. He began at Glendale at the age of 17 ending his career at Beaumont Mills in Spartanburg, S. C following the closure of Glendale Mills.

John, like his dad, was a well rounded machine shop employee. Though he was able to do just about anything that needed to be done, he was primarily the milling machine operator. He was absolutely one of the best spiral gear cutters around. He was machine shop foreman at Glendale for a number of years.

His funeral was held at the Floyds Greenlawn Chapel, Monday, December 21 with interment following in the Greenlawn Cemetery. This writer had the privilege of having a part in the service.

My thanks to Taylor Varner, the 3rd. and Todd Varner for helping fill in details of Taylor Varner, Senior’s life.
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