Greenville Drownings April 1897

GREENVILLE, April 6.–The Saluda River is within its banks again, after being on a boom Monday night and this morning, during which three men were drowned and one mule and two horses perished. Three more men miraculously escaped death after being considerably bruised, and thousands of dollars' worth of bridges were swept away. The dead are JOHN FREEMAN, white, of Pickens County; JACKSON BYRD, colored of Pickens County; BABE GILLESPIE, colored of Greenville County. The wounded are: CLAUDE HOOD, WILLIAM GREEN and Mr. McDADE, all white, of Pelzer. This river has a decided reputation for turbulence and violence, and many drownings and hair-breadth escapes are related of its former sprees. It was fifteen feet above normal at midnight before the last and was out of its banks hundreds of yards on both sides, surging and sweeping by at a terrific speed and frowning and threatening with eddies everywhere. Rising as it does in the mountains, the Saluda, above all other streams hereabouts is particularly violent after heavy rains. The great incline of its bed and the hilly character of its banks gives it remarkable speed and volume. It came within three inches yesterday of smashing all previous records.
The drowning scene was at the Cox Bridge within six miles of this city. One of the victims was JOHN FREEMAN, a well-to-do Pickens farmer and a man of family. He perished in the presence of about fifty persons gathered on the Pickens and Greenville banks. The bridge is a large covered wooden structure and its floor is thirteen feet above the normal heighth of the river. The two abutments are substantially constructed of granite, filled in to the banks with earth. The men who perished were driving from Greenville. The water was rushing over both earthen abutments, about two feet deep on the Pickens side. The water was about a foot-and-a-half above the floor and six inches more would have sent the whole structure whirling down the river.
The party crossed the bridge in safety. JEFF DAVIS, colored, in the two-horse wagon with Mr. FREEMAN, and BRYAN was in a cart in front. BRYAN crossed the overflowed abutment with ease, but as the wagon reached the Pickens end of the bridge, the mule, the left-hand animal of the team, doubted the propriety of going over the abutment and backed. The lash was applied and then the horse, which was on the left, stepped into a hole about eight inches deep. The mule shied and carried the horse with him a few feet down the embankment of the abutment on his side, which was downstream. The negro jumped out and fled to the bank. Mr. FREEMAN got into water about waist deep and went to his team and attempted to lead them back on the embankment. But the animals were excited and rearing up, struck Mr. FREEMAN in the face and sent him under the water and down the stream into water about ten feet deep. The team was swept after him. About fifty feet from the scene of the first trouble, Mr. FREEMAN seized a tree and grabbed his horse's bridle again, and in the struggle went under the second time. The horse got away, and Mr. FREEMAN went under the last time. In a few minutes JACKSON BYRD and BABE GILLESPIE were drowned in the same way as FREEMAN, their teams going off the bridge. Heroic efforts to save them were futile.
The men wounded were hurt by the falling of the Pelzer bridge. The new $12,000 iron bridge over the Saluda River at Pelzer was swept away from its piers on Monday night. The loss is $3,000. The bridge was to have been accepted by the county supervisor on Saturday. The loss falls upon Contractor J.H. Whitner of Tennessee.
The three white men named above, who were trying to save the bridge, were swept overboard by the flood of water as the bridge went down and narrowly escaped being crushed in the wreckage. The fall of the bridge was due to the undermining of the masonry pier on the Anderson side, within a few hundred feet of the main building of the Pelzer Cotton Mills and about fifty feet below their dam. This bridge has been the subject of much controversy as to whether Greenville should pay one-half the cost of its construction. It was claimed that Greenville was helping to divert trade from her own machines toward those in Pelzer. A new span and pier will have to be built.
The County Record, April 15, 1897.