The Garden’s River Trail leads visitors from the Saluda River Bridge along a paved path to the ruins of the old Saluda River Factory. One of South Carolina’s oldest textile mills, the factory was constructed out of granite blocks sometime around 1830, and ultimately became one of the largest cotton mills in the South. At one point, the company that owned the factory utilized 64 slaves to help operate the mill. Several other businesses were located next to the factory including a general store, gristmill, tavern and several boarding houses. This area makes up the Saluda Factory Historic District.
The Saluda River Factory struggled financially throughout its history and was sold several times. This misfortune continued when Union troops set it ablaze during Sherman’s occupation of Columbia. On the eve of the burning of Columbia, Sherman and his troops set up camp on a point just above the factory. They began their assault on the city from this ridge on February 17, 1865. A huge boulder, known as “Sherman’s Rock,” still remains and is visible along the Garden’s Woodland Walk.
Following the Civil War, the mill was reconstructed, only this time a wood-frame structure was built on the original granite foundation. An accidental fire destroyed the mill for a second and final time on the afternoon of August 2, 1884. From the paved path and covered pavilion on the River Trail, visitors can see remnants of the granite foundations of the mill, picking house and millrace. One of the more striking features of the mill ruins is a keystone arch immediately adjacent to the path. Careful observers may also notice drill marks on many of the boulders along River Trail and Woodland Walk. These marks are the result of a drilling process that split apart the huge rocks in order to produce the blocks of granite used in building the original mill.