FORT MILL — As much as William Bradford Jr. was known for bringing Fort Mill readers today’s news, he also devoted a good deal of his life to documenting the town’s history.
On that account, he literally wrote the book. Mr. Bradford’s “Out of the Past,” first published in 1980 and updated periodically up until 2008, is often cited as the go-to source for Fort Mill facts. It tells the story of the town, from the Catawba nation that first inhabited the area, to the first European settler, Thomas “Kanawha” Spratt, to whom the tribe gifted a large piece of land that included present-day Fort Mill.
It chronicles a long cast of characters and heroes, notable events and the Springs textile plant that become the town’s epicenter.
The book tells the story of the entire Fort Mill Township, including the growth of Tega Cay and Indian Land, and mentions many notables from those communities.
Rufus Sanders, who was chairman of the Fort Mill History Museum when it opened last year and planned the William Bradford Jr. Room, called Mr. Bradford “our go-to resource to validate town history.”
The Bradford Room, sponsored by Museum Director Carol Dixon and her husband, Gary, longtime friends of Mr. Bradford and his family, features his old desk at the Fort Mill Times, a typewriter, typesetting equipment and various items from the newspaper’s office.
“Not only was he a great chronicler of Fort Mill History, he was an elder statesman of our town,” Sanders said.
Local historian Louise Pettus said she thinks Mr. Bradford will be remembered “for his good memory for the past and his ability to write about it.”
He also had a sense of humor, she said.
Pettus said she once corrected her friend on what she insisted was a factual error and, “I think he may have been joking, I don’t know, but he replied that his memory depended as much on what people said in conversation and that perhaps they were not trustworthy.”
“I found him most interesting and other people did, too,” Pettus said. “He cared about the people of the town. I think he cared about them a lot.”
To Mary Sue Wolfe, Mr. Bradford “was a dear friend” as well as a walking encyclopedia.
“If I wanted to know something about Fort Mill, I’d ask Bill,” she said.
To Wolfe and others, Mr. Bradford was a hero for using the Fort Mill Times as a pulpit to campaign for the closing of a chicken processing plant near the Catawba River that emitted a nauseating odor, according to residents who were there at the time.
“He sure did [get the plant to leave],” Wolfe said. “He was instrumental in that. It affected the whole south side of town and maybe more. He got rid of that plant.”
Chip Heemsoth, a lifelong Fort Mill resident who writes a weekly column for the Fort Mill Times based on the newspaper’s archives, remembers the facility, derided locally as the “chicken and guts plant,” all too well.
“The smell, it was like nothing most people had ever smelled in their lives,” Heemsoth said. “It was so acrid, and that was back before air conditioning. The [odor from the] Bowater [paper] plant was bad enough, but when the wind blew out of the south, [the chicken plant] was 10 times worse.”
Another notable service Mr. Bradford used the newspaper as a vehicle to perform was the need to replace the bridge on Doby’s Bridge Road; Eventually, a new bridge was constructed and in 1979 it was named for him.