1999 Christmas in Columbia Ornament of Opportunity – Olympia Mills


In keeping with the spirit of the season, the Babcock Center Foundation proudly presents the 1999 “Official City Ornament.” This year’s ornament depicts Olympia Mills.


Olympia Cotton Mill was one of four mills designed and built in Columbia between 1895 and 1904 by the industrialist W. B. Smith Whaley. Construction began in summer 1899, and by 1900 the mill was in operation. Unlike other cotton mills in Columbia that used steam or hydroelectric power, Olympia had its own coal-fired electrical plant that supplied electricity to Olympia and Whaley’s three other mills, as well as the Columbia Street Railway Power Company.

In addition to this innovation, Olympia was notable for its sheer scale. The main building was approximately 150 feet by 550 feet and housed just over 100,000 spindles, almost as many as Columbia’s other five mills combined. In 1907 Olympia’s weave rooms held 2,250 looms. During the first years of the twentieth century, Olympia was frequently lauded as “the world’s largest cotton mill under one roof.” Olympia was not merely the biggest mill in Columbia; in many ways it was also the best to work for. Partly in order to forestall unionization of the workforce, Whaley provided living conditions better than most mills of the time. The houses in the mill village were good, Olympia School was founded in 1901, and the mill started the first kindergarten and the first playground in the Columbia area.