|Nicholas Velie Van Patten
Part II: The Mill
An article entitled A Remarkable Man, concerning Nicholas V. Van Patten was
published in the Carolina Spartan on January 12, 1881 and states: "He came
from the north and represented himself as a machinist with capital in search of a
suitable location for a cotton factory. He came highly recommended by
prominent men in New York and was connected with northern families of
wealth and high social position. When he finally located in Spartanburg County;
soon the buzz of spindles and the clash of machinery were mingling their music
with the roar of the falling waters. About this time he made some
improvements in the motion of certain parts of machinery, which afterwards
became world-renowned and out of which other men made fortunes.
A little industrial village sprung up around him in Spartanburg and for a number
of years perhaps did more to alleviate the wants of the poor than any man in the
state. He was the soul of generosity, kindness and honor and bestowed his
charities with a lavish hand. He was respected and flattered by the best families
in the country, but in obedience to the dictates of honor, he married one of the
factory girls, with whom he lived happily until her death". When he left New
York, he promised his mother that he would never work slaves and kept the
promise throughout his life.
He selected as a power sight, a wonderful natural power developement where
the water falls 80 feet within a distance of 150 yards. The general impression is
that the pressure of water is in proportion to its flow, but it is in proportion to
the depth of its fall and at the shoals that was given his name and which bears it
today, Van Patten Shoals, he had plenty of power to drive his machinery and to
spare. He first started a yarn mill and would peddle the products about in the
neighborhood from door to door. Success attended his inteligent operations.
While things were running smoothly and he was prospering, he became
obsessed with the idea of inventing a 'perpetual motion' machine and to this end
labored incessantly for seven years. Then he realized that it was impossible.
The machine refused to do what he intended; he took a sledge hammer and
After his cotton factory, wool cards, saw, flour and grist mills were all put in
motion, he conceived the idea of constructing a machine in which friction
should be measurably abolished, gravitation neutralized and which should
contribute its own weight to the motion of its parts. He confidently declared he
had discovered a new principle in science which would revolutionize the
machinery of the world; by the operation of which a few bushels of coal would
drive the mightiest ship across the Atlantic; the expenses of running the greatest
manufactories would be reduced by more than half. His mind became absorbed
in vast projects of improvement and he fondly dreamed of pouring millions of
dollars more on long projects of improvement and cherished schemes of
benevolence. But years passed away and the dream was not realized. He
constructed model after model of his proposed invention with wonderful skill
and of the most exquisite workmanship and announced time after time that his
experiments had fully demonstrated the truth of his theory and that the machine
was just on the eve of completion.
While not possessing a literary education, he was chockful of common sense
and a prodigy along mechanical lines.