City Directories and History: T.M. Bomar (Sept. 21, 1861 – Sept. 28, 1904), buried at the Old City Cemetery in Spartanburg, S.C. He married Carrie Murphy, he was the son of Elias Bomar (July 27, 1833 – Dec. 17, 1899).
The Bamberg Herald reported on Oct. 6, 1904 – “Tom Bomar, the most notable colored man in this section, and builder of half a dozen large cotton mills, died in Spartanburg a few days ago. During his life he had saved over $20,000. in investments. He built the Spartan Mills among the largest in the state.”
The Bamberg Herald also stated on Dec. 12, 1907, from the Carolina Spartan Newspaper – “Carrie Bomar, widow of Tom Bomar, the brick mason and contractor, married a man named Shepard last summer and moved to Chicago where he fleesed her out of $500. and left her. She is now suing for divorce.”
THOMAS MORGAN BOMAR
Paul Gettys – Author and Researcher in collaboration with R&R.com
Thomas Bomar was an African-American contractor active in South Carolina in the late 1800s. Bomar is described as having the contract to construct a number of textile mills in various South Carolina towns. It is likely that his contract was for the brick work for these mills rather than a general contract. These mills were largely made of brick, so his work was very important. This article is an effort to document what can be learned about his life and career from available sources. (Excerpts from news articles are summaries and not necessarily direct quotes unless they are within quotation marks).
The white Bomar family in Spartanburg County originated with Rev. Thomas Bomar (1770-1830), who came there from Virginia about 1803 after being ordained as a Baptist minister in Virginia. His son Benjamin F. Bomar, born in 1816, became a physician and eventually settled in Atlanta. Another son, Alexander C. Bomar, was sheriff of Spartanburg County and a brigadier general in the local militia. Over the generations, the family has been prominent in Spartanburg County, including members who were an attorney, a state representative, an early leader of Limestone College, and other important positions.
The African-American Bomar family likely resulted from enslaved people who retained the family name after emancipation. Thomas Morgan Bomar was born September 21, 1861, the son of Elias Bomar (1833-1899). The 1870 Census reports the family living in Dalton, Georgia, although all members of the family were shown as being born in South Carolina. Elias Bomar, age 32, is listed as a bricklayer, and it is likely that he had moved his family to Dalton to undertake construction work. His wife is Malinda Bomar, 30, who is listed as a school teacher. Four children are listed, including Thomas, who was aged 9 and is described as “hiring out” as a worker. His race is described as “mulatto.”
The 1880 Census has the family back in Spartanburg County and living on Magnolia Street in Spartanburg. There are three younger children who had been born in Georgia. From their ages, it appears that the family likely returned to Spartanburg after 1876. Elias is still listed as a brick mason, but Malinda is now listed as a “washerwoman.” Thomas, aged 19, is living with the family and is listed as a bricklayer. The 1890 Census is not available. At some point, Thomas married Carrie Clark, but the date of their marriage is not known.
Several mentions of Thomas Bomar have been found in newspapers. It is likely that he worked with his father and learned the trade of brick masonry as a young man. The first report we have of his work as an independent contractor is from about 1883, when he was about 22 years old.
S.B. Ezell was quoted as having built a two-story brick home on West Main Street in Spartanburg about 1883 or 1884. It was near the site of the opera house, town hall, and post office building. Tom Bomar and Sam Magee, two of the best brick masons of the day, built the house with one other helper. Magee, who was older and more experienced, earned $1.75 per day and Bomar earned $1.25 per day.
We do not have records of other work done by Thomas Bomar during the 1880s. The first record of his work in the textile industry is the Spartan Mill #1, which was constructed between 1889 and 1890. In an article discussing C. P. Mathewes, who was the payroll manager for the Spartan Mill, Thomas Bomar was discussed:
Tom Bomar’s name headed the list of payroll recipients. “He was the colored brick-mason who built the mill. Mr. Mathewes says the brick was made right there at the mill and that the earth the bricks were made of soil that came right out of the ground where the pond is that supplies much of the water the big plant needs today.”
The smokestack of the original Spartan Mill was completed on April 5, 1890. The 182-foot structure immediately became a local landmark. The mill went into production about three months later.
When the smokestack was completed, Capt. Montgomery, President of the mill, hosted a turkey dinner on top of the stack. Thomas M. Bomar was in charge of this work. As the smokestack reached unprecedented heights, many of the masons abandoned the work out of fear of the height. Bomar continued the work, and Charles Willard of Union and Mack Hardy worked until the stack was completed. The 182-foot tower had a diameter of 40 feet at the foundation and 12 feet, 8 inches at the top.
The second Spartan Mill was completed in 1896, and it is believed that Thomas Bomar also had the contract for the brick work on this mill, which included a smokestack of about the same height of the first. It was also reported that he owned stack in Spartan Mills, a remarkable situation for an African American man in the 1890s.
The Gazette was an African-American paper printed in Cleveland which was published between 1883 and 1945. It often carried articles on outstanding African-American figures around the country. In 1896, an article appeared which discussed Thomas Bomar:
Thomas Bomar, who has such a fine record as a cotton mill builder, has gone to Orangeburg, South Carolina where he will take charge of the building of the Enterprise Mill of that city. He has just finished the erection of the Richmond and Granby Mills in Columbia and has been in charge of the brick laying forces at a great many of the mills in other portions. He is one of the most successful and competent colored men in the State and has a record and reputation of which many contractors and builders would be proud.
At his death in 1904, an article appeared which provided a description of Bomar’s work: Tom Bomar, the most notable colored man in this section, and builder of half a dozen large cotton mills, died in Spartanburg a few days ago. Bomar had saved over $20,000. He built the Spartan Mills, among the largest in the state.
Other information gained from newspaper sources indicate that Thomas Bomar was elected as an alderman (city county member) in Spartanburg in 1889. The African-American community in the city made a concerted effort in this election. Later, in 1898, he is mentioned in an article:
An [unnamed] African American resident in the “pest house” in Greenville escaped by jumping out of a window. He boarded a train bound for Spartanburg and went to a relative’s house, Thomas Bomar, who lives on Howard Gap Road. The escapee had small pox. Bomar sent for Dr. Harvey, a colored physician, who recognized the man had small pox. He notified authorities and the house was quarantined.
In the 1903 Spartanburg City Directory, there are 22 listings for Bomar family members. Eleven were white and eleven were African American. Thomas is listed with wife Carrie as a contractor who lived at 232 Howard Street. Other members of the family who can be found in the directory include his mother, Malinda, who is listed as a seamstress and is living at 179 Howard Street with her daughter, Gertrude Bomar. Gertrude is listed as a teacher at the Dean Street School. Charles Bomar, likely Thomas’s brother, is listed as a grocer/undertaker with a business address at 44 North Church Street and a home address at 205 Howard Street.
Thomas Bomar died on September 29, 1904. He is buried in the Old City Cemetery in Spartanburg. A few years later, we learn that Carrie had remarried. From an article in 1907:
Carrie Bomar, widow of Tom Bomar, brick mason and contractor, married a man named Shepherd last summer. They moved to Chicago, where he fleeced her out of $500 and then left her. She is now suing for divorce.
Other reports state that Carrie later married Henry Perry, another brick mason.
Based on the incomplete information we have, it appears that we can document the following textile mills to the work of Thomas Bomar:
Spartan Mill #1, Spartanburg, 1890
Granby Mill, Columbia, 1896
Richmond Mill, Columbia, 1896
Spartan Mill #2, Spartanburg, 1896
Enterprise Mill, Orangeburg, 1887
Roots and Recall welcomes additional information on Thomas Bomar and other African-American contractors. We also wish to thank the Spartanburg County Library for their assistance with this research.
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