Discover a leading center of cotton production in the South for over a century, from the early 1800s through the mid 1900s.
Situated at the head of navigation for the powerful Chattahoochee River, Columbus quickly became a center of textile manufacturing in the early 1800s. The first textile mill dates to 1838, and by 1850, Columbus boasted five cotton mills. The Eagle Manufacturing Company was the largest of these mills. Established by New York native William Young, the company operated 10,000 spindles and employed 500 people in the antebellum period.
Georgia textile mills turned to military production during the Civil War, and Columbus mills ranked among the top five producers for the Confederacy.
Textile owners rebuilt soon after the Civil War, with the first mill opening by December 1865. With great optimism, the owners of the largest Columbus mill reestablished their factory and renamed it the Eagle and Phenix Mills in 1866, incorporating the symbol of the phoenix rising from the ashes of war. William H. Young established the Eagle Mill, and shortly absorbed the nearby Howard Factory. This made Eagle Mill the second largest in the state. Young, then, added four more mills by 1876, increasing production four times. His mills were the third largest producers of cotton textiles in Georgia by 1880. Locally the Young operated mills manufactured 80 percent of the textiles, employed 65 percent of the total labor force, and used 95 percent of the water power. George Parker Swift opened the Muskogee Mills in 1868 and 1880, and added five more operations. The Young and the Swift families–became the leading dynasties of the cotton industry in Columbus.
Bibb Manufacturing opened the Columbus Mill in 1900 along the Chattahoochee River, purchasing a dam site from the Columbus Fire Company. The village around it was called Bibb City. This mill became the largest cotton mill in the country. In the 1920s, the mill began producing cotton tire cord for the automobile industry.
As the textile industry declined after World War II, with increased foreign competition, most cotton mills in Columbus closed. A few were converted to new types of production. Preservation advocates have worked to preserve the historic industrial waterfront. As of the late 2000s, the Eagle and Phenix Mill has been turned into a residential and commercial space, but the history of the building and the impact that the textile industry had on the community is still seen today.
Member Organizations on the Trail:
What can you do?
- Chattahoochee Riverwalk — Enjoy the historic Chattahoochee Waterfront and visit the mill town of Bibb City.
- Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau — Learn more about the city’s industrial history in this historic building downtown.
- Columbus Museum — Discover the city’s rich history, including exhibit areas on the textile industry.
- Heritage Park — Explore the industrial heritage of Columbus through self-guided trails. This exhibit features a recreation of a dam on the Chattahoochee River. Call Historic Columbus at 706-322-0756 for more information.
- Whitewater Express — Experience the powerful Chattahoochee River through this outdoor rafting adventure!
- Columbus Fall Line Trace — Ride the old railroad line that served the local industry.
- Heritage Tours — Experience city history through these tours sponsored by Historic Columbus. Call 706-322-0756 for more information.
- Columbus State University Archives — Research related to the region’s textile industry. Open Monday through Friday, 9-12 and 1-5. 706-507-8674.
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