Griffin’s textile industry began in 1883 and expanded rapidly in the following decades. By 1909 Griffin boasted seven cotton mills. Several knitting mills were also added to Griffin’s textile business during the 1910s. The majority of those cotton mills gradually came under the control of the Cheatham family during the 1920s, while branches of the Shapard family owned the lion’s share of the town’s knitting mills by the 1950s. The story of Griffin textiles revolves around these two families who drove production for the remainder of the 20th century and beyond.
Things To Do
- Griffin-Spalding County Library, 800 Memorial Drive: This public library is a branch of the Flint River Regional Library System. Their hours of operation are Monday and Thursday 9:00 am – 9:00 pm and Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm.
- Griffin-Spalding Historical Society, 633 Meriwether Street: Founded in 1969 by Seaton Grantland Barnes, John Henry “Jake” Cheatham Jr., and John Hunter Goddard, Jr., the mission of this historical society is to preserve and share the history of Griffin and Spalding County and to promote the preservation and use of their historic places. The Bailey Tebault House, headquarters to this society, has an extensive history that is available to read on the society’s website. The house itself is also available for events such as weddings.
- Griffin Regional Welcome Center, 143 North Hill Street: The Griffin Welcome Center, constructed in 1899, was originally the Griffin Grocery Company Building. Currently, the building is home to the Griffin-Spalding Chamber of Commerce, the Griffin Downtown Development Authority, the Main Street and Downtown Council office, the Griffin Museum, the City of Griffin Economic Development office, and a banquet room and meeting facility available for rental. The welcome center is open to the public Monday through Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm.
Places To See
- Rushton Cotton Mill Site and Mill Village, 1240 Lyndon Avenue: Rushton Cotton Mills was built by Benjamin Rush Blakely in 1899. It was hit by a tornado and largely destroyed in 1908, but was quickly rebuilt. Rushton Cotton Mills was run by Blakely and his associates until John Cheatham bought a controlling interest in 1927. From that point, it was run by the Cheatham family until it was absorbed into Dundee Mills as the Rushton Division between 1978 and 1980. It was purchased by Springs Industries along with the rest of Dundee Mills in 1995; it was shut down along with the rest of the former Dundee Mills in the mid-2000s. Today the site is home to local businesses. Although it is still private property, it can be viewed from Moody Street and Lyndon Avenue. Many of the homes in the immediate vicinity were constructed to house Rushton’s workers.
- Griffin Manufacturing Co./Thomaston Mills, Griffin Division Site and Mill Village, 670 West Quilly Street: The mill village homes, located off of Experiment Street, are private property and are not open to the public. This is the site of Griffin’s first textile mill, founded by Seaton Grantland and run by W.J. Kincaid for many years. After its collapse in the 1920s it was bought by the Hightower family of Thomaston and consolidated into their Thomaston Mills. It continued operations under Thomaston Mills until the company declared bankruptcy in the early 2000s. It is now used as a warehouse. Many of the homes surrounding the site are remnants of the mill village built to house workers at Griffin Manufacturing Co.
- Spalding Cotton Mills/Dundee Mill No. 2 Site and Mill Village, 802 High Falls Road: Some remains of this 100-year-old site can be viewed near the intersection of High Falls Road and 2nd Street in East Griffin. Spalding Cotton Mills was originally built as part of the Boyd-Mangham group of mills. After their collapse, it became part of Georgia Cotton Mills, which in turn became Dundee Mills. The former Spalding Cotton Mills became Dundee No. 2 and absorbed the former The Central Mills/Dundee No. 4 in 1937. The homes in the mill village, many of which are hipped-roof or side-gabled duplexes typical of most southern mill towns, can be viewed along Spalding St or High Falls Road, Solomon Street, Lakeview Avenue, 2nd Street, Chandler Street, and Little Street.
- Cherokee Mills Site and Mill Village, 5 Park Avenue: Cherokee Mills was another mill that belonged to the Boyd-Mangham group of mills. After their collapse, this mill was purchased by Kincaid Manufacturing Company, which in turn became Dundee Mills. This mill became Dundee No. 5, which continued operations through the time that Springs Industries took over. The mill itself has been partially demolished, but portions of it might still be visible at Park Avenue and 6th Street in East Griffin, the address above will take a visitor to the . The surrounding homes are part of a mill village that was shared with the former Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company, which became Dundee No. 3. It was located on the opposite side of the mill village from Cherokee Mills/Dundee No. 5 alongside the railroad track. Both are private properties but can be viewed from the road.
- Dovedown Full Fashioned Hosiery Mills Site: One of the many knitting and hosiery mills built by the Shapard brothers and their family members, the Dovedown Full Fashioned Hosiery Mill building sits at the intersection of West Solomon Street and the railroad. It was originally the site of Griffin Hosiery Mills, but it was renamed in the 1940s. It has been repurposed into offices and currently houses several businesses.
- Crompton-Highlands Mill Village: While the old Crompton-Highlands mill has been demolished, its mill village still stands. The homes situated on the streets between McIntosh Road and Spring Street, east of Old Atlanta Road and the railroad tracks, are home to the original mill village; look for Highland Baptist Church and the company water tower. The mill site sits between the mill village and the railroad tracks. It is currently a fenced-off field, but portions of the foundation might be visible.
- Kincaid Manufacturing Co. and Lowell Bleachery South foundations and Mill Villages: A visitor driving northwest along Experiment Street can see to their right the demolished foundations first of Kincaid Manufacturing/Dundee No. 1 and then Lowell Bleachery South. Kincaid Manufacturing was the second mill to ever be built in Griffin and was named for its founder, W.J. Kincaid. It was one of the largest mills in town when it merged with Georgia Cotton Mills in 1924 and formed Georgia-Kincaid Mills. The new company was later renamed Dundee Mills after their most famous brand. Lowell Bleachery South was built by Kincaid Manufacturing in partnership with Lowell Bleachery of Massachusetts. Kincaid Manufacturing bought out Lowell’s interest and the bleachery became a division of Georgia-Kincaid shortly thereafter. The shared mill village of these two plants can be seen at Bleachery Street, Cheatham Street, Poplar Street, Peachtree Street, and Elm Street.
- Allstar Knitwear, 841 East Broadway Street: This site is currently active and not open to the public; however, it can still be seen from the road. This is yet another offshoot of the Shapard family operations and has been in operation since 1955.
- Griffin Knitting Mills, 830 East Broadway Street: Griffin Knitting Mills was one of the few knitting mills in Griffin which was not controlled by the Shapard family. The building was originally built to house the production facilities of Griffin Buggy Company. By 1925, it had been repurposed as a knitting mill. The company continued operations until the 1960s when it was merged under the name Jaco Knitwear. It later house Sybil Mills. The building is now split between the Ole Mill Range complex and Wilson’s Grocery. The site is directly across the street from Allstar Knitwear.
- Planter’s Cotton Warehouse, 310 E. Solomon Street: This site was originally used as a cotton warehouse. It is now home to several local businesses.
- American Throwing Company, 335 E Solomon Street: This was yet another Shapard operation, controlled by the descendants of Robert Shapard. It was in operation between the late 1940s and early 1960s.
- Spalding Knitting Mills, 324 E Broad Street: This building was originally built to house Norman Buggy Company. By 1949, it had been bought by Spalding Knitting Mills, Robert Shapard’s first operation, which had originally been located downtown. It currently houses several local businesses.
Griffin Catches Mill Fever: Grantland, Kincaid, and the Birth of Griffin’s Textile Industry
Griffin’s textile history began with the founding of Griffin Manufacturing Co. by Seaton Grantland in August of 1883. Grantland created a sizable cotton manufacturing operation. He quickly gathered $100,000 in local capital and his company could boast 160 looms and 5,000 spindles by 1888. His venture was located along the Central Railroad of Georgia just northeast of town on the way to the community of Experiment. This success was quickly followed by the organization of Kincaid Manufacturing Company on February 11, 1888. Grantland was voted the vice president of the new company, while W.J. Kincaid, a Confederate Civil War veteran and store owner transplanted from North Carolina, was voted president. Kincaid went on to assume the presidency of Griffin Mfg. Co. by 1893. In that year, Kincaid’s two factories featured a combined 9,928 ring spindles and 338 looms and produced a wide variety of cotton goods including sheetings, shirtings, cottonades, ticking, drills, plaids, towels, and cheviots. Kincaid would set the pace for Griffin’s textile industry for the next two decades until his retirement in 1910.
Kincaid’s factories took advantage of Griffin’s access to the railroads, and the turn-of-the-century saw those operations joined by several others. By 1909, there were seven cotton mills in Griffin. Rushton Mill was the first of the new group, founded in 1899 by Benjamin Rush Blakely and JP Nichols. It was destroyed in 1908 by a tornado, but was quickly rebuilt and managed to maintain independent operations long past the mills which were built at the same time. The others were Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company, The Central Mills, Cherokee Mills, and The Spalding Cotton Mills, all jointly owned and managed by Douglas Boyd and the Manghams.
Changing of the Guard: The 1910s in Griffin
The following years brought hard times on the mills owned by Boyd and the Manghams, and they ceased operation in May of 1911 after barely a decade of business. This, once again, brought significant change to Griffin’s textile industry, as the Boyd-Mangham owned mills were bought up by various investors. Cherokee Mills was absorbed by Kincaid Mfg. Company, which fell under the leadership of James. M. Brawner. The other Mangham-Boyd mills sat idle for a while, but were eventually purchased and merged under the name of Georgia Cotton Mills.
When the dust settled in 1915, Clyde L. King from Atlanta controlled Georgia Cotton Mills with a capital base of $400,000, and produced shirtings, drills, sateens, huck, terry towels, and diaper cloth with a combined 30,000 spindles and 1,000 looms. Meanwhile, Kincaid Mfg. Company had expanded dramatically under the watch of W.J. Kindaid and then James M. Brawner, reaching 32,000 spindles and 1,082 looms with electric power producing towels, crashes, and damasks. At the same time, J.P. Nichols and Benjamin R. Blakely had gained control of Griffin Mfg. Company and expanded it. Combined with their interest in Rushton Cotton Mills, the two men operated a total of 47,000 spindles, 416 broad looms, 952 narrow looms.
The period from 1916 to 1922 was a tumultuous for both the City of Griffin and the country, with a boom supported by World War I followed by a bust as demand slackened. Europe’s shattered postwar economies could no longer afford to purchase American surpluses, which caused instability at a corporate level for many of the mills in Griffin. In addition to this, the cotton crop was being struck down by the boll weevil epidemic made raw material for production hard to come by. This period of instability created the conditions for the founding of two textile dynasties that would largely control the path of Griffin’s textile industries for the next eighty years: the Shapards and the Cheathams.
A Tale of Two Families: The Cheathams and the Shapards
The Shapards came from Tennessee, the sons of a wealthy attorney and Civil War veteran. They got their start in Griffin’s textile industry as executives under Clyde L. King in Georgia Cotton Mills, but in 1916 Robert P. Shapard I and his brother Thomas L. Shapard founded Griffin Hosiery Mills. Their venture was a small one with only $25,000 in capital and fifty employees. The brothers divided their business interests by 1922. Robert formed Spalding Knitting Mills while Thomas L. maintained Griffin Hosiery Mill. Both men passed their holdings to their respective heirs, who expanded those operations and founded new companies.
At the heyday of Griffin’s knitting and hosiery industry in the 1950s, mills owned by the Shapard family accounted for half of the hosiery mills in operation. Thomas’s widow ran Griffin Hosiery Mills until December of 1957, founding Dovedown Full Fashioned Hosiery Mills along the way. After her death, her family chose to liquidate her holdings and exited the textile business. Robert’s descendants kept a hold of the family business through to the 1990s, expanding it massively along the way. They also created American Throwing Company and even acquired another branch for Spalding Knitting Mills in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. The 1960s saw a steady decline in Griffin’s knitwear industry. By 1976, only Allstar Knitwear and the Shapard companies were left. Today, Griffin only has a handful of knitting companies. The companies owned by Robert P.’s descendants were consolidated into American Mills during the 1980s. In 2012, American Mills launched Cushion Pros to focus on production of cushions and pillows, it currently employs 50 people. Relatives of the Shapards also own Allstar Knitwear.
John H. Cheatham also established himself in Griffin during the same tumultuous period as the Shapards. Originally from South Carolina, he got his start in the textile industry in Hartwell, Georgia after acquiring Hartwell Mills in 1917. He quickly used that role to be hired as the president of Georgia Cotton Mills by the creditors who held a controlling interest in the company. By 1924, he had paid off the banks and also held a controlling interest in Kincaid Mfg. Co., which had recently built Lowell Bleachery South in conjunction with the Lowell Bleachery of Massachusetts. In that same year, Cheatham pulled off a merger between Georgia Cotton Mills and Kincaid Mfg. Co. to create Georgia-Kincaid Mills. By 1928 he had purchased a controlling interest in Rushton Cotton Mill. With that maneuver, he had managed to buy or absorb all but one of the cotton mills in Griffin which had existed in 1905.
In 1928, when John Cheatham bought Rushton Cotton Mills, the Griffin textile industry had changed dramatically. Cheatham had created the largest mill that Griffin had seen. Georgia-Kincaid Mills boasted $1,900,000 in capital, 228 cotton carding machines, 3,000 narrow looms, and 76,000 ring spindles producing Turkish and huck towels, damasks, corduroys, tickings, crashes, diaper cloths, and flannels. Combined with Rushton Cotton Mills and his holdings in Hart and Stephens counties, Cheatham had amassed a total of 325 cards, 3920 looms, and 108,400 spindles under his control.
His actions had side effects on the other mills in Griffin. First, W.F. Ingram and James M. Brawner, who were in control of Kincaid Mfg. before Cheatham acquired it, created their own company known as Highland Mills. Highland Mills was a sizable operation, which produced Sateens with $825,000 in capital, 28 cards, 90 broad looms, 410 narrow looms, 12,800 ring spindles, and 1,200 twisted spindles. By 1935, they had been bought out by Crompton Company who expanded the operation, and by the 1950s they were known as Crompton-Highlands inc. Griffin Manufacturing Company, whether as a result of Cheatham’s maneuvers or the stock market crash of 1929, essentially collapsed in 1929. They were shortly bought out by the Hightower family of Thomaston, Georgia and established as the Griffin Division of Thomaston Mills with 500 looms and 30,000 spindles.
The Decline of Griffin’s Textile Industry
The various cotton mills in Griffin which were listed in 1935 managed to stay in business for the next fifty years. Before his death in 1950, John H. Cheatham re-branded Georgia-Kincaid by renaming to Dundee Mills, which it would do business as until it shut its doors. Cheatham passed his businesses to his son John M. Cheatham who modernized, maintained, and eventually expanded the business until his death in 1985. During his tenure, Dundee and its associated mills became especially known for towel production, although they did maintain other product lines. The Cheatham family sold their textile empire to Springs Industries in 1995, including Rushton Cotton Mills, Hartwell Mills, and other companies acquired during John M. Cheatham’s expansion push during the 1970s and 1980s. Springs Industries initially pushed a modernization campaign on their new facilities, but by the mid 2000s had decided to shut down their acquisitions.
Springs Industries was the last major textile operation left in Griffin, as Crompton-Highlands had collapsed in the 1980s and Thomaston Mills closed in 2001. During the period of collapse for these major firms, a grandson of John H. Cheatham founded 1888 Mills. It was bought out by an international corporation before long. Today, 1888 Mills, American Mills, and Allstar Knitwear are the last vestiges of Griffin’s rich textile history.
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