Explore the many mills and historic resources remaining in this Southern hub of the cotton textile industry!
LaGrange and Troup County have been hubs of textile manufacturing for nearly 180 years. Businessmen from neighboring Meriwether County opened Troup Factory in 1847. It survived the Civil War and operated on Flat Shoals Creek before LaGrange businessman L.M. Park relocated it to LaGrange in 1902. Park’s mill joined three existing cotton mills: Dixie Cotton Mills, Unity Cotton Mills, and LaGrange Mills. These mills were led by an active and progressive group of businessmen. The Callaway, Truitt, and Dunson families in particular had lasting impacts on LaGrange’s textile scene. Fuller Callaway’s sons, in partnership with the Truitts, founded Callaway Mills in 1932. Callaway Mills provided jobs for thousands of LaGrange’s citizens through the Great Depression and World War II before Fuller Callaway Jr. sold to Deering-Milliken Co. in 1968. Today, Milliken & Co. and a handful of smaller operations carry on the legacy of a slightly diminished yet still strong textile industry in LaGrange.
Things to Do
- Legacy Museum on Main: This museum focuses on the history of LaGrange and Troup County and includes the region’s textile story in its permanent exhibit. The museum’s permanent collection also includes the original 1929 Seth Thomas Clockworks from Callaway Monument, one of the red light beacons from atop the monument, and a reproduction of Fuller Callaway’s office including original furnishings, photographs of Troup Factory, a panel about Sarah Mabry, a display of local textile heritage including maps to locate all LaGrange’s associated factories in the region. Their hours of operation are Monday through Friday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm and the first and third Saturday of each month 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.
- Troup County Archives: Located above the Legacy Museum on Main, the Troup County Archives boasts a wide array of archival material related to the textile industry in the region. These archives are open to the public Monday through Friday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm and the first and third Saturday of each month 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.
- Hills & Dales Estate: Visit this significant historical home of the Callaway family, see the exhibits, and visit the ornamental gardens the family developed. From March to June, the estate is open for tours Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 am – 6:00 pm and Sunday 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm. From July to February, the estate is open for tours Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.
Places to See
- Callaway Monument: This clock tower was erected in 1929, after Fuller E. Callaway Sr.’s death the year before, and is the highest point in southwest LaGrange. The monument, fashioned after the Campanile (bell tower) of San Marco Basilica in Venice, Italy, was designed by Ivy and Crook. The surrounding grounds were designed by Earle Sumner Draper.
- Architect P. Thornton Marye designed two homes, both of which can be viewed from Broad Street. The first, the Truitt-Mansour Home, was built by textile magnate Cornelius V. Truitt in 1914. The second, “Sunny Gables,” was built in 1926 by Mary B. Nix with inherited textile money from her uncle John M. Barnard, another textile magnate in LaGrange.
- Elm City Cotton Mills/ Milliken & Co. Elm City Plant, 1005 Elm Street: This historic mill is no longer active, but is still standing and can be viewed from the street at 1005 Elm Street. The neighborhood between the mill and Callaway Memorial Tower forms the Elm City Cotton Mills mill village.
- Dixie Cotton Mills/West Point-Pepperell Dixie Division, 701 Greenville Street: The mill still stands. As of 2020, it is being renovated.
- Dunson Mills/West Point-Pepperell Dunson Division, 1 Thornton Street: Dunson Mills is no longer in operation after the collapse of West Point-Stevens. However, the historic plant still stands, it is currently being used as a warehouse. The mill can be most easily found by going to 1 Thornton Street, which takes the visitor to the back side of the mill. This provides a good view of cotton warehouses and the rear of the mill. The front of the mill can be viewed from Fulton Street. Many of the homes to the north, west, and south are part of Dunson Mills’ mill village.
- The Dunson School: Can be viewed from the street at 9 Barnard Avenue, started by Dunson Mills, is now converted into senior apartments.
- Hillside Cotton Mills/Hillside Plant, 1300 Brownwood Avenue: Hillside served as the parent plant to the Valway, Rockweave, and Valley Waste plants. A portion of this mill, the Valway Plant, is still active. The structure as a whole can be viewed from various points on Brownwood Avenue, Lincoln Street, and 4th Avenue. Many restored craftsman-style Hillside Mill Village homes can be seen along Lincoln Street; many of the homes in the Hillside community were originally built to house mill workers.
- LaGrange Mills/LaGrange Calumet Mill Village: While the mill has been demolished, the mill village still stands. The village is centered on Calumet Park and can be viewed at McGee, Addie, Baugh, Ware, Vine, and Gardner streets.
- Unity Cotton Mills No. 1/Kex Plant, 815 Leeman Street: The site is no longer active but still stands at 815 Leeman Street.
- Unity Cotton Mills No. 2/ Oakleaf Plant, 1402 Austin Street: The plant is no longer active but can be viewed from the street at 1402 Austin Street. As of 2020, demolition has begun on the historic cotton warehouses on the southern end of the mill.
- The neighborhood centered between Ellis and Boatwright Streets housed the African American employees of Valley Waste Mills, a part of the Hillside Mill complex, during the segregation period. These employees were kept on retainer as construction crews for various projects around the mill or given menial tasks. They were not allowed to work the higher-paying jobs that their white counterparts enjoyed. Visitors should notice how much further away the African American employees’ homes were from the mills than those of their white counterparts.
- Callaway Auditorium: On Dallis Street.
Starting from Scratch: The Founding of Troup Factory
Troup County’s textile heritage began with the establishment of Troup Factory. Troup Factory was one of the earlier textile operations in Georgia. Millwright Maxey Brooks built a grist mill at the site in 1826. He installed wool carding machinery in the mill in 1843. This attracted a group of businessmen from Meriwether County, who organized themselves as Robertson, Leslie, and Company, to purchase the mill. The entrepreneurs hired Brooks to build a new factory and dye house alongside the existing grist mill. When operations commenced in 1847, the company had $40,000-50,000 in capital. They installed 1,000 spindles in the newly built factory which consumed 600 pounds of cotton per day and employed 35 people.
In 1849, Reverend George White reported that Troup Factory’s owners had invested a total of $42,000 in the operation, expanding their facility to 1,600 spindles which produced 900 osnaburgs (bags made of a coarse fabric) and 100 bunches of yarn per day. At this time White claimed of Troup Factory that “great attention is paid to the character of the operatives, and none are received but those having testimonials of good and industrious habits.” White stated that the company was in the process of building a church and Sunday School to further educate Troup Factory’s 65 employees.
Through Thick and Thin: Troup Factory in the Civil War Era
Troup County’s new textile industry made a good name for itself almost immediately. In 1848 Troup Factory won the Stone Mountain Agricultural Fair honor for best osnaburg. The company hired William A. Reid of Columbus as their selling agent, which allowed osnaburgs and yarn from Troup County to be sold nationwide. They sold osnaburgs in Savannah for 8 ½ cents to 10 ½ cents per yard. Troup Factory also produced woolens, yarns, and other cotton products. By 1857, the fruits of Troup Factory’s labor were in such high demand that it became necessary for a railroad spur of the Atlanta & West Point Railroad to be built to service the factory.
The onset of the Civil War ended all hopes of the railroad spur being completed. Troup Factory adapted though by retooling to produce duck, a rougher fabric used for making tents and sails, as well as their traditional osnaburgs. Troup Factory was considered so vital to the war effort that its employees were excused from military service. The factory continued producing cotton goods until the last days of the Civil War, when the employees were forced to take emergency action. When they heard that Union General James Wilson’s cavalry were ravaging the countryside, the operatives hid the mill machinery in the swamps to hide them from the Union raiders. Troup Factory’s remote location came to their aid and the mill survived, although the raiders stole a shipment of loom pickers from the train depot in LaGrange. Nearby cotton mills at Columbus, Thomaston, and on Tobler Creek were not so lucky, as Union forces burned the vast majority of the mills in those areas.
The demand caused by the war led to an increased need for employees, who in turn needed homes to live in. Troup Factory quickly blossomed into a thriving village with a woodshop, blacksmith, sawmill, tanyard, and company store which served the employees. A masonic lodge and a church were also built. The population grew enough that the owners built more houses on the opposite side of Flat Shoals Creek.
Last Man Standing: Troup Factory during Reconstruction
In 1869 an anonymous author, known only as Factory Boy, began writing a column which documented the times at Troup Factory for the LaGrange Reporter. Factory Boy recorded the town’s society, progress, births, deaths, marriages, and celebrations as well as the prosperity of Troup Factory. Factory Boy’s commentary added personality to Troup Factory’s story and left a legacy not only for the Factory but also for the people who lived and worked there.
Troup Factory’s owners managed to navigate the economic crash of 1873 with relative ease. In 1875, their capital had increased to $100,000 per year. The following year Troup Factory employed 100 people with a further 150 people living in town. In 1877 the owners built a new 1,500 yard long millrace which powered the cotton ginnery and tanyard. Perhaps these improvements were part of a campaign to improve the value of Troup Factory, as the owners put the mill up for sale in 1878 “owing to the advanced age and failing health of the proprietors…” The advertisement also claimed that Troup Factory featured 1,650 running spindles with a further 500 spindles which were not being used. The factory was put up for sale along with the 3-4 nice cottages, twenty-seven two-room houses for employees, and the Troup Factory store.
A Slow Decline:The Collapse of Troup Factory
Roberston, Leslie and Co. failed to find a buyer for Troup Factory and the mill was subsequently listed as failed in 1881. However, Troup Factory’s ownership regrouped and reopened the mill, so that by 1888 Troup Factory had been expanded to 64 looms and 3,300 spindles. But this resurgence was short lived. After a period of decline which brought the mill back down to 1,600 operating spindles, Troup Factory went up for sale yet again in 1898.
Despite the shape of the mill, the owners found a buyer for Troup Factory in LaGrange businessman L.M. Park. Park purchased the mill and its surrounding property in January of 1899. By 1899 Troup Factory, now renamed Park Mill, was undersized and poorly equipped. Substantial flooding exacerbated these problems in 1900 and 1902, destroying the mill dam and flooding the entire first floor of the factory. These floods convinced Park to cut his losses, which he did by moving operations to LaGrange in 1902.
New Mills in the New South: LaGrange Catches Cotton Mill Fever
Park Mill’s move to LaGrange officially signalled LaGrange’s ascendency as Troup County’s main manufacturing center. Beginning in 1888 with the incorporation of LaGrange Mills, the mill industry exploded in LaGrange. Park Cotton Mills became the 4th mill in the city when L.M. Park relocated in 1902. Moreover, the new mills were substantially larger than Troup Factory had ever been. Indeed, shortly after its founding, LaGrange Mills boasted 5,000 spindles and 75 looms, over twice the size of Troup Factory at that time.
By 1902 LaGrange Mills had nearly doubled its equipment, featuring 10,000 ring spindles and 124 looms. Dixie Cotton Mills, founded in 1895 under a consortium of LaGrange businessmen, was even more ambitious. By 1902 it was equipped with 21,480 spindles and 400 looms producing sheeting, shirting, drills, duck, hosiery, and yarns. The newest of the LaGrange mills, Unity Cotton Mills under Cornelius V. Truitt and Fuller Callaway Sr., was under construction with a planned 10,500 ring spindles and 150 looms producing heavy duck and yarns.
During this period, LaGrange’s business community actively promoted the interests of the city. The Truitts, Fuller Callaway Sr., J.M. Barnard, the Dallis brothers, and the Dunsons were major names in the early LaGrange textile scene. The Dunsons had a major hand in Dixie Cotton Mills, while the Truitts partnered with Fuller Callaway Sr. to control Unity Cotton Mills. Fuller Callaway Sr. and members of the Dunson family also built mills outside of LaGrange. The Dunsons and J.M. Barnard built Hogansville Manufacturing Company. Meanwhile, Fuller Callaway Sr. and his partners founded mills in Manchester, Georgia, which is in Meriwether County, and Milstead, Georgia, which is on the outskirts of Conyers in Rockdale County.
A New Spin: Ownership Changes in LaGrange 1910-1914
The Callaway-Truitt partnership built another new mill, Elm City Cotton Mills, in 1910, bringing their total up to four mills.. Elm City Cotton Mills contained 10,368 ring spindles and 110 looms and employed 350 to produce sheetings, duck, and drills. The same group built one more mill, Unity Spinning Mills, by 1914. Unity Spinning Mills functioned as a subsidiary of Unity Cotton Mills. In 1914 it utilized 68 cards, 13,324 ring spindles, and 3,168 twisted spindles.
At the same time, the Dunsons built The Dunson Mills with $500,000 in capital employing 99 cards, 400 looms, and 21,000 spindles. By 1914 they had expanded to 500 looms and employed 300 people. However, their mortgagor forced them to sell their controlling interest in Dixie Cotton Mills to Wellington, Sears & Co. of Boston, the selling agents for nearby West Point Manufacturing Company. Dixie Cotton Mills’ owners converted their equipment to produce duck and continued operation as a subsidiary of West Point Manufacturing. It remained a part of West Point Manufacturing for the rest of its existence, being fully absorbed as a division in 1959.
Dixie Cotton Mills was not the only operation which faced a change in ownership. In 1905, local businessmen lost control of LaGrange Mills to investors from Baltimore, who formed Consolidated Cotton Duck Company. This did not necessarily bring stability, as the mill was shut down for a period in 1911 before being reopened. The mill changed ownership yet again in 1913, when it came under the ownership of International Cotton Mills.
LaGrange’s Great War: World War I
Despite all of these changes, the city of LaGrange was well positioned to take advantage of the spike in demand for textile products brought on by World War I in 1914. Indeed, Callaway and Truitt built yet another factory, Hillside Cotton Mills, in 1915. When fully equipped in 1916, Hillside was the group’s largest mill in LaGrange. It featured 25,304 spindles and 440 looms along with bleaching and dyeing facilities. It employed a total of 400 people. They also set up Valley Waste Mills to utilize the cotton waste from their other operations.
World War I brought plenty of success to the textile mills of LaGrange, none more so than those belonging to the Callaway-Truitt group. After riding through the boom and bust of the immediate post-war years, the Callaway-Truitt empire boasted a total of 224 cards, 116,363 spindles, and 1,809 looms employing 3,375 people in seven plants. At the same time, Fuller Callaway Sr.’s elder son Cason began representing his family’s interest in the textile business.
Roaring into the ‘20s: Growth and Change in LaGrange’s Textile Industry
Callaway and Truitt were not the only ones who took advantage of the prosperity brought by the war and the 1920s. The Dunsons had slightly expanded in 1922, but the following year they embarked on a major expansion which more than doubled their equipment. By 1927, Dunson Mills boasted 51,000 spindles and 900 looms which employed 650 operatives producing drills, duck, twills, and osnaburgs. The West Point group also maintained and modestly expanded Dixie Cotton Mills. The major event of the 1920s for that mill was the ascension of George H. Lanier, the eldest son of the founder of West Point Manufacturing, to the presidency. LaGrange Mills continued to function, although it did undergo a name change, becoming the LaGrange division of New England Southern Mills.
The other cotton mill in LaGrange, Park Cotton Mills, was not so lucky. After struggling since the move from Troup Factory in 1902, the 1920s saw Park Cotton Mills finally close its doors for good. This ended the legacy of Troup Factory once and for all.
Another seismic change which shook LaGrange’s textile scene occurred when Fuller Callaway Sr. passed away in 1928. Fuller Sr. stepped away from active management when his eldest son Cason returned from World War 1. He accurately predicted the coming of the Great Depression, and wisely advised his sons to focus all of their resources in one industry. After his passing, Cason and Fuller Callaway Jr. followed their father’s advice, leading to the Callaway brothers gaining a majority interest in their existing mills. In 1932 they consolidated their holdings to form Callaway Mills. Cason served as president of the new corporation, while Fuller Jr. worked as treasurer.
A Shelter in the Storm: Callaway Mills, LaGrange, and the Great Depression
While 1932 was the first time that the various Callaway-owned factories were united under the same company, the employees had been receiving the same benefits of Callaway management. The Callaway family viewed their role as mill owners as a responsibility to their operatives. Fuller Callaway Sr. was often quoted as saying “I make American citizens and run cotton mills to pay the expenses.” This paternalism created a real bond between management and employee, and manifested itself in several programs designed to benefit Callaway employees. Mill villages, schools, churches, and baseball leagues were all benefits offered by the Callaway family. The Callaways often provided meats, such as ham on Christmas during the 1920s, to their employees. They built the Benjamin Franklin and Martha Washington Inns as dorms for unmarried employees. They even established greenhouses to store their employees’ outdoor plants during the winter months, thereby protecting the plants from the frost. Many of these benefits were coordinated through the Callaway Foundation, which bought all company property and leased it back to the company, using the proceeds from the rent for charitable purposes.
In 1935, Callaway Mills consisted not only of those mills which were owned by the Callaway-Truitt group in 1922, but also of the LaGrange Calumet, Oakleaf, Valway Rug, and Calumet Hogansville plants. During this period the Callways controlled 720 cotton carding machines, 2,656 looms, and 138,360 spindles at 10 plants. Most importantly, Callaway Mills provided at least 4,817 people with steady income at the height of the Great Depression. While the other plants were newly built, LaGrange Calumet and Hogansville Calumet were both purchased from the collapsed New England Southern Mills. Hogansville Calumet would be sold before 1942, but Callaway Mills remained the single largest employer in LaGrange.
Despite the fact that no mills were shut down in LaGrange during the 1930s, the Great Depression did take its toll on the community’s textile industry. Even though they ensured that each mill family had at least one full time employee, Callaway Mills experienced two strikes in 1934 and 1935. These were promoted by out-of-town “Flying Squadrons” of union organizers, who organized strikes in other towns as well. Management won and work resumed, but the stress of the ordeal as well as managing a company the size of Callaway Mills induced Cason Callaway to retire in 1937. His brother Fuller Jr. took over as president. Fuller Jr. started in the textile industry as a coal stoker in Elm City Cotton Mill. He worked his way through every position in the mill, and was allegedly not only able to operate every machine on the floor, but also to strip each machine down and reassemble it.
The Boom: World War II and the Postwar Era
After weathering the Great Depression, the mills of LaGrange were well positioned to take advantage of the increase in demand offered by World War II. The Dixie Cotton Mills in particular refitted to produce Army duck, a canvas-like product which was dyed Army Green and largely used for tents. This was part of a larger push by Dixie Cotton Mills’ owners, West Point Manufacturing, to seize the opportunity of the war to expand their market. Both Dunson Mills and Callaway Mills prospered as well.
In 1948, Fuller Callaway Jr. took a ten-year break from management, passing control of Callaway Mills to Arthur B. Edge Jr. By 1951, Callaway Mills had completely restructured. The company was comprised of three separate divisions, each containing 3 to 4 plants apiece. The HDV Division included the Hillside, Dye, and Valway plants and focused on more traditional products such as ducks, twills, and yarns. The Calumet, Rockweave, Manchester, and Milstead plants made up the USEO Division, which produced drapery fabrics, upholstery fabrics, and auto headlining in addition to a line of more traditional products. Finally, the MMC Division, which included the Unity, Unity Spinning, Elm City, and Oakleaf plants, created cotton and rayon hose cord, terry towels, industrial towels, and fender covers. At this point, Callaway Mills commanded 105,840 spindles and 3,139 looms in LaGrange alone with a further 46,452 spindles and 888 looms in other plants.
Change in the Wind: Deering-Milliken, West Point-Pepperell, and the End of LaGrange’s Locally-Owned Mills
While Callaway Mills expanded slightly to take advantage of the World War II boom, Dunson Mills and Dixie Mills remained largely the same. Dixie Mills retooled again to produce peacetime products and Joe L. Lanier took over as president from his father. Dunson Mills saw a change in president too, as well as a drastic drop in capital. Those would not be the end of the changes for these two mills, as the 1950s and 1960s saw several corporate restructurings and ownership changes. Pepperell Manufacturing purchased Dunson Mills in 1954, which became the Dunson Division of that company. Dixie Mills was officially absorbed into West Point Manufacturing in 1959. The year before that, Fuller Callaway Jr. returned to the helm of Callaway Mills. These changes set the scene for the 1960s, which brought some of the most seismic changes to shake Georgia’s textile industry.
Business continued as usual in LaGrange for the majority of the 1960s, although Callaway Mills closed the Milstead plant in 1961. They also continued their push to diversify and modernize their product line by adding production of carpet, automobile upholstery, and industrial towels amongst other things. This diversification made Callaway Mills attractive to potential buyers, and Fuller Callaway Jr. finally sold the family company to Deering-Milliken in 1968. Deering-Milliken acquired not only the Callaway plants in LaGrange, but also the one in Manchester. Deering-Milliken continued to operate the former Callaway plants, although they were gradually forced to close many by 2000. In that year, Hillside, Kex, Elm City, Live Oak, Valway, and Unity were still operating.
Slow and Steady: Textile Decline in LaGrange
In 1966, two years before Deering-Milliken purchased Callaway Mills, West Point Manufacturing merged with Pepperell Manufacturing. This merger formed a massive company, and brought the two non-Callaway owned mills in LaGrange under the same company. West Point-Pepperell, as the newly merged company was called, continued to operate the two plants into the 2000s. The ownership struggle over the company in 1989-1990 weakened it substantially. Another round of restructuring led the corporation to rebrand as WestPoint Stevens. Despite an aggressive modernization campaign in the 1990s, WestPoint Stevens could not recover from the twin blows of the corporate takeover and the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The company lingered on into the 2000s, but ultimately collapsed. As divisions of WestPoint Stevens, the old Dunson and Dixie Mills were not immune to their company’s turn in fortune. The two plants, along with another in Valley, Alabama, shut down in 2004 as WestPoint Stevens desperately tried to stay afloat.
Against the Grain: The Endurance of LaGrange’s Textile Industry
While the major corporations struggled to adapt to the new millennium, smaller operations sprung up in LaGrange as a part of Troup County’s concerted effort to retain its status as a relevant industrial center. In 2003, General Fibers & Fabrics, Dudley Gunter Enterprises, Interface Flooring Systems, Kimberly-Clark Corp., Kleen-Tex Industries, and Mountville Mills all possessed substantial operations in LaGrange. The economic difficulties of 2008 certainly took their toll, but today LaGrange’s textile industry still thrives. Deering-Milliken, now renamed Milliken & Co., still operate the Live Oak and Valway plants while Mountville Mills, Kimberly-Clark Corp, Interface Flooring Systems, and Dudley Gunter Enterprises all are still running strong. Although LaGrange’s textile industry is not what it once was, it is still a linchpin of the community’s economy.
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