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Columbus anchors the southern end of the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail, which follows the Chattahoochee River and U.S. Highway 27. During the mid-nineteenth century, the power generated by the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries determined where textile mills could thrive. The falls of the Chattahoochee at Columbus drop 125 feet in two-and-one-half-miles, generating the water power that positioned the city to become a leading manufacturing center in the South. By the early twentieth century, electricity freed mills from the river’s bank. The Trail follows the historical development of the industry east to LaGrange, Hogansville, Manchester, and Thomaston.
Community leaders and investors pooled resources, which frequently included northern capital, as “mill fever” spread across the landscape in the late nineteenth century. Industrial development depended upon the strengths of particular leaders, such as the Callaways in LaGrange, the Laniers in West Point, and the Hightowers in Thomaston. The success of the mills also came from the hundreds of men, women, and children who operated the spindles and looms.
The histories of these textile mills are connected through the products they made. During the mid-nineteenth century, mills such as the Troup Factory near LaGrange and the Eagle Mill in Columbus produced an array of cotton cloth, yarns, and threads such as osnaburgs, kerseys, and cassimers. After the Civil War, the production of cotton duck, a canvas-like cloth, dominated production for use in ship sails, tents, and covered wagons. Duck gained new value as an industrial fabric in the booming new rubber tire business for automobiles in the early twentieth century.
As the textile industry began to decline after World War II, most cotton mills closed or were converted to new types of production. The Callaway Mills produced most terry cloth towels, industrial fabrics, and carpet when Milliken purchased the company in 1968. In Columbus, where most mills were closed by the 1990s, preservation advocates work to preserve the historic industrial waterfront.