See a charming Southern town built around a booming cotton economy of the early 20th century.
The textile industry formed the basis of Thomaston’s economy for the majority of the twentieth century. Robert Edgar Hightower led the way by establishing Thomaston Mills in 1899. Soon after, Hightower founded Peerless Mills in 1919 and the Thomaston Bleachery in 1924. In 1925, the B.F. Goodrich company teamed up with Thomaston Mills to build Martha Mills, a two-million-dollar factory named after Robert E. Hightower’s wife, to manufacture industrial textiles including tire cord, “cotton duck” canvas, and yarns. Nylock conveyor belts from Martha Mills made a significant impact on the mining industry in particular.
Like many textile communities in the first half of the twentieth century, the mills in Thomaston provided housing for their employees. Thomaston Mills, Peerless Mills, and Thomaston Bleachery clustered around the East Thomaston mill village, which included 624 houses. B.F. Goodrich began building the Silvertown mill village for operatives of Martha Mills near Thomaston in 1929. Silvertown included a large brick community center with retail space for rent, operated by individuals rather than the textile company. The commercial block included a grocery store, drug store, café, theater, beauty shop, and barber shop. The company doctor’s office occupied the second floor.
Many Thomaston Mills employees walked from their homes in the adjacent East Thomaston mill village through the front gate of the mill on Barnesville Street. Typically, operators took over from one another as the machinery continued to run nonstop. In the segregated South before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, whites held production-line jobs like spinning and weaving while African Americans worked as manual laborers outside or as sweepers and mechanics inside. Many mills along the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail typically isolated housing for African American workers in separate sections of the villages.
Thomaston Mills filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and the textile mill, which had long been the center of the local economic and social scene, was demolished in 2005.
Member Organizations on the Trail:
What can you do?
- Thomaston-Upson Archives — The Archives are the official repository of the governmental and historical documents of Upson County. They also contain much of the Upson Historical Society’s collection along with documents and items donated by private individuals. Its library contains county and city census and court records, newspapers from 1833 to today, school records, and a large amount of genealogical books,records and manuscripts. The basement contains a meeting hall seating ninety people. The Archives are open weekdays.
- Flint River Canoeing — Water travel and water power were crucial for operating most mills in this region. In Upson county, the best place to get started canoeing the Flint River is the Flint River Outdoor Center, which is located at 4429 Woodland Rd. The Outdoor Center offers equipment rental and shuttle service. Contact them by phone (706-647-2633) for information on weather, river conditions, and canoe rental. The river is mostly calm, and flows past beautiful bluffs, woods, and shoals. There are light to medium rapids scattered throughout the river, depending on the water level.
What can you see?
The following properties are not open to the public, but you can view them from the exterior to learn more about the buildings that supported the textile industry here.
- R. E. Hightower, Sr. House — Built about 1910 as the residence of the R.E. Hightower family. Mr. Hightower was the manager and controlling stockholder in Thomaston Cotton Mills, which had been established in 1899. The house design was influenced by the Craftsman style. This is a private residence. 205 South Hightower Street
- Silvertown West Village — Silvertown, a mill village built to serve Martha Mills, became incorporated in 1929 and was annexed by the City of Thomaston in 1958. Silvertown can be seen along Goodrich Avenue
- East Thomaston Mill Village — This second surviving mill village was annexed by the City of Thomaston in 1970. East Thomaston can be seen along Barnesville Street.
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