Telling Stories, Connecting Communities

Category: Feature Stories (Page 1 of 2)

Dellinger Inc: A Shooting Star of Rome’s Textile Industry

Author: Jarrett Craft

Dellinger Spread Company employee photo, circa 1950. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell

Introduction

Dellinger Inc. was a chenille bedspread and custom carpet producer in Rome, Georgia. Founded by Walter Edwin Dellinger and his wife Callie in the mid-1930s, the company was passed down from generation to generation for 60 years until it finally went out of business in the early 1990s. The company had a plant which took up roughly a whole block on the outskirts of town. The plant became a sophisticated operation with highly skilled technicians and designers working alongside highly proficient employees who filled more traditional roles along the production line. During Walter’s lifetime, the company made chenille bedspreads and tufted carpets from cotton. His successor and son-in-law, Edward Dowd, switched to the wool and nylon custom carpets that the company produced until it closed.

Those are the bare facts. But there is a lot more to Dellinger Inc. than meets the eye. The company possessed a community and culture that was entirely its own, a culture which was defined by close relationships between the Dellinger family and their employees. To shed light on this culture, the truest legacy of Dellinger Inc., we must start at the beginning with Walter Edwin Dellinger. 

Humble Beginnings: Walter and Callie Dellinger’s Early Lives

Walter Edwin Dellinger was born into a large family in Bartow County, Georgia, in either 1885, or 1887 depending on the source. His father, Washington Dellinger, appears to have been a sharecropper, meaning that he shared the profits from the harvest (usually cotton) with the landowner in lieu of rent. Sharecroppers were almost always trapped in a brutal debt cycle designed to keep them poor. These families often moved from farm to farm working as a family; in some cases they would swap back and forth between the farm and a cotton mill. 

Dellingers on the family homestead in Gordon County, Georgia. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell

With that in mind, Walter’s family appears to have been fortunate because they did not move too often; they lived at the same address in Sonoraville in Gordon County between 1900 and 1910. Walter managed to attend school through the 7th grade while working on the farm. In 1904, just before his 20th birthday, Walter received certification from the Gordon County Schools to teach 3rd grade. This was a fitting career for a man who would often write poetry for family members and eventually served as a correspondent for the Atlanta Journal Constitution on occasion. However, it did not last. By 1907, he had begun a fairly lucrative career as a railroad telegrapher and depot agent. 

Walter, Callie, and their infant daughter Doris. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell

While working for the railroad, Walter met and married Callie Echols. Family tradition holds that Walter was an “entrepreneur,” meaning that he was always finding odd ways to make money on the side. Between those various side jobs and his career with the railroad, Walter provided a comfortable life for Callie as they built their family. Callie gave birth to their oldest daughter Doris in 1915. Three years later Doris became a big sister to Madge. Doris claimed that Madge was Callie’s favorite, while she herself commanded Walter’s affection. With that said, both daughters were doted upon by their parents and had comfortable childhoods, especially compared to that of their father. 

A New Chapter: Dellinger Spread Company 

By 1930 Walter had moved the family to Dalton, Georgia. Walter, now aged 44, had done well for himself. He had a stable job, still working as a freight agent for the railroad, during the worst years of the Great Depression. The family owned their own home valued at $10,000 ($165,622.16 in 2021), and even had their own radio set.  Their daughters had educational opportunities that were never available to Walter or Callie. Despite the dire circumstances being experienced by the nation, things were going well for the Dellingers. 

Certification of Walter Dellinger’s status as a qualified railroad telegrapher. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell

Dalton was the epicenter of the chenille tufted bedspread, robe, and rug industry. What started as a cottage industry selling bedspreads to tourists driving down Old Highway 41 to the beaches of Florida had become a fully-industrialized commercial enterprise for many entrepreneurs by the 1930s. These local businesses took advantage of the international fad of chenille products to sell beyond their local markets and meet demand in the great northeastern cities, with many close ties to New York in particular. There was also plenty of demand across the Midwest and as far away as Europe. 

Chenille in the 1930s was a pioneering business within the textile industry. It was high risk, but it did provide a chance for small businesses to take a piece of the pie. In an industry that had been dominated by large textile corporations for years, many rightly predicted that chenille production would be a way to grab a foothold in the textile market. Walter Dellinger, always the entrepreneur, must have realized this historic opportunity while living in Dalton, the chenille capital of the world. However, Dalton was already saturated with the chenille industry, so it would be tough to prise employees away from established companies. If Walter and Callie were to start a chenille business, they needed a place relatively untouched by the chenille boom in Dalton and Calhoun. With that in mind, in 1934 Walter retired from the railroad, sold his home in Dalton, and moved to Rome, Georgia to start the next chapter of his life: Dellinger Spread Company. 

An Old Fashioned Startup

Walter and Callie Dellinger started Dellinger Spread Company with little if any experience in the chenille business. They purchased second-hand equipment and hired a largely female workforce from the surrounding countryside and town. It is unclear how much experience these employees had. Many of these women would not have been familiar or comfortable with work on an assembly line. Bedspread manufacturers in Dalton and Calhoun tackled this issue by providing the raw materials for tufters to work in their homes. When the tufter finished the bedspread, the manufacturers would collect the bedspread and bring it back to their plant to apply the final touches and designs. This allowed women to work from their homes where they could still assist in farm labor, chores, and child rearing while also supplementing the family’s income. 

Dellinger Spread Company photo circa 1940. This shows the number of employees (almost entirely white women) and the company’s plant at its earliest stage. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell

Walter Dellinger used a similar method in the early days of Dellinger Spread Company. He started off with a converted garage as his collection and distribution center. The Dellingers had local women tuft the bedspreads in their homes, and paid them by each completed item rather than an hourly wage. The Dellingers would pick up the bedspreads and apply the finishing touches in their plant, before packaging and shipping them to clients across the United States. Walter and Callie quickly built a network of sales agents in the major cities of the North and Midwest. Before long, it became prudent to have employees work on site in the plant.

Company tradition tells that the first addition to the original plant was a dye house built in the 1940s, used for dyeing skeins of yarn purchased from suppliers. Payroll records from September 1938 to February 1939 indicate that at least some employees worked on site. When they missed their shift, the bookkeeper scribbled “not here” next to the employee’s name. The payrolls show that there was a corps of regular employees who worked day in and day out. They were supplemented by irregular employees when demand picked up or a regular employee missed a shift. It is unclear if these employees worked in shifts, and if so, how many worked on a shift. What can be said for certain is that Dellinger Spread Company had quickly built a workforce to rival established cotton mills in the area. 

Dixie-Dell on the National Market

Official company letterhead in use as early as 1942. It shows that the company employed sales agents in Boston, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Chicago, and New York and illustrates the Dellingers’ rapid success. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell

The Dellingers were able to expand their company with incredible rapidity. This growth was based on their ability to fill orders placed in major commercial centers across the nation. In New York, Walter’s friend Norman Roemer served as a great marketing agent. Earl Barton traveled the Midwest gathering orders for the company as well. But to truly establish themselves, it became clear that Dellinger Spread Company would need a signature product. But finding that trademark item was easier said than done. 

Indeed, much of the company’s early days seems to have been based on trial and error. One Dellinger granddaughter remembers “Smokey the Bear” bath mats as one of Dellinger Spread Company’s earlier product lines from the 1940s. According to her, they must not have sold well because dozens of them remained in the family’s basement well into the following decade. But the Dellingers struck gold when they trademarked the Dixie-Dell brand. By the early 1940s it had become their calling card in the textile industry, a brand that they proudly emblazoned on company letterheads. In 1942 the company had selling agencies in New York, Pittsburgh, Boston, Chicago, and Kansas City. 

Walter Dellinger as an older man. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell

Part of the national appeal of the tufted bedspread industry came from the fact that the employees who made it were of “pure Anglo-Saxon stock.” The 1930s saw bigotry, xenophobia, and racism reach a high in many western countries, the United States included. The previous decades had seen waves of Chinese, Eastern European, Italian, Irish, and German immigrants flood into the United States, and many were concerned about the dilution of Anglo-Saxon culture in the country. Georgia-based manufacturers of chenille bedspreads took advantage of this wave of anti-immigrant sentiment to emphasize that their employees were “untainted” by the influx of new cultures. The Dellingers were no exception, as the top of their 1940s company letterhead read “Home-made, Rome-made by the Highlanders of Georgia.” The message was clear to Dellinger Spread Company’s customers: Dellinger products were not made by Asians, Eastern Europeans, Jews, or African Americans. 

Separate and Unequal: African Americans at Dellinger Inc.

Dellinger Spread Company prided itself on the opportunity for upward social mobility and financial independence that it provided for its employees. The company employed many single mothers over the years, empowering women to leave and avoid abusive relationships on which  they may have been otherwise financially dependent. As indicated by the company letterhead mentioned above, the Dellingers employed white women primarily. Dellinger Spread Company, as a general rule, did not hire African Americans; who therefore missed out on the social and economic benefits that the company provided. 

Walter Dellinger directly supervising one of the few African Americans he ever employed at his company, circa 1950s or early 1960s. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell

This, of course, could be chalked up in part to Jim Crow segregation laws and industry-wide labor practices which were pervasive at the time. Southern textile industrialists had been claiming since the 1880s that African Americans were mentally unfit to work any of the machinery in their factories. Many believed Their racist views held that African Americans were only capable of doing the most menial, dirty, and backbreaking jobs in the mill. There are dozens of accounts of white employees walking off the job when management tried to promote an African American to a position that they felt should be reserved for white people. The Dellingers may not have felt strongly about enforcing these racist industry standards, but they certainly did little to challenge them. 

The result was that, whether intentional or not, Dellinger Spread Company was a segregated workplace. If African Americans worked at the plant at all, they only did the most unpleasant or lowest paying jobs that the company had to offer, as would have happened at other textile industries in the region. At various points over the course of Dellinger’s 50 plus years of history, African Americans may have worked in more menial positions in the shipping department or as janitors. At any rate, there was no place for them in the company potlucks and parties. They missed out on the Christmas gifts from management. They were not allowed to make an impact or even take part in the company’s culture that shaped the lives of so many. More importantly, African Americans did not have the opportunity to use Dellinger Spread Company as a means for financial mobility and independence. At Dellinger Spread Company, and the wider textile industry, African Americans did not receive the benefits of industrialization. 

A Company Family: Paternalism and Company Culture under Walter Dellinger

One of many company potlucks held by the Dellingers over the years, circa 1950s. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell

The Dellinger family worked hard to create a close knit environment amongst their employees. Towards that end, they often hired several members of the same family. Dellinger family members made sure to send notes to employees who had fallen ill or who had a death in the family. They threw company Christmas parties and asked their grandchildren to distribute gifts to the employees. Taking a cue from more established textile companies, such as Callaway Mills, the Dellingers distributed turkeys or hams to the employees to serve as the mainstays of their Christmas dinners.

The Dellingers saw their company not only as a way to make money, but also to help improve the lives of their employees. As part of that mission, Walter hoped to provide recreation for his employees. He created a series of company publications known as “Dell Dots”, which offered casual reading material to his employees. It seems that Walter started the Dell Dots as early as 1942, perhaps in an attempt to lift spirits during the war years. He gathered what must have been his favorite jokes from the various publications to which  he subscribed. The result was a compilation of corny quips and exhortations to buy war bonds. He continued to produce Dell Dots into the 1960s. 

Oldest surviving Dell Dot, printed in 1942. It includes several jokes and riddles, adverts for US Savings Bonds and Dixie Dell Chenilles, and a system to show which volume and edition the Dell Dot belongs to. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell.

Regardless of whether the Dell Dots were well received or not, the Dellinger family managed to create a strong bond with their employees and earn  their employees’ loyalty. The countless company potluck dinners, Christmas gifts, and personal touches had done the trick. Although injuries were not common, it was not unheard of for employees to suffer broken toes from being crushed by loads of heavy carpet, for needles and punch guns to create puncture wounds, and for cuts and sore heads to result from collisions with the machinery. One woman even lost an arm to the out-dated machinery, but refused to sue. Despite the occasional carnage, union organizers made no headway with the employees of Dellinger Inc. 

The New Generation: Edward Dowd Enters the Fold

Doris Dellinger married Edward Dowd during World War II. Edward and Doris settled in Rome after the war and Edward took on a responsible position in the company. Walter often sent Edward to make visits to the company’s representatives in the west and Midwest so that Edward and Doris’ family vacations could be covered by the company. Edward joined Dellinger Spread Company during a period of change. Walter got advice from his long time sales agent, Earl Barton, to switch from tufted bedspreads to carpet manufacturing, a change occurring throughout the industry at the time. This transition resulted in the company rebranding as Dellinger Inc. 

Walter Dellinger playing golf in south Florida with his son in law Bud Yoakley. Although Bud and his wife Madge were not overly involved in the company’s day to day operations, they still weighed in as major stockholders from their home in Florida. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell

Although the company continued to produce tufted bedspreads, chenille robes, and bathmats throughout the 1950s, they began to invest more and more in carpet production. At the beginning of the decade, the company advertised their traditional chenille products in textile sales directories. By the end of the decade, they had invested heavily in a brand new carpet production facility. This gave Dellinger Inc. the ability to manufacture custom carpets made not only of cotton, but also of wool, nylon, and viscose (a synthetically produced silk substitute). The company’s 1957 sales directory entry duly advertised the company’s ability to produce custom carpets. 

Edward Dowd cut his teeth and learned the industry during this time of transition at Dellinger Inc. During this period, the company employed some 200 operatives, making the company a driving force in the community. Dellinger Inc. was at its pinnacle, but the transition into custom carpet brought uncertainty. Edward undoubtedly drew his own conclusions on how to keep the plant viable for years to come and surely was excited to have the opportunity to implement them. After many years as the understudy during the company’s golden years, Edward got his chance in 1964 when Walter Dellinger passed away.

A New Era: Edward Dowd’s Tenure at Dellinger Inc.

After Walter’s death in 1964, Edward Dowd took control of the company’s day-to-day operations. While all major changes had to be approved by his wife, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, Edward moved the company in the direction that he saw fit. His legacy would be a continued specialization in custom carpets. However, certain patterns never altered as power changed hands. Walter and Callie had drilled their values well into their family. As far as the Dellinger family was concerned, the company was a means to support the community and lift employees out of poverty just as much as it was a livelihood for themselves. Employees were to be treated with gratitude and respect by the whole family. Edward could be more stern than Walter, as he tolerated zero “gossip or back talk,” but his goal was always to ensure that the Dellinger grandchildren treated Dellinger Inc.’s employees well. When Edward converted to the Baptist faith in 1973, he began leading a morning Bible study at the plant before work. True to form, he worried that his employees would feel pressured to attend because he was the boss. 

Aerial view of the Dellinger Inc. plant in 1964, when Edward Dowd assumed control of the company. The plant had expanded massively under Walter Dellinger, and Edward planned to make more changes of his own. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell.

Under Edward, the company began to manufacture carpet using high-quality wool imported from New Zealand. He supervised the construction of a larger and more modern dye house as well as a filtration and softening room. Together this allowed for the company to establish a color lab to  precisely match swaths of cloth or color samples sent in by customers. As the company began to lean further into the high-end custom designed carpet sector, it seemed that they had finally found a niche to dominate within the textile industry. 

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Dellinger Inc. did some impressive business. Their workers, already skilled, came to be masters of their craft. Employees from the design team and color lab to the tufters and the twisting department all reached exceptional levels of skill. Dellinger great-grandson David Mitchell recalls the production process. 

“A carpet was first laid out by using a spur like device to use a purple dye to imprint the design of the carpet.   Depending on the level of complexity – it would go to the punch gun and have the design – followed by the colors – and then laid out with the design.  This took weeks as you had intricate pieces in the carpet. It would then go back downstairs and be hand carved to the specifications.  These were artisans that did this work.  The precision was unparalleled and it was always women – never men that did that work.  Next it would go to have rubber put on the back of the carpet – again this is a process and took weeks.  Finally, it would be wound face out and placed in a tube for shipping.”

David Mitchell, Dellinger Descendent and Employee

Their custom carpets and rugs could be found in corporate offices, ornate hotels, and the homes and estates of wealthy individuals. Dellinger Inc. began dealing with more and more impressive clients, who often required not only increased levels of quality but also larger sizes. Management and employees alike were particularly proud of a massive carpet mural for the Frito-Lay Company’s research center in Texas. Carpets of this size forced the company to invest in a larger finishing and shipping room, where they could lay out the massive carpets for quality control trimmings, final inspections, and packaging. Before this, they had to use the warehouse floor space of a local lumber dealer in order to accommodate larger carpets, such as for hotel dining rooms. 

Papering over the Cracks: The Decay of Dellinger Inc.

Dellinger Inc. was not without its problems. Under Edward Dowd, the company  had flourished, coming to dominate a niche in the textile industry. The employees had reached the pinnacle of their craft. However, much of the Dellinger family pursued their own lives and interests, rarely taking part in events or management of the company. The equipment did not always meet safety codes, and by the 1980s was not only dangerous but also unreliable. Despite the additions to the plant in the 1960s and 1970s, the majority of the equipment in older portions of the plant had not been updated. Even so, clients demanded higher and higher quality for the prices that Dellinger Inc. offered. As the years passed and the pressure began to bear down, Edward’s often stern demeanor seemed to feel more and more harsh, ultimately creating a brutal cycle. 

Dellinger Inc. advertisement under Edward Dowd. Dowd’s choice to focus on the custom carpeting business reflected in the company’s advertising. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell

Edward’s irritation could be taken out on the employees or the clients; threatening the fragile social system at Dellinger Inc.. In order to produce the quality levels desired by their clients at a profit, the company would have to lower or cease dividend payments on their stock, which would certainly raise issues from the extended Dellinger family. Cutting wages would upset the employees, who could already undoubtedly feel the company’s close knit environment straining under the pressure. There must have seemed to not be any way forward without offending one group or another, and potentially bringing the whole company crashing down around them. There was but one person who had all the qualities to keep the Dellinger Inc. machine running: Martin H. “Buddy” Mitchell. 

Buddy Mitchell (b.1940) was a native of Rome, Georgia. He met and married Madge’s daughter, Penney Yoakley; so he was a member of the Dellinger family by marriage and his children were Walter and Callie’s great-grandchildren. He could serve as one of the family’s ambassadors at company parties and events. Moreover, he represented the branch of the Dellinger family that had been geographically distant for years, as Madge reared her family in Florida. He was part of the management team at Dellinger Inc., so he was able to help meet the needs of clients that other family members may not have been willing to meet. 

Buddy Mitchell presents a Dellinger-made carpet to Governor Jimmy Carter, early 1970s. Photo Courtesy of David Mitchell

Buddy was a bit of a scholar, constantly reading on a variety of topics. He was an active community leader in Rome, serving as a city council member from 1974 to 1991. He was regarded as incredibly polite and considered a gentleman by all who had the chance to work with him. He followed in the footsteps of Walter Dellinger in many ways; even briefly working as a teacher before joining Dellinger Inc, just as Walter had worked as a teacher before working for the railroad. Buddy Mitchell understood the value of the relationship that Dellinger Inc. had built with both their employees and their customers, and he was committed to preserving it. Given the power of the forces at play, maintaining the company became an uphill battle to say the least. 

The Silencing and Demise of Dellinger Inc. 

The company culture established by Walter and Callie was largely intact when Buddy Mitchell joined in the early 70s. Since the Dellingers had modeled their company culture on the principles of other regional textile companies, Dellinger Inc. was a time capsule with roots as far back as the 1880s. Many employees had worked at Dellinger Inc. for decades, and expected that culture to continue. Therefore, when employees fell ill or had a death in the family, Buddy Mitchell became the Dellinger family ambassador who paid a visit to offer support or condolences. 

He attended company potlucks and parties, bringing his children along with him whether they wanted to go or not. If they complained, he simply told them that it was their duty; he was the “management” presence at the event, but they were the “blood” presence that represented the whole Dellinger family. Patterns of respect which had been in place for decades persisted under Buddy’s watch. His son David recalls that one longtime employee prepared a horrendous carrot and raisin salad for the company potlucks, time and time again. As dreadful as the dish was, everybody ate it to respect that employee and her effort. Even though it made David gag, he took one look at his father and knew that he had to eat it, yet again. Although this is a somewhat extreme example, it shows how Buddy Mitchell tended the family-style relationship that Callie and Walter had cultivated with their employees. He made sure that the employees continued to feel valued by the family.

The antiquated company culture was matched by the dilapidated machinery. Buddy’s son David began working at the plant over the summers during his high school and college years, and was a witness to the last years of Dellinger Inc. Of the plant’s machinery during the late 80s and early 90s, he recalls, 

“We had a dye house that was literally like a laboratory and the other various departments were all driven by labor – but the equipment was generally tools – that only worked when in the hands of skilled personnel… Eddie Amos was the “Plant Manager” that would fix anything that was broken – and if parts were needed – they could be taken from other equipment and repaired on site.  Everything was driven by the hands of the one that helped the equipment and the talent they brought to the piece.  Making spools of yarn for the carpet/rugs was LOUD and fast paced.  Clipped/Chipped fingers were common until you developed timing and the understanding of the device.  You had to cross train to understand this…”

David Mitchell, Dellinger Descendent and Employee

When clients complained about quality issues, complaints that Edward would have considered “picky,” Buddy handled them personally. On one occasion he traveled all the way to an expensive lake house by the shores of Lake Michigan to make corrections on a carpet that the client found unsatisfactory. When machinery broke in the plant, Buddy and Eddie Amos tinkered with them until they worked again.  Although he undoubtedly knew that Dellinger Inc. could not carry on indefinitely without serious changes, he made it work. Whether he was conscious of it or not, he poured his heart and soul into preserving Dellinger Inc.’s profitability, company culture, and pay structure.

As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s it became clear that the system was at a breaking point. No longer could Buddy Mitchell alone paper over the cracks. The world was moving forward from the traditional company culture and business structure on which Dellinger Inc. operated. For example, African Americans had become common in most workplaces by this point, but Dellinger continued to hire mostly white women and remained largely unintegrated after the end of segregation. The world was leaving Dellinger Inc. behind, and something had to give. Ultimately, the company lost profitability. Low cost imports from developing countries had closed the gap in terms of quality because much of the plant’s machinery had not been updated in years. Those companies usurped Dellinger Inc.’s position in the custom carpet market, as clients abandoned them in pursuit of lower costs. Dellinger Inc. became unviable and began to collapse.

The Legacy of Buddy Mitchell 

Article announcing plans to demolish the old Dellinger plant. Courtesy of David Mitchell

For Buddy Mitchell, it must have seemed as if the whole world was ending, and he undoubtedly blamed himself. After all, when the company closed, around 100 people were thrown into unemployment. Without the company, the Dellinger family no longer received dividend checks. Without the company, the community founded by Walter and Callie Dellinger dissolved. A new world was in the process of taking hold; with race relations being a key dividing line between the new world of equality and democracy and the old world of Dellinger Inc. 

Buddy Mitchell was a part of that new world. As a city councilman he oversaw the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday for city employees. He stood at the crossroads between the progressive business culture of the 1970s and 1980s and a company that was stuck in the segregation era with no intention of changing. For the man who had spent the majority of his adult life giving his all to prop up the ailing company, its collapse was too much to bear. The plant’s closure in the mid 1990s broke Buddy Mitchell’s heart. Amongst the abandoned machinery, between the walls of the old Dellinger plant that he loved so dear, Buddy Mitchell took his own life in 1997; ultimately a victim of the company, culture, and family that he had striven to save. With Buddy’s death, the plant, which had been still for years, fell silent. No longer could one hear the break whistles, the creak of the floorboards, or the whir of the machinery. Those who spent their lives in the plant, who could tell which room they were in by the smell and temperature of the room alone, never returned. A world vanished. 

Buddy Mitchell. Courtesy of David Mitchell

Although Buddy Mitchell gave his life to preserve Dellinger Inc, it faded and disappeared. Buddy’s struggle inspired others though, namely his son David. To this day, David follows in his father’s footsteps, working for the Atlanta Preservation Center. Even though Buddy failed to save Dellinger Inc by bringing it into the new world, his son continues to preserve Atlanta’s history and pull it forward into a new age focused on democracy, equality, and progress. Buddy instilled the value of history in his son, and through him, continues to preserve southern history to this day. 

The Uprising of ’34

Author: Jamie Bynum

LaGrange strikers detained by the National Guard. Photo Courtesy of the Troup County Archives

On September 01, 1934, a massive strike that would last only three weeks would begin in the southern United States. Officially known as The General Textile Strike of 1934, and unofficially as The Uprising of ‘34, this strike led to textile mills shutting down for a brief period, arrests, fights, and unfortunate deaths. This strike would be the largest conflict of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) of the Great Depression.

Unrest within the textile industry came from several places. A major factor that played a hand in all of this was the Great Depression, which caused wages to fall. Mill managers and owners would stretch a few employees to cover the work of many while working only 30 hours a week. The reduction in weekly hours from 40 to 30 came from the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA). A Textile Industry Committee was set up to regulate the textile industry across the United States in favor of the workers, consumers, and business owners; however, it was quickly realized that only the interests of the business owners were taken into consideration.

Even before the Great Depression, the textile industry still faced “a period of declining prices, management cost-cutting, and frequent and largely unsuccessful strikes by workers.” The cotton textile industry faced especially significant issues with the decline of the cotton boom of World War I. When the war ended, the demand for cotton for wartime materials nosedived, leading agriculturalists out of their line of work. Textile mills moved now more than ever to the southeastern United States, where employees could be paid significantly less due to the large labor force of previous agricultural workers. Wages had already begun to take a turn for the worse, but the onset of the Great Depression caused even lower wages. 

Due to these difficult working conditions, mill workers began getting more and more restless. One year before the strike occurred, mill workers began organizing unions, such as the United Textile Workers of America (UTWA). In September of 1933, the member count of this union was at 40,000; it quickly rose to 270,000. In August of 1934, a special convention was called from the UTWA membership; their demands were a $12 minimum wage for a 30-hour workweek. When mill owners didn’t take these demands seriously, mill operatives began striking and walking out of their jobs.

Cars organized as “flying squadrons” drove throughout southern Piedmont in an attempt to get other workers to go on strike with them. In Georgia, 44,480 of the state’s 60,000 textile workers had left their jobs by September 14. The National Guard was quickly called upon by governors to help quell strikes. Governor Eugene Talmadge declared martial law and had 4,000 National Guard members come to the state, who then began arresting thousands of people thought to be associated with the walkouts.

One of the first communities within the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail region to see evidence of this strike was Trion. The vice president of Trion Mills, who also happened to be the mayor of the town, asked Governor Talmadge to send the National Guard, Talmadge refused. For the entire year before the strike began, employees held complaints of code violations, mostly relating to the extremely low pay they were receiving. Not only were the violations amended, but anyone associated with a union was harshly punished with eviction from the mill village. On September 05, the mill exploded in violence, so much so that local authorities had to swear in almost fifty special deputies to help protect the mill. Gunfire ensued, leaving two men dead and at least twenty men wounded.

Aragon Mills saw the death of a mill guard on September 15. A flying squadron of three cars drove past and shot at the mill, killing guard Matt Brown. A total of twelve suspects were rounded up and jailed. Before state troops could make it to Aragon, Rockmart’s deputy sheriff took it upon himself to deputize “loyal mill workers” and arm them with weapons to find where the squadron was believed to be camped. He claimed that he “intended to run every striker out of the county.”

In Newnan, no deaths occurred; however, 112 men and 16 women were taken into custody from East Newnan and transported to a detention facility at Fort McPherson. Flying squadrons set out on September 17 from Hogansville, Rockmart, and LaGrange to Newnan, where the mill workers were not for the strike. At Newnan Cotton Mills Number 1 plant, a group of picketers, sympathizers, and curious onlookers gathered around. Some of the picketers included heavily armed guardsmen and two planes circling overhead. A brief scuffle ensued, and the picketers were subdued. Those from Newnan were told to go home, while those from outside of Newnan were taken to Fort McPherson. Work quickly began in the mills of Newnan after the strikers were taken away.

In LaGrange, the uprising still took hold despite Callaway Mills ensuring every family had at least one full-time employee. Much of the trouble faced in LaGrange was hyped up by out-of-town flying squadrons. Strikers from this community began to travel with these squadrons to other communities to promote the strike. The National Guard detained picketers in this community. Unrest in this community did not stop with the General Textile Strike of 1934; they faced a second strike in 1935 in which martial law was again declared.

Columbus faced a completely different series of events. While there had been some violence in August, by the time the strike officially kicked off, there was none to be reported. This peacefulness was most likely due to the mills within the city closing their doors before things could get worse. Workers picketed outside of the mills, but they were generally good-natured. Dalton experienced no violence as well, even whilst keeping their mill in operation. 

In Carrollton, no evidence of the strike was present until September 11, when a flying squadron rumored to have originated in LaGrange arrived at the Mandeville Cotton Mills. This squadron forced the mill to close down, and it remained closed most likely due to more squadrons passing through. Talmadge called in the National Guard to help arrest strikers at the mill several times. This call for help was when Mandeville was able to resume operations. 

By the middle of the month, it was clear that no progress was being made to better the conditions of working within textile mills. The strike ended on September 23 when President Roosevelt intervened, asking the workers to return to the mills. The workers, however, were afraid to return to the mills and face retribution from the owners and managers. Many workers were fired from their jobs, forced out of the mill villages that housed mill workers, and “blacklisted” from working in any textile mills ever again. As for those held at Fort McPherson and county and city jails, they were quietly released, most of them never to face the charges of the strike.

Graduate student Allison McClure worked with ArcGIS Story Maps to create the map below outlining the impact of the General Textile Strike of 1934 throughout the rest of the United States.

“The Industrial Revolution in the United States of America bred multiple successful businesses and industries across the country. Investors and business owners saw great financial and commercial success from their factories and plants, but the people working hard manual labor suffered physically, mentally, and financially. The textile industry on the East coast boomed throughout the early twentieth century. The poor, working-class Americans who staffed these factories endured harsh working conditions for very little pay, but during the interwar period and the Great Depression, workers began to demand better treatment from their employers. 


The General Textile Strike of 1934, also called the Uprising of ’34, occurred as a result of workers organizing against their employers to demand better wages and work environments. Through the influence of unions, like the Textile Workers’ Association, employees of large textile conglomerates went on strike and faced police brutality and elitist government officials in days-long strikes that resulted in workers being injured and even killed. In Georgia, factory workers in Trion, Augusta, and LaGrange participated in movements that shaped the textile industry in the state forever. While individual strikes in some states ended in death and sadness, the strike led many factories to implement wage increases, safety measures, and even allowed workers to organize in some cases. Overall, the General Textile Strike is important to study and present in a format like ArcGIS StoryMaps because it shows how a major labor movement moved from Northern states to Southern states, and it shows how different states treated strikers and met their demands.”

Waterpower and Water Transportation in Textile Mills

Author: Jamie Bynum

Waterpower was crucial to the development of the textile industry in the southern United States, especially to communities at or above the fall line. Georgia Public Broadcasting defines the fall line as “a geologic boundary marking the prehistoric shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean as well as the division between the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions of the state.” Aptly named, the fall line is known for its creation of waterfalls due to dropping elevation. This boundary was used to the extreme by textile mills, as early on all of their machinery was operated using exclusively waterpower. The southern United States had this advantage over the North since waterpower was not as efficient there. However, a major problem came along with the utilization of the waterfall for power: it was impossible for boats to travel directly from one point to another if there was a waterfall between the two points. Roads were not very reliable, especially in times of bad weather, which would cause some roads to become completely impassable. After the Civil War, waterpower and water transportation were relied on less and less as the implementation of railroads, steam engines, and electricity made its way into textile mills.

The main use of water for power came in the form of water wheels and turbines. Early textile mills relied on the types of water wheels that had been in use for centuries, but only had an efficiency of about 30-40%. Of course, with the early textile mills of the region opening at the peak of the Industrial Revolution, a more efficient manner of power production was sought out. By the end of the nineteenth century, water wheels had been upgraded to an efficiency rate of 80-90%. Alongside the development of more efficient water wheels was the implementation of water turbines. The main difference between traditional water wheels and water turbines was that water turbines were smaller and were placed horizontally, completely submerged in water. Soon, water wheels were replaced by water turbines that took up less space and were able to spin much faster. Some southern mill owners found these turbines to be so efficient that they continued to use them into the 1930s. The use of water turbines not only generated waterpower but electricity; by the 1880s, some mills used electricity from water turbines to operate all or part of their mill, light their mill, or light nearby cities.

Troup Factory was the first textile operation in Troup County. This photo shows the original grist mill (left), the cotton factory (background), and the wooden raceway flume (foreground); all built by Maxey Brooks. Photo Courtesy of Troup County Archives.

Before the introduction of steamboats and levies to this region, transportation via water was more difficult than in other parts of the southeastern United States. Due to the location of these communities relative to the fall line, all types of boats had a hard time navigating the waterways of west Georgia. Small boats known as flatboats and keelboats dominated waterways above the fall line before the advent of the steamboat. Flatboats were generally eight- to ten -feet wide and between thirty- to forty-feet long and transported both freight and passengers downstream. The keelboat, on the other hand, was designed to go upstream using manpower via poles, rowing, or dragging. Water transportation upstream without any assistance was costly and time-consuming, so the solution was to apply the power of steam to boats. After their introduction in the early 1800s, steamboats quickly replaced keelboats in most parts of the South; however, flatboats remained competitive in downstream transportation until the 1860s due to their cost and improvements made to the construction and operation of flatboats. The initial impact of steamboats on inland rivers was not significant due to their inability to travel north past the fall line but became irreplaceable once levies came along.

The S. S. Monroe being launched on her maiden voyage. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Troup Factory, one of the first textile mills in Georgia having opened in 1843, relied exclusively on waterpower. However, the rushing water used for waterwheels came not from natural waterfalls but a man-made log dam constructed in 1829 for the grist mill that eventually became this textile mill. With the construction of a cotton mill to accompany the original mill that operated wool carding machines, the owners of the mill had a second dam made of rocks constructed below the log dam. These dams used raceway flumes to guide the water down a narrow path where it would fall from the side of the dam, creating more turbulent waters to push the waterwheels. Water was not always beneficial to the mills; Troup Factory flooded several times over the years, which would have made the wagon road shown in the below map impassable. 

Photo courtesy of the Digital Library of Georgia.

West Point, another early textile community in the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail, also relied on waterpower and water as transportation. The Chattahoochee Manufacturing Company and the Alabama-Georgia Manufacturing Company, both located along the Chattahoochee River, began operations on the same day in 1866. In 1888, after the Chattahoochee Manufacturing Company had become the Langdale Mill of the West Point Manufacturing Company, the family that owned and operated the mill established the Chattahoochee Navigation Company. The goal of this company was to operate barges for the transportation of goods to and from the mill. The only alternative at this time was to attempt the five-and-a-half-mile wagon ride to the West Point depot. The fate of this company shows why water transportation was difficult in this region: when the water was too low, the shoals would be exposed and stop barges in their tracks, while high water levels would cause extreme rapids that were too difficult to navigate. 

The former Alabama-Georgia Manufacturing Company, renamed Riverdale Cotton Mills, in the 1900s. Photo courtesy of Jarrett Craft.

Columbus’ textile industry utilized water the most out of any community throughout the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail. Several of the early textile mills in this town relied heavily on the powerful Chattahoochee River, just as the mills near West Point did. Two notable mills here were the Eagle and Phenix Mills and Bibb Manufacturing Company. Eagle Mills opened in the mid-1800s and was re-established after the Civil War. Once reestablished, it absorbed a nearby mill, making it one of the largest mills in the state; this achievement was accomplished using waterpower and transportation to produce goods and rapidly grow the company. The other prominent mill along the river, Columbus Mill owned by Bibb Manufacturing Company, was established in 1900 around a dam site that could be used to power the mill. As seen in the below image of Bibb Manufacturing, the surrounding area was not suitable for boats to pull right up to the mill.

Photo of the Bibb Manufacturing Company and River Bank
Bibb Manufacturing Company and river. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Water was an incredibly important resource for early textile mills in the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail, as it was used for both power and transportation. Early roads were often unsuitable for anything more than small freight loads going short distances. The use of water in many places allowed larger deliveries to be made to and from textile mills and was the best mode of transportation until the implementation of railroads throughout the state. Waterwheels were used to power the various mills throughout the region until steam engines and turbines were introduced. Steam, in the end, replaced water for both transportation and power.

Griffin: The Rise and Fall of the Boyd-Mangham Mills

Contents [hide]

1 Humble Beginnings: The Griffin Knitting Mill

2 Building an Empire: The Boyd-Mangham Group in the 1900s

3 The Top of the Mountain: The Manghams Buy in to Griffin Manufacturing

4 With His Hand in the Cookie Jar: J.J. Mangham’s Trial

5 Picking up the Pieces: The Aftermath of the Mangham Trial

Humble Beginnings: The Griffin Knitting Mill

The Boyd family, owners of a cotton warehouse in downtown Griffin, began their involvement in Griffin’s textile industry by establishing the J.D. Boyd Manufacturing Company in 1897. This company was a small start-up which failed shortly after the death of J.D. Boyd Senior. J.D. Boyd Manufacturing disappeared from listings and was replaced by the Griffin Knitting Mill under Douglas Boyd and his brother-in-law J.W. Mangham. J.W.’s brother J.J. would join the business soon after.

The Boyd-Mangham clan organized their new company with a capital stock of $20,000 in 1900, manufacturing both men’s and women’s underwear. The venture appears to have been a cursed one from the start. In 1900, not long after the mill commenced operations, a train killed one of the mill’s female employees after her dress was caught in the tracks. Not long afterwards, in February of 1901, a notable labor dispute occurred when the mill’s superintendent assaulted a female employee. According to reports, he told her to complete some extra orders, which she refused to do without receiving a ticket for it. In those days, knitting mill employees were paid for each item, pair, or bundle that they produced instead of at an hourly rate. Essentially, the superintendent attempted to force her to work for free. When she refused, he forcibly ejected her from the building while she stabbed him repeatedly with her knitting needle.

1905 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the newly vacant Griffin Knitting Mill after the business failed. The Boyd-Mangham group shortly remodeled and refit the building to produce cotton products, rechristening it as The Central Mills. Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress

In her account of the event, she implied that he dragged her to the office and assaulted her there before tossing her out of the building. She was severely injured in the fight which led to considerable unrest amongst the employees. When management asked Booth to apologize to the employee, a fight broke out between him and the woman’s friends. The Griffin Rifles were called out in response to that and the wider unrest amongst the mill’s employees, while warrants against several employees were sworn out by the superintendent for rioting. Either way, this was not good publicity for the young company. J.J. Mangham became involved in the business by 1903. Under his leadership the company expanded their product line and added additional machinery, even coming up with the “Griffin Knit” brand. Anticipating growth, they built a small mill building at the corner of Experiment Street and West Broad Street. However, the knitting mill failed shortly after the new building was completed. 

Building an Empire: The Boyd-Mangham Group in the 1900s

The Spalding Cotton Mills. The tower housed a water tank which fed the fire suppression sprinklers while the section behind it housed the mill’s cotton carding and yarn spinning operations on the first and second floors respectively. The section immediately to the right of the tower was home to a picking process on the first floor and slashing and spooling on the second floor. The one story annex on the far right served as the mill’s weaving facility. Note the elevated skylight which spanned the length of the building, bringing extra light into the center of the mill. Photo Courtesy of Jarrett Craft

Despite the setbacks, Douglas Boyd and the Mangham brothers were on the rise. In 1899-1900, the Manghams partnered with Griffin’s preeminent businessman, W.J. Kincaid, to build The Spalding Cotton Mills with the goal of producing 4-yard sheeting. The stockholders laid the new mill’s cornerstone on August 25th, 1899 amidst much fanfare. The new mill was ambitious, being capitalized at $100,000 and projected to house 5,000 spindles in 1899. They quickly doubled their investment to $200,000 in capital stock, with a planned expansion of the mill’s equipment to bring it up to 9,000 spindles and 300 looms, only 60 days after opening.  In 1901, after production had commenced, a fire broke out in the picker room which caused $500 ($15,081.71 in 2020) in damages.

In 1902, J.J. Mangham took over from W.J. Kincaid as president of The Spalding Cotton Mills. His brother J.W. and Douglas Boyd were also voted officers of the mill. They took advantage of the 10 percent dividend paid out by the profitable mill and the duly confident mood of local and state-wide investors to embark on further ventures. They organized their next mill, Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company, in May of 1902 with $125,000 in capital stock. The size of the mill showed the ambition of its owners, as it housed 10,000 spindles and 300 looms. The new mill produced “fancy weaves”. By 1909, the mill had increased its capacity by 50 percent, boasting a total of 15,000 spindles and 410 looms still producing fancy weaves.

This postcard depicts the Central Mills, the third mill built by the Boyd-Mangham group. The facility was originally built to house the Griffin Knitting Mill, but was expanded and adapted for the Central Mills. The section of the mill in the background, with the tower, was home to weaving operations on both floors. The portion in the foreground operated drawing, carding, and weaving machinery on the first floor. The second floor was where cotton the fiber was spun, spooled and warped. Photo Courtesy of Jarrett Craft

With Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing up and running on a solid footing, the group turned their attention to yet another project. This time, they already owned a suitable property with a factory building, the old Griffin Knitting mill at the corner of Experiment Street and West Broad Street. Under the leadership of J.J. Mangham, the group incorporated The Central Mills in 1905. To house the new company, they expanded the old knitting mill and equipped it with 10,000 ring spindles, 400 twisting spindles, and 160 looms producing “Cotton Crepe”. By 1909 there were only 8,000 ring spindles, but they were replaced by 60 additional wide looms as the mill transitioned to the production of wide sheeting.  

Building on the momentum accrued over the course of the decade, the Boyd-Mangham group organized yet another cotton mill, Cherokee Mills, in 1907. The group began construction and had ordered machinery by June of 1908. This new mill, still listed as under construction in 1909, was envisioned as a producer of cotton sheeting. The Boyd-Mangham group incorporated their latest venture with a capital stock of $200,000, with the plant able to house 10,000 spindles and 350 looms. 

The Cherokee Mills shortly after its completion. The 1st floor housed cotton carding and yarn spinning operations, while the second floor held additional yarn spinning equipment and looms for weaving the thread into sheeting. On the right in the background, the engine room held a 900 horsepower steam engine and a 60 horsepower dynamo for generating electric power. The section of the mill which stood beyond the engine room housed a picking operation on the first floor and warping and slashing equipment on the second floor. Photo Courtesy of Jarrett Craft

The Top of the Mountain: The Manghams Buy in to Griffin Manufacturing

The first half of the 1910s proved to be a changing of the guard for Griffin’s textile industry. This process began with the retirement of W.J. Kincaid from the textile business. Kincaid was no longer listed as president of Griffin Manufacturing and Kincaid Manufacturing in 1910. Because textile directories usually collected their data several months before the release of the new year’s directory, this means that he likely resigned his post in mid to late 1909.

Following his resignation, in February of 1910, Kincaid sold off his $200,000 ($5,397,768.42 in 2020) in Griffin Manufacturing Company stock to Seaton Grantland, H.W. Barnes, B.R. Blakely, and J.P. Nichols. James W. Brawner, Kincaid’s close associate, also sold $37,000 in stock to J.P. Nichols, Douglas Boyd, and J.J. Mangham because he wanted to focus on other interests, namely assuming the presidency of Kincaid Manufacturing. J.P. Nichols and H.W. Barnes took over as executives. This did not mean that Kincaid was through with the textile industry, as on September 15th, 1911 W. J. Kincaid, Allan Little, J.M. Brawner, and Frank Ingram bought 1,000 shares of stock in Kincaid Manufacturing from Seaton Grantland at a price of $100,000 ($2,698,831.58 in 2020). This all just meant that he was making room for a new group of leaders.  

The Kincaid Manufacturing Company’s southwestern facing façade. Photo Courtesy of Jarrett Craft

Douglas Boyd and J.J. Mangham’s acquisition of Griffin Manufacturing stock from James W. Brawner was prestigious, as stockholders of Griffin Manufacturing had traditionally been the leaders of Griffin’s economy. It made sense that the men who controlled 41 percent of Griffin’s spindles would want to join that group. Surprisingly, this acquisition in Griffin Manufacturing Company’s stock represented the Boyd-Mangham group’s high-water mark. By December of 1911, they were forced to sell three out of their four mills as part of a long-running bankruptcy and embezzlement scandal. 

With His Hand in the Cookie Jar: J.J. Mangham’s Trial

This collapse was a major shock for the people of Griffin and the Georgia textile industry as a whole, as the Boyd-Mangham group of mills were seen as generally prosperous and well run enterprises. Many believed that the Boyd-Mangham saga began as a knock-on effect of the Panic of 1907, in which the stock markets of New York crashed, causing runs on trusts which formed an integral part of the stock system. The stock market, and economy as a whole, only really stabilized after J.P. Morgan intervened to provide cash for the banks and trusts which were receiving too many withdrawal requests to deal with. However, economic tremors continued for several years thereafter, including a considerably more minor Panic of 1910.

Wall Street flooded with crowds during the early days of the Panic of 1907. Several sources blamed the misfortunes of the Boyd-Mangham group on losses received during the 1907 panic and the ensuing recession. Photo Courtesy of Soerfm, via Wikimedia Commons

The Boyd-Mangham group of mills, with the exception of the newly built Cherokee Mills, were forced into bankruptcy during this tumult. In May of 1911 the Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company halted production and began bankruptcy hearings, having filed a list of assets and liabilities which listed a number of debtors amongst the assets. Those parties denied owing anything to Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing, so an investigation ensued. Investigators shortly found enough evidence to procure a warrant for J.J. Mangham’s arrest on Thursday July 6th. Mangham was arrested on Friday the 7th. Charges against him included obtaining money under false pretenses and paying dividends on stock which had not been issued.

On Saturday July 8, 1911 J.J. Mangham gave testimony in his bankruptcy trial, pleading the 5th lest he incriminate himself. The stress of these charges appears to have weighed heavily on J.J. Mangham, as the 17th of August, 1911 saw his trial postponed on the grounds that he was mentally and physically unable to be of use to his lawyers. A doctor from the Piedmont sanitarium, where Mangham was a patient, testified in his defense. His brother J.W.’s case was also postponed. Doctors declared Mangham fit enough to resume the trial by November of 1911. The trial neared its conclusion by November 23, 1911, by which time the state had concluded its argument after questioning several Atlanta Bank officials and Griffin businessmen. All that was left was for Mangham’s defense to wrap up the cross examinations. By this point, onlookers filled the courtroom to watch the closing arguments, as the Atlanta Journal Constitution claimed that the case garnered a large attendance on account of the prominence of the issue.

Shortly afterwards, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Mangham, who was de facto in charge of Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing, created false entries in the company books so that it showed $200,000 more in assets than actually existed. He also fabricated a $150,000 unimpaired capital stock, which was actually impaired,  and $80,000 surplus which did not exist. Mangham evidently discounted the stock of the mill in Atlanta banks. The banks provided him with credit which he used to speculate illegally. Meanwhile Mangham further claimed that the company owed him $10,000, when he actually owed it several thousand instead.

Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company circa 1910. At this point much of the second floor housed the mill’s thread spinning operation. This in turn fed the looms which produced fancy weaves, taking up the majority of the first floor. This mill became the epicenter of J.J. Mangham’s embezzlement trial. Photo Courtesy of Jarrett Craft

On the 25th of November, 1911 the court found J. J. Mangham guilty of embezzling $23,412.50 ($631,876.27 in 2020) and paying out illegal dividends on Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company stocks, a felony and a misdemeanor respectively. He was sentenced to 4 years at the state prison in Milledgeville. Mangham’s lawyer promptly filed a motion for a new trial. The motion was granted and the new trial set for December 29th, although other indictments were still pending against Mangham. Mangham’s case worked its way up through the appeals courts of Georgia before his final appeal was defeated on August 10th, 1912 in the State Appellate Court. His case could not be appealed any further because he was not charged with any Federal offences. Mangham surrendered to the prison on the 19th and began serving his sentence at the state farm in Milledgeville.

Picking up the Pieces: The Aftermath of the Mangham Trial

On April 2, 1913 J.J. Mangham’s lawyers announced that they would ask the prison commissioners to pardon Mangham, even though he had served less than a year of his prison sentence. On the 8th of November, 1913 a petition signed by 600 citizens of Griffin calling for clemency for the convicted J.J. Mangham was presented by two attorneys to a commission. Mangham had already been in prison since August of 1912, just the beginning of his 4 year sentence for embezzlement, along with a 1 year sentence for a misdemeanor. Even half of the jury which convicted him asked for his release on the grounds that Mangham had already been punished enough.

To put the severity of his sentence into perspective, the Register brothers, who committed involuntary homicide, were only given a sentence of 3 years. It was not until the 17th of August, 1915 that Governor Harris pardoned J.J. Mangham. The Governor was evidently swayed by three things: the petition from Griffin’s citizens, the fact that Mangham’s wife was on her deathbed, and that the prison commission recommended his release.

Pictured here is the No. 1 mill of the newly formed Georgia Cotton Mills, a consolidation of 3 of the Boyd-Mangham group’s mills. This mill was formerly known as The Spalding Cotton Mills. Photo Courtesy of the Griffin-Spalding Historical Society.

The results of the trial were cataclysmic for the Boyd-Mangham group of mills. Not only were two of their owners convicted, as J.W. was saddled with charges of declaring illegal dividends which carried a $1,000 fine, the mills were also forcibly sold to Atlanta-based businessmen. On Dec. 9th, 1911 The Spalding Cotton Mills, The Central Mills, and Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company were sold at auction, each one for considerably less than they were appraised at. Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing and the Spalding Cotton Mills were valued at a combined $313,000, selling for $70,000 and $45,000 respectively. The Central Mills were sold for $48,000.

The sale of these three mills represented the largest forced sale made in middle Georgia up to that time. The Atlanta Journal Constitution claimed that efforts would be made to have the mills back in business by the following fall. Furthermore, Cherokee Mills went into bankruptcy as well, and was idle by April of 1912. It reportedly owned Lowell Machine Shops $15,292 ($404,195.94 in 2020) amongst other debts. By October 25th, 1912 the Cherokee Mills was advertised for sale as part of the bankruptcy.

When the dust settled Kincaid Manufacturing Company absorbed the Cherokee Mills, it became Kincaid No. 2. The other three mills from the Boyd-Mangham group were eventually consolidated under the corporate name of Georgia Cotton Mills. Clyde L. King, a businessman from Atlanta, controlled Georgia Cotton Mills with a capital base of $400,000. The new corporation produced shirtings, drills, sateens, huck, terry towels, and diaper cloth with a combined 30,000 spindles and 1,000 looms. In the early 1920s Georgia Cotton Mills went through some stormy times and they brought in a new president, John H. Cheatham, from the Hartwell Mills in Hartwell, Georgia. He quickly restored the mills to a profitable state, and in 1924 he offered to purchase the common stock of Kincaid Manufacturing Company. When the Kincaid stockholders accepted his offer, the Georgia Cotton Mills merged with Kincaid Manufacturing, finally bringing the Boyd-Mangham mills back under one corporate roof. The combined Georgia-Kincaid mills would later be renamed Dundee Mills, a name which became synonymous with Griffin textile production.

Griffin: The Rise and Fall of the Boyd-Mangham Mills

Author: Jarrett Craft

Explore this feature story via the drop-down sections below!

Humble Beginnings: The Griffin Knitting Mill

The Boyd family, owners of a cotton warehouse in downtown Griffin, began their involvement in Griffin’s textile industry by establishing the J.D. Boyd Manufacturing Company in 1897. This company was a small start-up which failed shortly after the death of J.D. Boyd Senior. J.D. Boyd Manufacturing disappeared from listings and was replaced by the Griffin Knitting Mill under Douglas Boyd and his brother-in-law J.W. Mangham. J.W.'s brother J.J. would join the business soon after.

The Boyd-Mangham clan organized their new company with a capital stock of $20,000 in 1900, manufacturing both men’s and women’s underwear. The venture appears to have been a cursed one from the start. In 1900, not long after the mill commenced operations, a train killed one of the mill's female employees after her dress was caught in the tracks. Not long afterwards, in February of 1901, a notable labor dispute occurred when the mill's superintendent assaulted a female employee. According to reports, he told her to complete some extra orders, which she refused to do without receiving a ticket for it. In those days, knitting mill employees were paid for each item, pair, or bundle that they produced instead of at an hourly rate. Essentially, the superintendent attempted to force her to work for free. When she refused, he forcibly ejected her from the building while she stabbed him repeatedly with her knitting needle.

1905 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the newly vacant Griffin Knitting Mill after the business failed. The Boyd-Mangham group shortly remodeled and refit the building to produce cotton products, rechristening it as The Central Mills. Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

between him and the woman’s friends. The Griffin Rifles were called out in response to that and the wider unrest amongst the mill’s employees, while warrants against several employees were sworn out by the superintendent for rioting. Either way, this was not good publicity for the young company. J.J. Mangham became involved in the business by 1903. Under his leadership the company expanded their product line and added additional machinery, even coming up with the “Griffin Knit” brand. Anticipating growth, they built a small mill building at the corner of Experiment Street and West Broad Street. However, the knitting mill failed shortly after the new building was completed.

Building an Empire: The Boyd-Mangham Group in the 1900s

The Spalding Cotton Mills. The tower housed a water tank which fed the fire suppression sprinklers while the section behind it housed the mill's cotton carding and yarn spinning operations on the first and second floors respectively. The section immediately to the right of the tower was home to a picking process on the first floor and slashing and spooling on the second floor. The one story annex on the far right served as the mill's weaving facility. Note the elevated skylight which spanned the length of the building, bringing extra light into the center of the mill. Photo Courtesy of Jarrett Craft.

Despite the setbacks, Douglas Boyd and the Mangham brothers were on the rise. In 1899-1900, the Manghams partnered with Griffin's preeminent businessman, W.J. Kincaid, to build The Spalding Cotton Mills with the goal of producing 4-yard sheeting. The stockholders laid the new mill's cornerstone on August 25th, 1899 amidst much fanfare. The new mill was ambitious, being capitalized at $100,000 and projected to house 5,000 spindles in 1899. They quickly doubled their investment to $200,000 in capital stock, with a planned expansion of the mill's equipment to bring it up to 9,000 spindles and 300 looms, only 60 days after opening.  In 1901, after production had commenced, a fire broke out in the picker room which caused $500 ($15,081.71 in 2020) in damages.

In 1902, J.J. Mangham took over from W.J. Kincaid as president of The Spalding Cotton Mills. His brother J.W. and Douglas Boyd were also voted officers of the mill. They took advantage of the 10 percent dividend paid out by the profitable mill and the duly confident mood of local and state-wide investors to embark on further ventures. They organized their next mill, Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company, in May of 1902 with $125,000 in capital stock. The size of the mill showed the ambition of its owners, as it housed 10,000 spindles and 300 looms. The new mill produced “fancy weaves”. By 1909, the mill had increased its capacity by 50 percent, boasting a total of 15,000 spindles and 410 looms still producing fancy weaves.

This postcard depicts the Central Mills, the third mill built by the Boyd-Mangham group. The facility was originally built to house the Griffin Knitting Mill, but was expanded and adapted for the Central Mills. The section of the mill in the background, with the tower, was home to weaving operations on both floors. The portion in the foreground operated drawing, carding, and weaving machinery on the first floor. The second floor was where cotton the fiber was spun, spooled and warped. Photo Courtesy of Jarrett Craft.

With Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing up and running on a solid footing, the group turned their attention to yet another project. This time, they already owned a suitable property with a factory building, the old Griffin Knitting mill at the corner of Experiment Street and West Broad Street. Under the leadership of J.J. Mangham, the group incorporated The Central Mills in 1905. To house the new company, they expanded the old knitting mill and equipped it with 10,000 ring spindles, 400 twisting spindles, and 160 looms producing “Cotton Crepe”. By 1909 there were only 8,000 ring spindles, but they were replaced by 60 additional wide looms as the mill transitioned to the production of wide sheeting.

Building on the momentum accrued over the course of the decade, the Boyd-Mangham group organized yet another cotton mill, Cherokee Mills, in 1907. The group began construction and had ordered machinery by June of 1908. This new mill, still listed as under construction in 1909, was envisioned as a producer of cotton sheeting. The Boyd-Mangham group incorporated their latest venture with a capital stock of $200,000, with the plant able to house 10,000 spindles and 350 looms.

The Cherokee Mills shortly after its completion. The 1st floor housed cotton carding and yarn spinning operations, while the second floor held additional yarn spinning equipment and looms for weaving the thread into sheeting. On the right in the background, the engine room held a 900 horsepower steam engine and a 60 horsepower dynamo for generating electric power. The section of the mill which stood beyond the engine room housed a picking operation on the first floor and warping and slashing equipment on the second floor. Photo Courtesy of Jarrett Craft.

The Top of the Mountain: The Manghams Buy in to Griffin Manufacturing

The first half of the 1910s proved to be a changing of the guard for Griffin’s textile industry. This process began with the retirement of W.J. Kincaid from the textile business. Kincaid was no longer listed as president of Griffin Manufacturing and Kincaid Manufacturing in 1910. Because textile directories usually collected their data several months before the release of the new year’s directory, this means that he likely resigned his post in mid to late 1909.

Following his resignation, in February of 1910, Kincaid sold off his $200,000 ($5,397,768.42 in 2020) in Griffin Manufacturing Company stock to Seaton Grantland, H.W. Barnes, B.R. Blakely, and J.P. Nichols. James W. Brawner, Kincaid’s close associate, also sold $37,000 in stock to J.P. Nichols, Douglas Boyd, and J.J. Mangham because he wanted to focus on other interests, namely assuming the presidency of Kincaid Manufacturing. J.P. Nichols and H.W. Barnes took over as executives. This did not mean that Kincaid was through with the textile industry, as on September 15th, 1911 W. J. Kincaid, Allan Little, J.M. Brawner, and Frank Ingram bought 1,000 shares of stock in Kincaid Manufacturing from Seaton Grantland at a price of $100,000 ($2,698,831.58 in 2020). This all just meant that he was making room for a new group of leaders.

The Kincaid Manufacturing Company's southwestern facing façade. Photo Courtesy of Jarrett Craft.

Douglas Boyd and J.J. Mangham’s acquisition of Griffin Manufacturing stock from James W. Brawner was prestigious, as stockholders of Griffin Manufacturing had traditionally been the leaders of Griffin’s economy. It made sense that the men who controlled 41 percent of Griffin’s spindles would want to join that group. Surprisingly, this acquisition in Griffin Manufacturing Company’s stock represented the Boyd-Mangham group’s high-water mark. By December of 1911, they were forced to sell three out of their four mills as part of a long-running bankruptcy and embezzlement scandal.

With His Hand in the Cookie Jar: J.J. Mangham's Trial

This collapse was a major shock for the people of Griffin and the Georgia textile industry as a whole, as the Boyd-Mangham group of mills were seen as generally prosperous and well run enterprises. Many believed that the Boyd-Mangham saga began as a knock-on effect of the Panic of 1907, in which the stock markets of New York crashed, causing runs on trusts which formed an integral part of the stock system. The stock market, and economy as a whole, only really stabilized after J.P. Morgan intervened to provide cash for the banks and trusts which were receiving too many withdrawal requests to deal with. However, economic tremors continued for several years thereafter, including a considerably more minor Panic of 1910.

Wall Street flooded with crowds during the early days of the Panic of 1907. Several sources blamed the misfortunes of the Boyd-Mangham group on losses received during the 1907 panic and the ensuing recession. Photo Courtesy of Soerfm, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Boyd-Mangham group of mills, with the exception of the newly built Cherokee Mills, were forced into bankruptcy during this tumult. In May of 1911 the Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company halted production and began bankruptcy hearings, having filed a list of assets and liabilities which listed a number of debtors amongst the assets. Those parties denied owing anything to Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing, so an investigation ensued. Investigators shortly found enough evidence to procure a warrant for J.J. Mangham’s arrest on Thursday July 6th. Mangham was arrested on Friday the 7th. Charges against him included obtaining money under false pretenses and paying dividends on stock which had not been issued.

On Saturday July 8, 1911 J.J. Mangham gave testimony in his bankruptcy trial, pleading the 5th lest he incriminate himself. The stress of these charges appears to have weighed heavily on J.J. Mangham, as the 17th of August, 1911 saw his trial postponed on the grounds that he was mentally and physically unable to be of use to his lawyers. A doctor from the Piedmont sanitarium, where Mangham was a patient, testified in his defense. His brother J.W.’s case was also postponed. Doctors declared Mangham fit enough to resume the trial by November of 1911. The trial neared its conclusion by November 23, 1911, by which time the state had concluded its argument after questioning several Atlanta Bank officials and Griffin businessmen. All that was left was for Mangham’s defense to wrap up the cross examinations. By this point, onlookers filled the courtroom to watch the closing arguments, as the Atlanta Journal Constitution claimed that the case garnered a large attendance on account of the prominence of the issue.

Shortly afterwards, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Mangham, who was de facto in charge of Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing, created false entries in the company books so that it showed $200,000 more in assets than actually existed. He also fabricated a $150,000 unimpaired capital stock, which was actually impaired,  and $80,000 surplus which did not exist. Mangham evidently discounted the stock of the mill in Atlanta banks. The banks provided him with credit which he used to speculate illegally. Meanwhile Mangham further claimed that the company owed him $10,000, when he actually owed it several thousand instead.

Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company circa 1910. At this point much of the second floor housed the mill's thread spinning operation. This in turn fed the looms which produced fancy weaves, taking up the majority of the first floor. This mill became the epicenter of J.J. Mangham's embezzlement trial. Photo Courtesy of Jarrett Craft.

On the 25th of November, 1911 the court found J. J. Mangham guilty of embezzling $23,412.50 ($631,876.27 in 2020) and paying out illegal dividends on Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company stocks, a felony and a misdemeanor respectively. He was sentenced to 4 years at the state prison in Milledgeville. Mangham’s lawyer promptly filed a motion for a new trial. The motion was granted and the new trial set for December 29th, although other indictments were still pending against Mangham. Mangham’s case worked its way up through the appeals courts of Georgia before his final appeal was defeated on August 10th, 1912 in the State Appellate Court. His case could not be appealed any further because he was not charged with any Federal offences. Mangham surrendered to the prison on the 19th and began serving his sentence at the state farm in Milledgeville.

Picking up the Pieces: The Aftermath of the Mangham Trial

On April 2, 1913 J.J. Mangham’s lawyers announced that they would ask the prison commissioners to pardon Mangham, even though he had served less than a year of his prison sentence. On the 8th of November, 1913 a petition signed by 600 citizens of Griffin calling for clemency for the convicted J.J. Mangham was presented by two attorneys to a commission. Mangham had already been in prison since August of 1912, just the beginning of his 4 year sentence for embezzlement, along with a 1 year sentence for a misdemeanor. Even half of the jury which convicted him asked for his release on the grounds that Mangham had already been punished enough.

To put the severity of his sentence into perspective, the Register brothers, who committed involuntary homicide, were only given a sentence of 3 years. It was not until the 17th of August, 1915 that Governor Harris pardoned J.J. Mangham. The Governor was evidently swayed by three things: the petition from Griffin’s citizens, the fact that Mangham’s wife was on her deathbed, and that the prison commission recommended his release.

Pictured here is the No. 1 mill of the newly formed Georgia Cotton Mills, a consolidation of 3 of the Boyd-Mangham group's mills. This mill was formerly known as The Spalding Cotton Mills. Photo Courtesy of the Griffin-Spalding Historical Society.

The results of the trial were cataclysmic for the Boyd-Mangham group of mills. Not only were two of their owners convicted, as J.W. was saddled with charges of declaring illegal dividends which carried a $1,000 fine, the mills were also forcibly sold to Atlanta-based businessmen. On Dec. 9th, 1911 The Spalding Cotton Mills, The Central Mills, and Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company were sold at auction, each one for considerably less than they were appraised at. Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing and the Spalding Cotton Mills were valued at a combined $313,000, selling for $70,000 and $45,000 respectively. The Central Mills were sold for $48,000.

The sale of these three mills represented the largest forced sale made in middle Georgia up to that time. The Atlanta Journal Constitution claimed that efforts would be made to have the mills back in business by the following fall. Furthermore, Cherokee Mills went into bankruptcy as well, and was idle by April of 1912. It reportedly owned Lowell Machine Shops $15,292 ($404,195.94 in 2020) amongst other debts. By October 25th, 1912 the Cherokee Mills was advertised for sale as part of the bankruptcy.

When the dust settled Kincaid Manufacturing Company absorbed the Cherokee Mills, it became Kincaid No. 2. The other three mills from the Boyd-Mangham group were eventually consolidated under the corporate name of Georgia Cotton Mills. Clyde L. King, a businessman from Atlanta, controlled Georgia Cotton Mills with a capital base of $400,000. The new corporation produced shirtings, drills, sateens, huck, terry towels, and diaper cloth with a combined 30,000 spindles and 1,000 looms. In the early 1920s Georgia Cotton Mills went through some stormy times and they brought in a new president, John H. Cheatham, from the Hartwell Mills in Hartwell, Georgia. He quickly restored the mills to a profitable state, and in 1924 he offered to purchase the common stock of Kincaid Manufacturing Company. When the Kincaid stockholders accepted his offer, the Georgia Cotton Mills merged with Kincaid Manufacturing, finally bringing the Boyd-Mangham mills back under one corporate roof. The combined Georgia-Kincaid mills would later be renamed Dundee Mills, a name which became synonymous with Griffin textile production.

Laurine Dixon Entrekin: Bremen-Bowdon Investment Employee

Author: Judy Rowell

Laurine Dixson was born in Bowdon, Georgia on August 25, 1912. She married Forrest Entrekin in 1930.

Laurine Dixson Entrekin, 1951

In 1950, at the age of 38, she was a homemaker with 2 children Jerry, age 16, and Linda, age 8. In November of that year, Forrest Entrekin died at age 42. She owned a car but did not drive and had few options to support her family.

She took a job at Scoggins 5 &10, a dime store in Bowdon soon after the death of her husband.  James and Sarah Scoggins had purchased their store in 1949, the year before Mrs. Entrekin became a widow. At that time most counters had a small cash register, and the sales force consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Scoggins plus two or three full-time employees. Laurine Entrekin was one of those valuable employees.

Customers, with the aid of one of the sales staff, when needed, would go to different counters to find items they wished to purchase and pay for their purchases at that area. Customers might often pay at two or three different cash registers before leaving the store.

Laurine Entrekin, her mother, Clara Dixson, her daughter Linda Entrekin Cater and her grandchildren, Bart and Beth Cater –Inside the plant on July 16, 1976.

Mrs. Entrekin worked there for approximately one year before a relative helped her secure a job at Warren Sewell Clothing Company in Bowdon. She was hired as a seamstress and sewed the collar on a man’s suit. She was a petite lady, and handling the entire coat (especially the wool coats during summer) was difficult as she was expected to make production (complete a required number of sewn collars) each day.

In addition to working from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday through Friday for Sewell’s (the colloquial name for the apparel) company, she continued to work at Scoggins 5 & 10 during her one-hour lunch break from 1:00 to 2:00, and all day on Saturdays. During the later years of Mrs. Entrekin continuing to work a second job, the dime store changed to self-service with cash registers at the entrance.  It was most important to have help during lunch as the “Sewell lunch hour” was the busiest time of the day. Mrs. Entrekin would eat the lunch she had brought from home, run “up town” and assist the then full-time clerks at the cash registers.

Customers usually found what they needed and carried the items they desired to purchase to one of the “check outs” as they were commonly called. As items were rung they would be bagged and ready to leave the store as soon as they were paid for. Often times customers would hand a hand full of items over to the cashier along with a couple of dollars and say, “Put these on layaway for me.” Many times the cashier would have no idea who the person was, but before anything could be said, Mrs. Entrekin would grab the layaway and already had the name written down. She knew almost everyone who worked at the plant.

Bowdon Bulletin, July 1976.

With hourly wages at the plant standing at $1.00 in 1961, a 5 &10 lunch hour job for the employees such as Mrs. Entrekin, gained a bit of extra income and were favored with a discount on purchases. The practice benefitted the merchant owner, as well. With the limited time for shopping and especially during the holiday seasons of Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day when items were placed on layaway, the clerks like Mrs. Entrekin expedited the process by being familiar with the names of the people from the plants coming in to pay a dollar or fifty cents on their chosen items. Time was saved for the shopper as well as the merchant. Thursday and Friday (payday) were especially busy days.

Laurine Entrekin worked at Warren Sewell Clothing for 24 years, retiring in 1976. The Bowdon Bulletin noted her retirement on Monday, June 16, which was marked with a retirement dinner and a picture in the “Sewell Life” section of the paper. She passed away on October 26. 2005, at the age of 93.

Remembering Anchor Duck Mill with Leon Shiver

Author: Brandon Cohran

History is the memory of perspective. Events are remembered by how they are documented. Leon Shiver, the feature of this story, grew up in a cotton mill village in Rome, Georgia. He has collected memorabilia and artifacts from the Anchor Duck mill, as well as attended annual reunions of the people who grew up in the mills. Years later, Leon understood the importance of his story and reached out to us at the Center for Public History, in order to share his love of history with us. Leon has sent us personal stories and accounts from his childhood that has helped us to understand what it was like to live in the textile mill villages, that we research and study now. Leon has welcomed many students from the University of West Georgia to his home in order to look over and photograph items from his personal collection of documents, items, and photos. Because of our relationship with Mr. Shiver, we have been able to improve our understanding of textile mill life in Georgia, while adding his stories, maps, and photographs to our collection. 

Leon Shiver providing context for photographs from his collection. Courtesy Keri Adams and UWG Center for Public History.

The history of the textile industry in northwest Georgia contains many narratives. Economically, the textile mills that were spread throughout this region led to the stabilization of many communities. Some cotton mills were later revitalized as apartment lofts or stores, and mill village homes remained in use in the decades following the mills closing down, preserving the structures, but the historical importance on the economy is lost. Anchor Duck Mill and part of the mill village, however, closed in 1958 and has since been razed, but Leon Shiver appreciated the history that was around him as he worked to preserve any of the history that he could. He sent his personal stories from his childhood of growing up in a mill, as well as allowing students and faculty to visit his home to see his collection of memorabilia of the Anchor Duck Mill. This is his story.


Leon Shiver was born in 1939, and his family moved to Rome, Georgia, in 1940 from Sale City, Georgia. His family came to Rome, on his uncle’s promise of work at Anchor Duck Mill for his father, who was trying to fight the Great Depression as a farmer. Anchor Duck Mill, incorporated in 1900, manufactured cotton duck, which was a heavy-duty cloth used for products, such as ropes and sails. Howard Shiver, Leon’s father, began working at Anchor Duck Mill as a sweeper in the weave rooms keeping the floors clean and kept, but he worked his way up to “Loom Fixer” as he then worked maintenance upkeep on looms.

Howard Shiver, working at Anchor Duck Mill. Photograph from Leon Shiver collection.

Cotton mill work was not an easy job. It was especially not a clean job. Leon recalled how his father climbed under the looms in order to fix them, but “both men and women chewed tobacco in these days, as smoking was prohibited, and often the tobacco spit would be under the looms.” He remembered that his father “always had a change of bib overalls for obvious reasons.” Due to his hard work in the mill – first sweeping dust and debris up from the weave room, and then working on looms themselves – Leon’s father moved up in the company and was promoted all the way to “Second Hand,” or a position similar to a foreman. Howard Shiver’s promotion meant that the Shivers were moving houses, too. In company villages, the employee rented housing was offered on a tier-based system, meaning that the higher your position at the mill, the “bigger and better house you could rent.” The price tag that came along with this upgrade was “50 cents per room per week,” Leon recalled while looking over a photograph of one of his childhood homes in the village.

Mill school picture of Leon Shiver, shown third from right in the center row. Photograph from the Leon Shiver collection.

Growing up in a mill village meant that the company created the community, and maintained all the necessities of life, but also provided the amenities, too. When Leon was a boy, age 11 or 12 in the early ‘50s, he went to work for Robert Branton, who operated a grocery store. Leon delivered groceries all throughout the mill village to folks. He recounted that deliveries were hassle-free because “in those days, nobody locked their doors, so I could put stuff in the icebox as needed and the rest on the kitchen table.” Mill villages often had their own schools in place as well, and Leon attended one where approximately 90% of his classmates were from the mill village. The mill company stores were common throughout the textile industry, and Anchor Duck Mill had its own store as well as company scrip for employees to use at the company store, like Leon Shiver’s shown here.

Anchor Duck Mill store scrip backside. Coin from the Leon Shiver collection.

When Leon was not delivering groceries around the mill village, he was taking photographs. In 1948 or ‘49, his father won a camera from a punchboard drawing that Leon used to take photos of the “Village People” when his family lived on Blanch Avenue in the village. Leon told us stories of running around the mill village taking photos of his friends and family, such as Carl Dunn who boarded with the Shivers on-and-off throughout their time at Anchor Duck Mill. Photography stayed a passion for Leon throughout his life and travels to this day.

Aerial view of some Anchor Duck Mill village houses. Leon Shiver’s home was the corner lot, opposite the baseball field wall. Photograph from the Leon Shiver collection.

Sports played a prominent role in many mills throughout Georgia. Anchor Duck was no different, as it hosted a baseball team, and both a women’s and men’s basketball team. Leon was very familiar with the baseball field growing up because his childhood home was right across the street from it. Leon shared the story about a time that Rome experienced heavy rainfall and bad flooding. Silver Creek, the river that flowed through Anchor Duck’s property, periodically flooded. Leon recalled that during one of these floods, the scoreboard from the baseball field washed away and right by his house. He then used the board as a raft to float around while the water was high enough. 

Leon Shiver pointing to Anchor Duck bowling league trophies. Courtesy UWG Center for Public History.

Leon experienced some negative times growing up in the mill village, too. The General Textile Strike of 1934 caused shifts in the political and social spheres regarding workers’ labor rights and tension among workers at Anchor Duck. In 1948/49, workers at Anchor Duck led a strike of their own, but Leon’s father, as a Second Hand at the mill, worked throughout the strike. Since Howard Shiver was a Second Hand, he continued to work, even when the strike happened at Anchor Duck. As he was leaving one night, he was threatened by two Strikers, but Howard encouraged them to move along without any trouble. Leon, as a child of a worker, also felt the tension of the strike because he was “frequently accosted by the striker’s children, called a ‘scab’ and generally harassed by them.” Leon carried ‘chunking’ rocks in his bicycle basket in order to ward off the striker’s kids and to get home safely. 

Leon Shiver providing context and details to a photograph from his collection with Textile Trail Curator Brandon Cohran. Courtesy Keri Adams and UWG Center for Public History.

Anchor Duck Mill was Leon’s home growing up. His family experience is a common story for mill families that once lived in communities in the Textile Trail corridor. We, at the Center for Public History at the University of Georgia, are grateful that he preserves and shares his memories, scrapbooks, and photographs. Leon understands the significance of the textile industry and the people who worked in the mills. He loves to share his story – and collection – with anyone who is interested as he often says that “history is meant to be shared” and that he is glad that he is able to help to tell the story of Anchor Duck Mill and other surrounding mills.

Doorknobs from nearby Shannon Mills, in Floyd County, Georgia, village houses. Artifacts from Leon Shiver collection. Courtesy UWG Center for Public History.

 Leon is an annual attendee to the Anchor Duck Mill reunion that is held every fall. This reunion is where Leon gets the opportunity to share – and grow – his collection of memorabilia and artifacts regarding Anchor Duck Mill and surrounding mills, including Pepperell and Shannon mills. Leon has contributed to our work at the Center for Public History in many ways since getting to know him. Photographs from his collection were used in our first guidebook that was published as part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. In addition, Leon contributed new items to the Center’s archival collections, as Leon provided us with blueprints and maps of cotton mills and a photograph album documenting the 1971 worker’s strike from the mill in Trion, Georgia.   Leon’s willingness to share his collection and personal story provides the Textile Trail with a new depth of knowledge of this region’s shared history, as well as new resources to interpret and explore the history of the textile industry in northwest and central west Georgia.

Dangers of Mill Life

Working in textile mills before the mid-1900s was rife with danger. The entire mill line was exposed to hundreds of fast-moving parts—belts, spindles, shuttles–that could easily snag you if you were not paying attention. It was not uncommon for workers in mills to have accidents, such as getting a limb caught in a machine, which would leave them injured for life. Working in a mill could also result in chronic illness, as the lint in the air that workers breathed could accumulate in the lungs, causing respiratory problems.

hine-empty children

Adults were not the only ones to face the hazards of mill life. Unlike today, when you have to be at least a teenager to go to work, children were permitted and even encouraged to work in textile plants so that they could help their families financially. These children, due to their small size, would be tasked with climbing on the machinery to reach places that adults could not, allowing them to fix any breakdowns or tangling of textile lines. That also meant that, because they were reaching into and climbing on the machines, they were very likely to fall victim to accidents.

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Thankfully, as time went on and machinery safety and building architecture improved, so did working conditions. Federal laws began to prohibit children from working until they reached a reasonable age and the health and safety of employees began to receive more attention from authorities. Outside of government intervention, workers also began to band together to form unions that acted to intercede both with employers and with the government to work for improvements such as shorter workdays and fair pay. While the successes of unions varied from time to time and place to place, their work often did lead to reforms that greatly improved life for mill workers.

The Life of a Dalton Textile Woman: Rosa “Midge” Murphy

Textile History, Women’s History, Our History

On November 10th, 2013, the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail Team traveled to the Dalton Freight Depot in Dalton, Georgia, to host a History Day where staff would gather the recollections, artifacts, and photos of people who had connections to the textile history of the Dalton area. One of the people who came to give to see us was a woman by the name of Rosa “Midge” Murphy. Midge is a very strong woman who began working in textile mills in 1953 when her first child was 3 years old. She had to go to work to earn money for her family, but she also found ways to enjoy her work and, judging by her stories, she did it very well.  In an era where women faced many limitations in the working world because of their gender, Midge used perseverance, creativity, and determination to make a career in the textile industry and earn the respect of her male bosses and coworkers.

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Over the course of 30 years, Midge worked in multiple textile mills and accumulated a host of skills and priceless experiences. At one mill, the quality of her work and the strength of her personality earned her so much respect, when they opened up a mill in England in 1968, they asked her to go abroad to the new branch to train the new employees. Though pleased by the request, she decided not to go because her son was graduating from school that year and she wanted to be there when he graduated.

At another carpet mill, Midge became the first woman in Dalton to run a new type of carpet-making machine because the male machine operator who normally did the job frequently got called away for other tasks. On one particular occasion, when she was called to stand in, yet again, for the male operator, she realized that she was doing this man’s work for LESS pay than he was making, due in part to her gender. In the course of her interview, she told us that when she came upon that realization, she simply sat down and refused to operate the machine, telling her superior, “Until I get operators pay, I ain’t running that d— machine!” She was then escorted to the “boss” (a fellow called “Big Joe”) where her supervisor explained the situation and asked for an intervention. After hearing Midge’s story, Big Joe asked if she could do all of the tasks required of an operator. When her supervisor replied that she could, the boss replied that, since that was the case, she should probably make operator’s pay. By demanding (and receiving) pay equal to that of her male counterparts in the Dalton carpet mills, Midge achieved what many women are still fighting for to this day!

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Midge’s adventures did not end there. She later worked at Normandy Carpet, another carpet mill in Dalton, and her skills won her a position where she did a good amount of traveling for the company, training regional employees on how to operate new machines. She shared with us that she and her female co-worker (who formed a sort of team with Midge) were often received with a bit of condescension by the men that they were to teach until they had proven their considerable skill.

After a visit to her nephew in Warner Robbins, Georgia, in 1980, Midge decided to leave Normandy Carpet to open up her own tailoring business where she utilized the skills she had acquired throughout her years in the textile industry. Her shop was quite successful for over two decades and she frequently did work for the US military. Eventually, because of her son’s concern for her health, she closed down her business and now only works part-time, spending the rest of her hours volunteering by reading to children and dressing up as Mrs. Claus for the holidays. She also spends a good amount of time quilting and giving some of her creations to new mothers for their babies.

Midge was not only an important player in the textile history of Dalton but was also a great asset to the women’s movement in the late 20th century.

Dalton day 085

Cotton Mill Expansion after the Civil War

The number of textile mills in Georgia increased dramatically during the late nineteenth century. Atlanta Constitution editor Henry Grady fervently called for a Cotton Mill Campaign to rebuild the region after the Civil War and “bring the cotton mills to the cotton fields.” In his vision of the “New South,” railroad lines would link cotton mills to markets in the South and the North.

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Northern mill owners and southern entrepreneurs, attracted by lower taxes, cheaper labor, and the absence of a labor union, embraced this vision to establish industry in the South. By 1880, Georgia boasted the largest number of spindles and looms among all southern states. The new mills were larger, multi-story brick buildings increasingly operated by steam-power and full of efficient new machinery that produced yarn, cloth, and other textile products. Many Georgia cotton mills built company towns to maximize their profits and manage their employees. Workers rented homes from the company, the size based on the number of family members working at the mill; bought food and supplies at inflated prices from the company store; attended the mill church; and sent their children to the mill school. By 1900, 92 percent of mill workers in the South lived in company-owned mill villages. Textile mills employed primarily white workers, both adults and children, in the factories. Men obtained higher-paying jobs as supervisors and mechanics, while women and children operated the machines.

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In the segregated South, African Americans faced fewer opportunities and lower pay: black men worked “on the yard,” in the cotton house, or in janitorial work, while their wives and daughters could only find employment as domestics in the homes of white families in the mill village.

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