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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.