This area, which straddles Georgia’s Fall Line, has historically been home to water-powered industries. The 1830s and 40s saw early cotton mills established at Troup Factory on Flat Shoals Creek near LaGrange, on Tobler and Potato Creeks near Thomaston, and in the city of Columbus. They were replaced by new steam-powered mills built to take advantage of the logistical benefits offered by the railroads after being destroyed in the Civil War. The period from the 1880s to the 1920s saw LaGrange, Manchester, Thomaston, and Griffin join Columbus as powerhouses of the textile industry by utilizing the railroads and steam power. While West Point originally built its mills to take advantage of the water power offered by the Chattahoochee, it quickly took advantage of capital from the Northeast and the local railroad to become home to one of the largest mill groups in the South. This southern region produced everything from towels, sheetings, and shirtings to heavy industrial fabrics such as army duck. However, it was never reached by the chenille industry which exploded from the Northern Region. Today, only Thomaston, LaGrange, and Hogansville have textile businesses that still operate out of historic cotton mills. Many have been demolished, but cities such as LaGrange and Columbus have worked to repurpose and preserve their historic architecture for generations to come.
Community leaders and investors pooled resources, which frequently included northern capital, as “mill fever” spread across the landscape in the late nineteenth century. Industrial development depended upon the strengths of particular leaders, such as the Callaways in LaGrange, the Laniers in West Point, and the Hightowers in Thomaston. The success of the mills also came from the hundreds of men, women, and children who operated the spindles and looms.
The histories of these textile mills are connected through the products they made. During the mid-nineteenth century, mills such as the Troup Factory near LaGrange and the Eagle Mill in Columbus produced an array of cotton cloth, yarns, and threads such as osnaburgs, kerseys, and cassimers. After the Civil War, the production of cotton duck, a canvas-like cloth, dominated production for use in ship sails, tents, and covered wagons. Duck gained new value as an industrial fabric in the booming new rubber tire business for automobiles in the early twentieth century.
As the textile industry began to decline after World War II, most cotton mills closed or were converted to new types of production. The Callaway Mills produced most terry cloth towels, industrial fabrics, and carpet when Milliken purchased the company in 1968. In Columbus, where most mills were closed by the 1990s, preservation advocates work to preserve the historic industrial waterfront.
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