Come see the birthplace of Georgia’s largest family-run textile empire!
West Point was home to one of the largest locally-owned companies to come out of West Georgia. Formed in the aftermath of the Civil War, the mills which became West Point Manufacturing provided jobs through the hard years of Reconstruction. West Point Manufacturing was formed circa 1881 and expanded steadily under the leadership of the Lanier family over the next 100 years, consolidating their stakes in the Chattahoochee River valley, the west Georgian, southeastern, and national markets in succession. The company collapsed after a hostile takeover shook it to its core in 1989, leading to an exodus of top executives. Today, many of the West Point Manufacturing’s brands are produced by a successor company, WestPoint Homes.
Things To Do
- West Point Depot, 500 3rd Avenue: The building dates back to 1887, and was at one time the freight transfer building for Alabama and Georgia railroads. Now, it is a visitor center and museum. Their hours of operation are Monday through Friday 9:00 am – 4:00 pm and Saturday 10:00 am – 2:00 pm.
- Riverview Dam, 105 Lower Street, Valley Alabama: This site is a public area where the original dam which provided power for the Riverdale Cotton Mill is located. Visitors can wade into the Chattahoochee River to examine the dam and view the site of the Riverdale mill.
Places To See
- Fairfax Mill and Mill Village, 436 Boulevard: The village is centered on a main street that loops from Highway 29 towards the site of the mill before turning back to Highway 29. This was the final village built and designed by West Point Manufacturing. 200 homes were built here between 1915 and 1919, with a further 200 or so built by 1936 across Highway 29 in an area called New Town. A handful of the remaining homes on Johnson and Peterson streets were part of the “colored village” which housed African American employees during the segregation period. These employees worked mostly in construction, at the West Point Utilization plant, or as menial laborers. Their homes are notably smaller and farther away from the mill than homes built for white employees. The company built several amenities during this time including a swimming pool, tennis courts, gym, boarding house, and a baseball field, Crestview Ballpark, which still stands. Crestview Field, as it is now known, can be found at 198 W. Sears Street.
- Shawmut Mill and Mill Village, 2302 34th Street: The majority of the mill has been demolished, but the foundation, a small portion of the original facade, and the central tower can all be viewed at 2302 34th Street in Valley, Alabama. However, the mill village is intact. This was the first comprehensively planned mill village built by West Point Manufacturing. Shawmut was designed as part of the City Beautiful movement of the 1900s which included professional planning, coordination of architecture and landscaping, and the prominent placement of public buildings. The layout of the village is centered on a North-South axis and spreads out of a circle situated directly in front of the mill. 8 residential streets radiate out from the central circle to the boundary of the formal plan, which forms a rough hexagon. The Chattahoochee Valley Railroad forms the eastern edge of the hexagon. Public buildings along the central circle included a school, three churches, a library, an auditorium, a movie theater, and the “Lower Stores” shopping center. The “Upper Stores” shopping center was located near the superintendent’s house further up the main boulevard. The village also boasted a modern hotel, cafeteria, and sporting facilities such as tennis courts and a baseball park.
- Riverdale Mill Site and Riverview Mill Village, 53 Middle Street: The site of the former Alabama-Georgia Manufacturing Company is still partially intact, although demolition has been in process since before 2017. Visitors can drive through the mill village, which is a good example of earlier unplanned “mill hill” developments that sprung up around textile factories.
- Langdale Mill and Mill Village, 6000 20th Avenue: The earliest portions of Langdale Mill date back to the 1880s and the beginning of West Point Manufacturing. While much of the mill has been demolished, the original main mill still stands as of May 2020. Langdale’s mill village is a good example of early textile “mill hill” villages, which were rather disorganized clusters of duplex houses constructed near the mill. These early homes were gradually upgraded by the company and were joined by the addition of 150 single-family frame bungalows between 1920-1936. Village life was augmented by company-owned schools, churches, gymnasiums, a baseball field, pools, and a masonic lodge.
- Lanett Mill and Mill Village, 600 US-29: This is the site of the former Lanett Cotton Mills. While the mill itself has been demolished, the barracks-style mill village still stands. Much of the original houses still exist in the area bounded by 1st street, 10th Street, 4th Street, and Highway 29. This area was directly across from the mill.
Explore this community’s history via the drop-down sections below!
West Point’s textile history began in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. Community leaders, including George Huguley and James W. McClendon, raised funds by selling cotton stores which had been successfully hidden from raiding Federal soldiers. They used this capital as startup money for ventures to bring industrialization to the Chattahoochee River Valley. In 1866, McClendon established Chattahoochee Manufacturing Company, converting the Trammell grist mill – located in modern-day Langdale, Alabama – into a cotton factory. At the same time, Huguley formed the Alabama-Georgia Manufacturing Company by acquiring the Campbell grist mill at Riverview and revamping it to produce cotton cloth. Both of these mills were in Chambers County, Alabama, but from the beginning, their leadership and capital were located in West Point.
The mills were decent sized operations for the time. Chattahoochee Manufacturing Company commanded 50 looms and 3,000 spindles worked by 75 to 100 workers producing osnaburgs, a coarsely woven fabric usually used to make sacks. The Alabama-Georgia Manufacturing Company was similarly sized at 3,000 spindles, 8 cards, and 48 looms. The two mills prospered through the remainder of the 1860s and developed a name for quality. Both mills were still young and therefore were financially fragile. As such, they were unable to navigate the economic depression caused by the Panic of 1873 and were both forced to close.
It was during this period that the Lanier brothers made their entrance into the region’s textile industry. After returning from serving in the Civil War, Lafayette and Ward Crockett Lanier founded a mercantile business in West Point. They used the profits from this business to establish a bank and an insurance company. Their biggest investment which stemmed from this was in the Chattahoochee Manufacturing Company. The brothers acquired a stake in the company from James McClendon in exchange for a parcel of land. In addition, Lafayette Lanier married Ada Huguley which gave him a family interest in George Huguley’s Alabama-Georgia Manufacturing Company.
The Laniers helped to pull the two companies out of the depression. During this period, they employed new superintendents at the Chattahoochee Manufacturing Company mill, an experienced father and son team from England named Thomas and William Lang. The Langs oversaw the change in production from osnaburg to flat duck. This product was an extremely versatile material, which could be used for sails in merchant clipper fleets and for tents and wagon covers used by the army and settlers pushing west. Their efforts increased the mill’s profitability substantially, to the point that the mill village was renamed Langdale in their honor.
To sell this new product, the Laniers formed a relationship with N Boynton & Co., a selling agency based in Boston. Their new selling agents distributed duck from the Chattahoochee River Valley-based mills to the national market. They had the connections with railroad companies and clipper shipyards which consumed millions of yards of duck. By the 1880s, the mills of the valley had developed a reputation for quality duck, and even earned an honorable mention for their exhibit on soft and hard thread duck at the 1881 International Cotton Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia.
By this point, the Lanier brothers had purchased a controlling interest in the Chattahoochee Manufacturing Company and reorganized it under the name West Point Manufacturing Company. The company was founded with a capital of $107,641.30 owned by 8 shareholders. The company flourished until 1886 when the mill burned to the ground. The Lanier brothers were on hand for the fire. Instead of panicking, they obtained financial backing from N Boynton & Co. and rebuilt. In exchange for rebuilding the mill many of the executives at N. Boynton & Co. became directors at West Point Manufacturing Company, N. Boynton & Co. became the sole selling agent of the company, and West Point Manufacturing’s treasury was moved to Boston. The arrangement increased the company’s capital to $300,000. In addition, the new mill was substantially larger, boasting 12,000 spindles and 300 looms producing duck.
While West Point Manufacturing was able to endure stretches of adversity, Alabama-Georgia Manufacturing Company could not. When it collapsed in 1890, Lafayette Lanier used his family connections to reincorporate it under the name of Galeton Cotton Mills. This led to an ownership dispute which reached the U.S. Supreme Court in Huguley Mfg. Co. v. Galeton Cotton Mills (1902). When he won, Lanier reincorporated the mill again as Riverdale Cotton Mills, a subsidiary of West Point Manufacturing Company. In this manner, he brought all the mills in the Chattahoochee Valley under his control. During this period, the mill was steadily expanded so that by 1901 it employed 300 people and featured 310 looms and 12,000 spindles producing duck.
At the same time as the Alabama-Georgia Manufacturing Company was collapsing, the Laniers were building new mills with financial backing from Boston. They incorporated Lanett Cotton Mills as a subsidiary of West Point Manufacturing Company in 1893, and construction was completed in 1894. This new factory was the largest so far, with 20,000 spindles and 550 looms producing duck, wide sheeting, and drills. To go along with that, they built Lanett Bleachery & Dye Works in 1895. This facility bleached, dyed, and finished products from the mills of the Valley. At its start, it could bleach 5 tons per day and dye 30,000 to 40,000 yards. As big as that sounds, it only employed around 150 people.
Lafayette Lanier also acquired a controlling interest in an operation in Rock Mills which Lafayette had been involved with since the 1880s. Although it would change back and forth between being called Rosedale Manufacturing Company and Wehadkee Yarn Mills, it would remain in the Lanier family for another 120 years.
Lafayette Lanier had become the undisputed leader of his family’s interests in the textile business. He made trips to Boston for meetings with their Northern backers year in and year out. By 1900 he was president of all three mills in the Valley: Riverdale Cotton Mills, Lanett Cotton Mills, and West Point Manufacturing Company. At his death in 1910, he headed an empire that boasted 5 separate mills, 389 cards, 2,604 looms, 127,000 spindles and employed at least 2,300 people. This included the new, ultra-modern Shawmut mill. Shawmut was constructed in 1907-1908. It was the first fully electric mill in the Valley and was the first fully planned mill village community created by West Point Manufacturing Company.
Up until the construction of Shawmut, mill villages in the Chattahoochee Valley were completely unplanned. Houses were constructed and arranged in a haphazard manner by the company, generally clustered in a bunch around the mill building. In the time leading up to the building of Shawmut, reformers nationwide were calling for houses set on wide, planned boulevards which featured multiple variations of arts and crafts style homes. The company was also expected to construct kindergartens, schools, libraries, hospitals, and churches. Shawmut was the first mill in the Chattahoochee Valley to adhere to this concept.
The death of Lafayette Lanier, although premature, did not stop the progress of his textile empire. He was replaced as president at Lanett Cotton Mills by a business associate from Boston, William Wellington, who had become the senior partner of N. Boynton & Co. and renamed it Wellington Sears & Co. After an interim president, Lanier was succeeded as president of Riverdale Cotton Mills and West Point Manufacturing by J.B. Richmond of Boston. Lafayette Lanier’s eldest son, George Huguley Lanier, named after his grandfather (the founder of Alabama-Georgia Manufacturing), took control of the family interests and was named vice president at West Point Manufacturing, Lanett Cotton Mills, and Riverdale Cotton Mills. Finally, his youngest son, Lafayette Lanier Jr., took control of Lafayette Sr.’s shares in Wehadkee Yarn Mills of Rock Mills in 1917 while also acting as the cotton buyer for the mills in the Valley.
West Point Manufacturing continued to expand under the watch of J.B. Richmond. In 1915 construction began on a new mill at Fairfax, Alabama. It was the second fully electric mill to be built in the Valley and second to feature a planned mill village. The new plant produced towels and operated with 25,000 ring spindles, 1,500 narrow looms, and 400 employees. Except for a short stint during World War I where it produced duck for the US Army, Fairfax was known for towel production for the entire time it was in operation.
Richmond and Wellington oversaw the Valley mills through World War I and into the 1920s. In 1925, Richmond became Chairman of the Board, and George H. Lanier was promoted to the position of president. The company consolidated by 1927, with Riverdale Cotton Mills and Lanett Cotton Mills being absorbed into West Point Manufacturing Company and becoming the Riverview and Lanett plants respectively. Shortly thereafter, they pushed further into the towel market by purchasing the well known Martex brand, which would become the staple of West Point Manufacturing’s towel industry and is still in production today.
George H. Lanier maintained his position as company president of the newly consolidated West Point Manufacturing until his death in 1948. He managed the company through the stormy times of the Great Depression and World War II. In 1935, at the height of the Depression, mills controlled by the Lanier family boasted 440 cards, 5,128 looms, 267,544 spindles, and most importantly employed at least 4,868 people. George H. Lanier expanded operations into Georgia by acquiring Dixie Cotton Mills in LaGrange in 1933. Lanier continued expanding by purchasing his longtime selling agency Wellington Sears & Co. in 1945, acquiring Cabin Crafts industries in Dalton in 1946, and buying Columbus Manufacturing Company of Columbus, Georgia in 1947. Wellington Sears & Co. came with the added bonus of two more duck producing mills in Anderson, South Carolina. These acquisitions laid the foundation for a massive diversification of the product line. While West Point Manufacturing would continue to be known as a producer of duck and toweling, Cabin Craft industries was the beginning of what would become a massive carpet division in Dalton. Dixie Cotton Mills in LaGrange gradually transitioned from a duck factory to produce silk and rayon products and would eventually become part of a consumer products division.
Carleton B. Richmond and R.G. Boyd succeeded George H. Lanier as president after his death. They acted as little more than caretakers until 1951, when George’s eldest son Joseph “Joe” Lamar Lanier Sr. became president. At the time that Joe took over, the Lanier family controlled a vast textile empire which featured a total of 379,872 spindles, 8,386 looms, and 11 plants, including the mills purchased with Wellington, Sears & Co. in Anderson as well as Wehadkee Yarn Mills run by Joe’s younger brother Bruce. Joe initiated a sales campaign in post-war Europe, hoping to expand the business abroad and take advantage of Europe’s slow economic recovery. Under his watch, West Point Manufacturing sold shares on the New York Stock Exchange for the first time. The company also sold the mill village houses in the Valley to their tenants, creating 2,000 new property owners. But Joe Lanier’s biggest achievement was orchestrating the merger between West Point Manufacturing Company and Pepperell Manufacturing Company to create West Point-Pepperell, which he promptly became CEO and Chairman of, in 1965.
The West Point-Pepperell was fully consolidated by 1970. In that year, the company featured an Industrial Fabrics division, Apparel Fabrics division, Consumer Products division, and a Carpets and Rugs Division. The Industrial Fabrics, Apparel Fabrics, and Consumer Products divisions boasted a massive combined total of 14,837 looms and 479,364 spindles in 25 mills spread across 6 states. The Carpets and Rugs Division was mostly based in Dalton, Georgia, but had operations in North Carolina and Massachusetts, as well.
Joe L. Lanier Sr. retired in 1974 and passed on the family interests to his son Joseph L. Lanier Jr., who became President of West Point-Pepperell in 1974 and CEO and Chairman five years later. During the period of his presidency, the company built on their carpet business in Dalton by purchasing Ludlow Corporation’s assets and establishing Georgian Carpets. In 1980, at the beginning of his Chairmanship, West Point-Pepperell reached $2.2 billion in sales and employed 35,000 people in 15 states and 9 countries.
Lanier was unwilling to rest on these laurels. He undertook a massive expansion campaign starting in 1980. Acquisitions included Virginia Crafts, Tifton Carpet Spinning, Bond Cote Systems of Virginia, Arthur Sanderson & Son Ltd. of London, Cluett, Peabody & Co., and competitor J.P. Stevens & Co. The company also underwent a $150 million modernization project which brought their spinning and weaving operations up to date.
Arthur Sanderson & Son were a major textile marketing firm in London, the addition of which signified West Point-Pepperell’s ambition to push into the international market. The purchase of Cluett, Peabody & Co. brought the famous Arrow shirt and Halston line of men’s clothing into the company’s profile. The acquisition of J.P. Stevens & Co. also had a massive impact. The purchase included brands such as Ralph Lauren and Laura Ashley and eliminated J.P. Stevens & Co. as a competitor. However, it also doubled the company’s debt ratio.
This, in addition to valuable name brands, the state of the art manufacturing facilities, and the non-unionized labor pool proved a lure to corporate raiders. Only 8 months after the purchase of J.P. Stevens & Co., William Farley, a corporate raider whose most notable capture had been Fruit of the Loom Inc., began a hostile takeover of West Point-Pepperell. The takeover was opposed by the Laniers, the board, the employees, and the state legislature. Farley won, purchasing 95% of the company’s shares for $3 billion. He then established himself as Chairman and CEO. Joseph Lanier Jr. and many of the directors left the company in response. For the first time since the company’s founding in 1880, the Laniers were not involved.
Farley was in trouble from the beginning. Many key positions were left empty by a mass exodus of executives. To make matters worse, the former head of J.P. Stevens & Co. took the rights to the Laura Ashley brand with him. The executives were not the only disgruntled members of the company, however. Factory workers regularly burned Fruit of the Loom merchandise in protest during the takeover. Moreover, Farley had saddled himself with a load of debt during the takeover. His plan to finance the deal by selling junk bonds fell through. He attempted to sell off assets such as Cluett and Peabody to meet his loan payment deadline, but received too low a price too late. In March 1990 he ceded control of his 95% majority.
The holding company that Farley used to facilitate the takeover, West Point Acquisition, soon filed for bankruptcy. Farley remained as Chairman and CEO, but was soon forced out by private investors who restructured and renamed the holding company to Valley Fashions Corporation. Investors also sued Farley for failing to complete the takeover.
The economic recession of the early 1990s further aggravated the turbulency in the corporate office. West Point-Pepperell sales dropped 5.9%. In February 1993 Joseph L. Jennings, a relative of the Lanier family, was brought in as president to help stabilize the operations. He initiated a plan which involved consolidating company brands to streamline production and investing $200 million in new mill equipment. The following year the Valley Fashions Corporation acquired the remaining 5% of West Point-Pepperell shares and merged with its subsidiaries to create West Point-Stevens.
West Point-Stevens immediately undertook an aggressive marketing campaign and introduced several new products to reclaim their lost market share. Things were beginning to improve as the company approached the new millennium. But that optimism did not last long. West Point-Stevens filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2004, after $103 million in losses since 2001. They shut down the old Dunson and Dixie mills in LaGrange as well as a towel factory in Valley. In 2005 West Point-Stevens was sold to American Real Estate Partners LP for $703.5 million, who now operate the company’s assets through their subsidiary, West Point Home. West Point Home has since shut down many of its manufacturing operations in the United States and moved its corporate offices to New York City. This ended the city of West Point’s role as a corporate headquarters and center of textile manufacturing, which had lasted for over 140 years. However, West Point Home still carries several of West Point Manufacturing’s traditional brands, such as Martex, and West Point Pepperell’s famous Lady Pepperell brand. While no textile manufacturing activities remain in the Chattahoochee Valley area today, several of the mill villages still stand as monuments to the Chattahoochee Valley’s industrial past. Altogether, the remaining buildings and the work of West Point Home continue the legacy built by the Lanier family and their employees.
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Resources to Explore
Click on the following links to learn more about this region.
- Facts for Kids
- Digital Library of Georgia
- Georgia Archives Virtual Vault
- Georgia Historical Society
- Troup County, New Georgia Encyclopedia
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