Come visit a textile community that thrived for a century under the operation of just a few individuals.
Griffin’s textile industry began in 1883 with the founding of Griffin Manufacturing and expanded rapidly in the following decades. Fighting through race riots, minor strikes, tornados, fires, and economic depression, Griffin’s textile industry steadily built a name for itself. By 1909 Griffin boasted seven cotton mills, including one of the largest towel mills in the world in Kincaid Manufacturing and four mills owned by the Boyd-Mangham group. However, an embezzlement scandal soon brought the Boyd-Mangham mills under new ownership and shocked all of Georgia in the process. Several knitting mills were also added to Griffin’s textile business during the 1910s and 1920s.
The majority of those cotton mills gradually came under the control of the Cheatham family’s Georgia-Kincaid Mills during the 1920s, while branches of the Shapard family owned the lion’s share of the town’s knitting mills by the 1950s. The Cheatham controlled mills, formerly known as the Georgia-Kincaid Mills, changed names to Dundee Mills after their famous Dundee Towel brand. The story of Griffin textiles revolves around these two families who drove production for the remainder of the 20th century and beyond. Although the Dundee Mills are gone today, companies such as Allstar Knitwear, 1888 Mills, and American Mills keep the textile tradition running strong.
Things To Do
- Griffin Regional Welcome Center, 143 North Hill Street: The Griffin Welcome Center, constructed in 1899, was originally the Griffin Grocery Company Building. Currently, the building is home to the Griffin-Spalding Chamber of Commerce, the Griffin Downtown Development Authority, the Main Street and Downtown Council office, the Griffin Museum, the City of Griffin Economic Development office, and a banquet room and meeting facility available for rental. The welcome center is open to the public Monday through Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm.
- Griffin-Spalding County Library, 800 Memorial Drive: This public library is a branch of the Flint River Regional Library System. Their hours of operation are Monday and Thursday 9:00 am – 9:00 pm and Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm.
- Griffin-Spalding Historical Society, 633 Meriwether Street: Founded in 1969 by Seaton Grantland Barnes, John Henry “Jake” Cheatham Jr., and John Hunter Goddard, Jr., the mission of this historical society is to preserve and share the history of Griffin and Spalding County and to promote the preservation and use of their historic places. The Bailey Tebault House, headquarters to this society, has an extensive history that is available to read on the society’s website. The house itself is also available for events such as weddings.
Places To See
- Allstar Knitwear, 841 East Broadway Street: This site is currently active and not open to the public; however, it can still be seen from the road. The owners of this business are relatives of the Shapard family, they have been in operation since 1955.
- American Throwing Company, 335 East Solomon Street: This was yet another Shapard operation, controlled by the descendants of Robert Shapard. It was in operation between the late 1940s and early 1960s.
- Cherokee Mills Site and Mill Village, 5 Park Avenue: Cherokee Mills was another mill that belonged to the Boyd-Mangham group of mills. After their collapse, this mill was purchased by Kincaid Manufacturing Company, which in turn became Dundee Mills. This mill became Dundee No. 5, which continued operations through the time that Springs Industries took over. The mill itself has been partially demolished, but portions of it might still be visible at Park Avenue and 6th Street in East Griffin, the address above will take a visitor to the site. The surrounding homes are part of a mill village that was shared with the former Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company, which became Dundee No. 3. It was located on the opposite side of the mill village from Cherokee Mills/Dundee No. 5 alongside the railroad track. Both are private properties but can be viewed from the road.
- Crompton-Highlands Mill and Mill Village, 238 Highland Street: While the old Crompton-Highlands mill has been demolished, its mill village still stands. The homes situated on the streets between McIntosh Road and Spring Street, east of Old Atlanta Road and the railroad tracks, are home to the original mill village; look for Highland Baptist Church and the company water tower. The mill site sits between the mill village and the railroad tracks. It is currently a fenced-off field, but portions of the foundation might be visible.
- Dovedown Full Fashioned Hosiery Mills Site: One of the many knitting and hosiery mills built by the Shapard brothers and their family members, the Dovedown Full Fashioned Hosiery Mill building sits at the intersection of West Solomon Street and the railroad. It was originally the site of Griffin Hosiery Mills, but it was renamed in the 1940s. It has been repurposed into offices and currently houses several businesses.
- Griffin Knitting Mills, 830 East Broadway Street: Griffin Knitting Mills was one of the few knitting mills in Griffin which was not controlled by the Shapard family. The building was originally built to house the production facilities of Griffin Buggy Company. By 1925, it had been repurposed as a knitting mill. The company continued operations until the 1960s when it was merged under the name Jaco Knitwear. It later housed Sybil Mills. The building is now split between the Ole Mill Range complex and Wilson’s Grocery. The site is directly across the street from Allstar Knitwear.
- Griffin Manufacturing Co./Thomaston Mills, Griffin Division Site and Mill Village, 670 West Quilly Street: The mill village homes, located off of Experiment Street, are private property and are not open to the public. This is the site of Griffin’s first textile mill, founded by Seaton Grantland and run by W.J. Kincaid for many years. After its collapse in the 1920s it was bought by the Hightower family of Thomaston and consolidated into their Thomaston Mills. It continued operations under Thomaston Mills until the company declared bankruptcy in the early 2000s. It is now used as a warehouse. Many of the homes surrounding the site are remnants of the mill village built to house workers at Griffin Manufacturing Co.
- Kincaid Manufacturing Co., Lowell Bleachery South, and Mill Village: A visitor driving northwest along Experiment Street can see to their right the demolished foundations first of Kincaid Manufacturing/Dundee No. 1 and then Lowell Bleachery South. Kincaid Manufacturing was the second mill to ever be built in Griffin and was named for its founder, W.J. Kincaid. It was one of the largest mills in town when it merged with Georgia Cotton Mills in 1924 and formed Georgia-Kincaid Mills. The new company was later renamed Dundee Mills after their most famous brand. Lowell Bleachery South was built by Kincaid Manufacturing in partnership with Lowell Bleachery of Massachusetts. Kincaid Manufacturing bought out Lowell’s interest and the bleachery became a division of Georgia-Kincaid shortly thereafter. The shared mill village of these two plants can be seen at Bleachery Street, Cheatham Street, Poplar Street, Peachtree Street, and Elm Street.
- Planter’s Cotton Warehouse, 310 East Solomon Street: This site was originally used as a cotton warehouse. It is now home to several local businesses.
- Rushton Cotton Mill Site and Mill Village, 1240 Lyndon Avenue: Rushton Cotton Mills was built by Benjamin Rush Blakely in 1899. It was hit by a tornado and largely destroyed in 1908, but was quickly rebuilt. Rushton Cotton Mills was run by Blakely and his associates until John Cheatham bought a controlling interest in 1927. From that point, it was run by the Cheatham family until it was absorbed into Dundee Mills as the Rushton Division between 1978 and 1980. It was purchased by Springs Industries along with the rest of Dundee Mills in 1995; it was shut down along with the rest of the former Dundee Mills in the mid-2000s. Today the site is home to local businesses. Although it is still private property, it can be viewed from Moody Street and Lyndon Avenue. Many of the homes in the immediate vicinity were constructed to house Rushton’s workers.
- Spalding Cotton Mills/Dundee Mill No. 2 Site and Mill Village, 802 High Falls Road: Some remains of this 100-year-old site can be viewed near the intersection of High Falls Road and 2nd Street in East Griffin. Spalding Cotton Mills was originally built as part of the Boyd-Mangham group of mills. After their collapse, it became part of Georgia Cotton Mills, which in turn became Dundee Mills. The former Spalding Cotton Mills became Dundee No. 2 and absorbed the former The Central Mills/Dundee No. 4 in 1937. The homes in the mill village, many of which are hipped-roof or side-gabled duplexes typical of most southern mill towns, can be viewed along Spalding St or High Falls Road, Solomon Street, Lakeview Avenue, 2nd Street, Chandler Street, and Little Street.
- Spalding Knitting Mills, 324 East Broad Street: This building was originally built to house Norman Buggy Company. By 1949, it had been bought by Spalding Knitting Mills, Robert Shapard’s first operation, which had originally been located downtown. It currently houses several local businesses.
Explore this community’s history via the drop-down sections below!
Griffin’s textile history began with the founding of Griffin Manufacturing Company by Seaton Grantland in August of 1883. Responding to Henry Grady’s calls for industrial development in a “New South” Grantland quickly gathered $100,000 in local capital. Grantland and his stockholders were as enthusiastic as they were ambitious, their startup boasted 160 looms and 5,000 spindles by 1888. His venture was located along the Central Railroad of Georgia just northeast of town on the way to the community of Experiment.
This success was shortly followed by the foundation of Kincaid Manufacturing Company on February 11, 1888. The stockholders voted Seaton Grantland as the vice president of the new company, while W.J. Kincaid, a North Carolina native, Confederate veteran, department store owner, and key partner in Griffin Manufacturing Company, was voted president. Kincaid went on to assume the presidency of Griffin Manufacturing Company by 1893. In that year, Kincaid’s two factories featured a combined 9,928 ring spindles and 338 looms and produced a wide variety of cotton goods including sheetings, shirtings, cottonades, ticking, drills, plaids, towels, and cheviots. Up to $40,000 in new machinery had been installed in expansions to the Kincaid Manufacturing Company in order to focus on towel production.
At that point, the two mills were successful enterprises, having received orders from firms as far away as San Francisco and Shanghai and established a precedent of paying 10 percent dividends on stock. Despite lighting strikes and recession-enforced closures in the middle of the 1890s, a $300,000 order placed to supply the Army with jeans for the Spanish American War helped Kincaid to cement his place as one of Georgia’s premier mill men. Kincaid would set the pace for Griffin’s textile industry for the next two decades until his retirement in 1910.
W.J. Kincaid, while being a skillful businessman, used that influence to establish a rather dark and shameful precedent for Griffin’s textile industry. In an interview with the Macon Telegraph, he stated his opposition to using African American employees by stating “At present I do not see any necessity for the introduction of negro labor in Southern cotton mills.” This claim was made on the grounds that there was more than enough white labor available and that “The negro is particularly adapted to producing the raw material, but there is no doubt in my mind as to his inability to succeed permanently as a manufacturer.”
This decision on the part of manufacturers, when reinforced by episodes where white mobs intimidated African Americans and their white employers, managed to keep African Americans largely out of all but the most menial of jobs in Griffin’s work force. The members of the white mobs were part of a trend known as white-capping. In Griffin’s case, a group known as the “Labor Union Band”, rode through town beating innocent African Americans with the goal of driving them out of the county. They also threatened the Kincaid mill’s superintendent. Kincaid, to his credit, petitioned the governor to call out the local militia, who eventually returned order to the situation.
Whether it came from policies set at the top, or terror enforced by mob’s whips, African Americans were kept out of Griffin’s factory lines. This effectively denied Griffin’s African Americans the opportunity to reap the benefits of industrialization, which as Kincaid put it, were saving money and accumulating property. In the long term, when compared to their white counterparts, only a handful of African Americans were able to accumulate the generational wealth offered by the steady pay of factory work. Therefore, they could only rarely afford to send their children to college and push into the middle class. This model of systemic racism can be applied not only to a regional, but also a national scale. In the end, this system had its roots in the decisions of a handful of people in positions of influence, such as W.J. Kincaid, who chose bigotry over fairness and equality.
Despite their choice to employ only white labor, the two mills under Kincaid expanded massively during the 1900s. In 1900 Griffin Manufacturing Company featured 593 looms, 15,000 spindles, and $400,000 in, reportedly, all locally-raised capital stock. Meanwhile, Kincaid Manufacturing boasted 430 looms, 12,552 spindles, and $320,000 in capital stock largely owned by the same investors as Griffin Manufacturing Company. At this time the two mills produced “colored cottons”, towels, tickings, cottonades, and table damasks, employing 900 people between them. In 1904 Griffin Manufacturing approved a $275,000 ($7,922,132.02 in 2020) expansion which was planned to add a two-storied 75 x 336 foot addition to the mill. This added an estimated 10,112 spindles and 396 looms to their operation, requiring 400 new employees. Kincaid Manufacturing’s stockholders elected to follow suit in February of 1907 by doubling the capacity of the mill, bringing its spindle count up to 30,000. This round of expansion was reported to have cost a total of $575,000 ($15,683,675.53 in 2020) between the two mills. The level of investment in the two factories is staggering when it is remembered that the stockholders of the two enterprises were largely one and the same.
Things were not all gumdrops and roses for the Kincaid-controlled mills during the 1900s, there were plenty of obstacles to overcome. The first hurdle was the inaugural strike for Griffin’s textile industry. On January 14th, 1904 the weavers of Kincaid Manufacturing were informed that their wages would be cut by 20 percent. This could have been caused by anything from a dip in sales to the mills running out of cotton. Of the 75 weavers affected by the cut, 70 immediately walked out on strike. Management quickly backed down, restoring the wages. Following that, in January of 1906 a small tornado struck the cloth room of Kincaid Manufacturing, removing the roof from the building and badly injuring a young boy. It is estimated that $400 ($11,395.29 in 2020) in damage was done to the mill. Despite these setbacks, the mills remained a success which inspired others to invest in the city as well.
By 1909, locally-based industrialists built 5 new mills in Griffin. Rushton Mill was the first of the new batch, founded in 1899 by Benjamin Rush Blakely and J.P. Nichols. The new mill produced brown sheeting, napped goods, and yarns. In 1902, the Rushton mill had 192 looms, 5,000 spindles, and employed 225. The operation was successful, by 1907 it had increased its capital stock to $125,000 and transitioned to the production of fancy dobby weaves, domets, and shirtings.
The future was promising for Rushton Cotton Mills, but disaster struck it in 1908. The mill was damaged by a massive storm system that devastated the south on April 24th, 1908. The storm left a vast swathe of debris which stretched from Louisiana to eastern Atlanta, the death toll eventually exceeding 300 people with a further 1,200 injured. 46 towns were reportedly wrecked.
In Griffin, 5 people were confirmed to have been killed by a tornado with several more injured as the tornado ripped through the Rushton Cotton Mills village, destroying between 15 and 25 mill houses. The mill itself lost its engine room and boiler room in their entirety, while the whole roof was blown off the card room. Estimates in the aftermath of the tornado guessed that $12,000-$15,000 (up to $418,025.54 in 2020 dollars) in damages had been done to the uninsured mill. Despite those devastating losses, the mill’s owners doubled down on their investment and announced their intention to rebuild the mill.
By April 27th the streets had been cleared of debris, Rushton Cotton Mills was being dismantled in preparation for rebuilding, and new materials were ordered. Kincaid Manufacturing and Griffin Manufacturing took on the employees of the damaged mill to lower the amount of unemployed in Griffin due to the tornado. By 1909, Rushton Cotton Mills was listed as having resumed operations, the mill was even expanded to house 13,000 spindles and 380 looms.
The other Griffin mills founded during the 1900s were Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Company, The Central Mills, Cherokee Mills, and The Spalding Cotton Mills, all jointly owned and managed by Douglas Boyd and the Mangham brothers. The Boyd-Mangham group of mills was built on a family connection, as Douglas Boyd and J.W. Mangham were brothers-in-law. After a failed startup, they opened the Griffin Knitting Mills. The new mill was organized with a capital stock of $20,000 in 1900, manufacturing both men’s and women’s underwear. J.J. Mangham became involved in the business by 1903, by which time the “Griffin Knit” brand was established. Anticipating growth, they built a small two-story mill building at the corner of Experiment Street and West Broad Street. However, the knitting mill failed shortly after the new building was completed.
Despite the setbacks, Douglas Boyd and the Mangham brothers were on the rise. In 1899-1900, the Manghams partnered with W.J. Kincaid to build The Spalding Cotton Mills to produce 4-yard sheeting. The cornerstone was laid on August 25th, 1899. The new mill was ambitious, being capitalized at $100,000 and projected to house 5,000 spindles in 1899. This was quickly expanded to $200,000 in capital stock and its equipment 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.
Undaunted, Douglas Boyd and the Mangham brothers pressed on. 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 producing “fancy weaves”. This was followed in 1905, when the group incorporated the Central Mills. To house the new company, they expanded the facility built for Griffin Knitting Mill and equipped it with 10,000 ring spindles, 400 twisting spindles, and 160 looms producing “Cotton Crepe”.
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 ordered machinery by June of 1908. This new mill, still listed as under construction in 1909, was envisioned as a producer of cotton sheeting. It was incorporated with a capital stock of $200,000, being able to house 10,000 spindles and 350 looms.
Heading into the 1910s, Griffin’s textile industry was booming. To put that growth into numbers, the city possessed 41,552 ring spindles in 1900. By 1909 that number had risen to 109,500 spindles, a 62 percent increase. 45,000 of those were housed in the rapidly expanding Boyd-Mangham group of mills (41 percent of the total), while 51,500 spindles were operated by W.J. Kincaid’s two mills (47 percent of the total), the remainder being in the Rushton mill. In addition there was a boost to 3,631 total looms from 1,409 looms, indicating that the various mills’ product lines were becoming more sophisticated. On the basis of that growth, the 1910s were shaping up to be a golden age for Griffin.
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.
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.
The prosecution eventually proved that J. J. Mangham, who was de facto in charge of Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing, declared $200,000 in false assets. He also fabricated a $150,000 unimpaired capital stock and an $80,000 surplus. Mangham discounted the stock of the mill in Atlanta banks who provided him with credit, which he used to speculate illegally. Mangham further claimed that the company owed him $10,000, when he actually owed it several thousand instead. On the 25th of November, 1911 J. J. Mangham was found 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 for the felony and 1 year for the misdemeanor in the state prison at Milledgeville. Mangham was eventually pardoned by the governor in 1915, the pardon was given to him at his wife’s deathbed.
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 at auction 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 Cherokee Mills was absorbed by Kincaid Manufacturing Company, 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. Meanwhile, Kincaid Mfg. Company had expanded dramatically under the watch of James M. Brawner, reaching 32,000 spindles and 1,082 looms with electric power. He focused production on towels, crashes, and damasks. At the same time, J.P. Nichols and Benjamin R. Blakely assumed leadership of Griffin Mfg. Company and expanded it. Combined with their interest in Rushton Cotton Mills, the two men operated a total of 47,000 spindles, 416 broad looms, and 952 narrow looms.
The period from 1916 to 1922 was a difficult time for both the City of Griffin and the country, with a boom supported by World War I followed by a bust as demand slackened. Europe’s shattered postwar economies could no longer afford to purchase American surpluses, which caused instability at a corporate level for many of the mills in Griffin. In addition to this, the boll weevil epidemic struck down the cotton crop, which made raw material for production hard to come by.
Perhaps it was this tumultuous period that caused the executives at Griffin Manufacturing Company to deny weave room employees a 20 percent pay increase on certain items. Following that, May 14th, 1917 saw 75 weave room employees of Griffin Manufacturing strike after several days of dissatisfaction. It is unclear what prompted this strike other than the refusal to by management to grant a pay raise, but strikes usually followed pay cuts or unacceptable changes in hours.
The strike was settled 1 week later after conferences between Mayor JW Hammond and company officials J.P. Nichols, B.R. Blakely and W.G. Nichols. A compromise was reached where the mills would operate 10 hours a day instead of 8.5, while the night shift would be eliminated. “An equitable adjustment of wages” was also reached, with the Atlanta Journal Constitution reporting that “The terms are satisfactory to both officials and employees.” Although the locals managed to settle the strike, this period of instability created the conditions for the founding of two textile dynasties that would largely control the path of Griffin’s textile industries for the next eighty years: the Shapards and the Cheathams.
The Shapards came from Tennessee, the sons of a wealthy attorney and Civil War veteran. They got their start in Griffin’s textile industry as executives under Clyde L. King in Georgia Cotton Mills, but in 1916 Robert P. Shapard I and his brother Thomas L. Shapard founded Griffin Hosiery Mills. Their venture was a small one with only $25,000 in capital and fifty employees. The brothers divided their business interests by 1922. Robert formed Spalding Knitting Mills while Thomas L. maintained Griffin Hosiery Mill. Both men passed their holdings to their respective heirs, who expanded those operations and founded new companies.
Both branches of the family had run-ins with strikes during the 1930s and 1940s. On Jan 21, 1936 Robert Shapard’s descendants were faced with a labor dispute. Following a 6 percent wage decrease, approximately half the workers in Spalding Knitting Mills’ knitting room went on strike. This was brought on by 6 employees running through the room turning off machines and urging their fellow employees to quit. Some fights apparently broke out in the yard but nobody was seriously injured.
The mill’s president Robert P. Shapard Jr. claimed that the mill would reopen the following day, and that hours had been altered so that each worker could make up the difference by working more hours. It is possible that this wage decrease was the direct result of a large snow storm which crippled much of the metro-Atlanta area. Mills across Griffin were prevented from operating due to a lack of power, which had been knocked out by the storm. The wage decrease might have been initiated to recoup the profits lost during the snowstorm. The strike ended 2 weeks after it began. The mills never completely shut down as not all the employees struck at one time.
Five years later, Thomas’s heirs were faced with their own showdown against Griffin’s labor force. Dovedown Hosiery Mills employees called a strike on May 26, 1941, reportedly after a previous pay cut imposed by management. Workers asked for $3 more per week, previously making $32.60 per week ($568.59, 14.21 per hour in 2020). The additional $3 per week would bring them up to 81 cents per hour and $35.60 per week (15.52 per hour and 620.91 per week). Women made $19 per week($331.39 per week, 8.72 per hour in 2020) at 38 hours per week equaling 50 cents per hour. The proposed raise would have brought them up to 58 cents per hour and $22 per week ($383.71 in 2020 $10.09 per hour). Tom Shapard, the superintendent, claimed the mill would reopen the next day for those who wanted to work.
Not one of the 130 employees came back, prompting the U.S. Department of Labor to dispatch T.W. Pennington as conciliator. He certainly had his work cut out for him as on June 20th riots took place outside the mill when it attempted to open. 1 man was injured and 4 men were arrested on charges of “rioting.” 3 out of those 4 had been arrested the previous day on the same charges, being released on $500 bail. In response, management stated that the mill was “idly awaiting peaceably permitted entry of those who desire to work.” The strike had lasted for a month at this point. Three days later, the mill was set to restart after a settlement was reached. The 4 week long strike resulted in an increased pay rate for the returning employees, whereby they would receive an extra 5 cents for every dozen pairs produced. This brought an end to the ordeal which saw 20 people arrested and at least 1 man injured.
The Shapard family managed to overcome these difficulties to become the undoubted leaders of Griffin’s hosiery and knitting industry. At its heydey in the 1950s, the Shapards accounted for half of the hosiery mills in operation. Thomas’s widow ran Griffin Hosiery Mills until December of 1957, founding Dovedown Full Fashioned Hosiery Mills along the way. After her death, her family chose to liquidate her holdings and exited the textile business. Robert’s descendants kept ahold of the family business through to the 1990s, expanding it massively along the way. They also created American Throwing Company and even acquired another branch for Spalding Knitting Mills in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. The 1960s saw a steady decline in Griffin’s knitwear industry. By 1976, only Allstar Knitwear and the Shapard companies were left. Today, Griffin only has a handful of knitting companies. The companies owned by Robert P.’s descendants were consolidated into American Mills during the 1980s. In 2012, American Mills launched Cushion Pros to focus on production of cushions and pillows, it currently employs 50 people. Relatives of the Shapards also own Allstar Knitwear.
John H. Cheatham also established himself in Griffin during the same tumultuous period as the Shapards. Originally from South Carolina, he got his start in the textile industry in Hartwell, Georgia after being named head of Hartwell Mills in 1917. He quickly used that role to be hired as the president of Georgia Cotton Mills by the creditors who held a controlling interest in the company. By 1924, he had paid off the banks and also held a controlling interest in Kincaid Mfg. Co., which had recently built Lowell Bleachery South in conjunction with the Lowell Bleachery of Massachusetts. In that same year, Cheatham pulled off a merger between Georgia Cotton Mills and Kincaid Mfg. Co. to create Georgia-Kincaid Mills. In 1927, Cheatham took a big step towards winning over his 2,000 employees by paying out over $35,000 in cash bonuses to mill operatives, a 40 percent raise from 1926. Management and office employees were not included. By 1928 he had purchased a controlling interest in Rushton Cotton Mill. With that maneuver, he had managed to buy or absorb all but one of the cotton mills in Griffin which had existed in 1905.
In 1928, when John Cheatham bought Rushton Cotton Mills, the Griffin textile industry had changed dramatically. Cheatham had created the largest company that Griffin had seen. Georgia-Kincaid Mills boasted $1,900,000 in capital, 228 cotton carding machines, 3,000 narrow looms, and 76,000 ring spindles producing Turkish and huck towels, damasks, corduroys, tickings, crashes, diaper cloths, and flannels. Combined with Rushton Cotton Mills and his holdings in Hart and Stephens counties, Cheatham had amassed a total of 325 cards, 3920 looms, and 108,400 spindles under his control. By 1930, Cheatham’s economic prowess earned him political stature to match, as he became a state senator.
Cheatham’s actions had ramifications throughout Griffin’s textile business which carried on into the next two decades. First, W.F. Ingram and James M. Brawner, who had been in control of Kincaid Manufacturing before Cheatham acquired it, created their own company known as Highland Mills. Highland Mills was a sizable operation, which produced Sateens with $825,000 in capital, 28 cards, 90 broad looms, 410 narrow looms, 12,800 ring spindles, and 1,200 twisted spindles. However, tragedy struck on February 20th, 1928 when a northbound train struck W.F. Ingram’s car at the crossing near the mill while he drove home from work. Ingram was killed instantly. On top of that, the mill was heavily damaged in 1933 by a hail storm that busted 2,000 window lites. Perhaps for those reasons, they decided to sell. By 1935, the original owners had been bought out by Crompton Company of Virginia who expanded the operation, and by the 1950s they were known as Crompton-Highlands Inc, known for the production of velvet.
Griffin Manufacturing Company, whether as a result of Cheatham’s maneuvers or the looming stock market crash, went bankrupt in 1929. The mill passed to a receiver in July of 1929, listed as having $614,000 in liabilities with only $511,000 in assets. The Hightower family of Thomaston shortly purchased the mill, paying $400,000 for it. They paid off the debt and established it as the Griffin Division of Thomaston Mills with 500 looms and 30,000 spindles.
With the onset of the Great Depression, Griffin’s mills struggled just to stay open. Undoubtedly, that meant wage cuts and irregular working hours for operatives and small dividends for investors. Wage cuts inevitably led to tensions between workers and management. Frustrations finally boiled over in the fall of 1934, as textile workers nationwide went on strike. The first casualty of the strike in Griffin came when the Rushton Mill closed indefinitely on September 12th after several workers quit on the 11th. Several other Griffin mills operated as normal, but had guards protecting the facilities.
However, it appears that Griffin’s mills were shortly forced to close by the strike. It ended quickly though as the Georgia-Kincaid Mills reopened on September 17, 1934 while the Griffin Division of Thomaston Mills also planned on reopening, although the Rushton and Highland Mills were forced to remain closed. By September 19th management city-wide had gained the upper hand, as 8 men were arrested at Griffin on the charges of “causing trouble” and were held at the Spalding Jail. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that 11 mills were operating while 2 remained closed meaning that 3,586 employees were back at work while less than 1,000 sat idle. The paper further reported “Officials declared the situation is getting better.” By September 21st Highland Mills reopened, leaving only one Griffin mill closed. The textile strikes were an absolute victory for management and a crushing defeat for unions nationwide, the situation was no different in Griffin.
However, the strikes appear to have caught the mill owners’ attention. They began giving raises as soon as the economy was stimulated by World War II production. On July 1st, 1941 “Proportionate increases” were obtained by 4,500 Griffin textile employees, the minimum wage being raised from 32 cents per hour to 37.5 cents per hour. This was followed by more raises, 5 percent across the board at all of Griffin’s major mills, which were approved by the War Labor Board in 1945. Mill owners expected these wages to stick,and they were proven right on January 6th, 1946. Griffin’s mills announced a voluntary $425,000 ($5,587,965.38) pay increase, despite the fact that the only mill threatened with strikes was the Crompton-Highlands mill. Dundee Mills, Lowell Bleachery South, and Rushton Cotton Mills gave a combined $250,000 ($4,578,375) in wage increases while Thomaston Cotton Mills and Crompton-Highlands gave about $90,000 ($1,648,215) each.
Mill owners, wiser after the strikes of the 1930s, hoped that these voluntary raises would stave off strikes and unions. However, it appears they were not above using stalling tactics to delay union elections though as they were accused of doing so to delay elections at the Dundee and Thomaston Mills in 1946. At any rate, the mill owners’ combination of carrot and stick appear to have worked. On August 11th, 1948 mill officials announced that Griffin’s industrial payroll had shot up by $750,000 ($7,979,066.39 in 2020). At that point, Griffin’s mills, with the exception of Crompton-Highlands, had managed to stave off the unions.
The various cotton mills in Griffin which were listed in 1935 managed to stay in business for the next fifty years. Before his death in 1950, John H. Cheatham rebranded Georgia-Kincaid by changing the name to Dundee Mills, which it would do business as until it was sold to Springs Industries. Cheatham passed his various interests to his son John M. Cheatham who modernized, maintained, and eventually expanded the business until his death in 1985. During his tenure, Dundee and its associated mills were especially known for towel production, a legacy continued from the days of W.J. Kincaid, although they did maintain other product lines. The Cheatham family sold their textile empire to Springs Industries in 1995, including Rushton Cotton Mills, Hartwell Mills, and other companies acquired during John M. Cheatham’s expansion push during the 1970s and 1980s.
Springs Industries initially pushed a modernization campaign on their new facilities but by the early 2000s had decided to shut down their acquisitions, probably due to the impact of NAFTA on manufacturing in the United States. Springs Industries was the last major textile operation left in Griffin, as Crompton-Highlands had collapsed in the 1980s and Thomaston Mills closed in 2001. During the period of collapse for these major firms, a grandson of John H. Cheatham founded 1888 Mills. It was bought out by an international corporation before long. Likewise, the knitting and hosiery business also dwindled off. Today, 1888 Mills, Allstar Knitwear, and Shapard-owned American Mills are the last vestiges of Griffin’s rich textile history. Beginning in the mid-2010s, the former Dundee plants underwent demolition. Today, only the Griffin Manufacturing and Rushton Cotton Mills remain, standing as silent monuments to Griffin’s textile industry.
Charter Trail Members
- Three Rivers Regional Commission
- Griffin-Spalding County Library
- Griffin-Spalding Chamber of Commerce
- Griffin-Spalding Development Authority
- Griffin-Spalding Historical Society
Resources to Explore
Click on the following links to learn more about this region.
- Spalding County Newspaper Archives
- Facts for Kids
- Digital Library of Georgia
- Georgia Archives Virtual Vault
- Georgia Historical Society
- Spalding County, New Georgia Encyclopedia
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