Telling Stories, Connecting Communities

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Griffin

Come visit a textile community that thrived for a century under the operation of just a few individuals.

The citizens of Griffin are rightfully proud of their textile heritage. The Dundee towel brand put Griffin on the map and drove its economy for years. Between its purchase by Springs Industries and the effects of NAFTA, the Dundee towel brand is no longer produced. Photo Courtesy of the Griffin-Spalding Historical Society.

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.


Visit


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.

History


Explore this community’s history via the drop-down sections below!

Griffin Catches Mill Fever: Grantland, Kincaid, and the Birth of Griffin’s Textile Industry

1895 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Griffin featuring Griffin Manufacturing and Kincaid Manufacturing. Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress.

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.

Segregation in Griffin’s Textile Industry

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.

This image depicts one of Georgia’s worst instances of white-capping, the 1906 Atlanta Race Riots. White mobs used forms of extralegal violence to enforce the social and economic superiority they desired on African American communities, essentially openly using terrorism to enforce segregation. While what happened in Griffin was certainly not on this scale, the effect was similar.

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.

W. J. Kincaid, key stockholder of Griffin Manufacturing Company and founder of Kincaid Manufacturing Company. Photo Courtesy of the Griffin-Spalding Archives.

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.

New Kids on the Block: The Emergence of the Boyd-Mangham Group and Rushton Cotton Mills

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.

The ruined Rushton Cotton Mills in 1908, shortly after the tornado strike. Photo Courtesy of the Griffin-Spalding Archives.

 

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Changing of the Guard: Retirements, Scandals, and New Faces in 1910s Griffin

 Farmers using horse-drawn carts to deliver cotton to a warehouse on East Taylor Street, circa 1910. Griffin’s mills were afflicted by shortages in cotton several times in the period from 1883-1910, perhaps due in part to their supply chain’s reliance on horse-drawn transportation. Photo Courtesy of the Griffin Spalding Historical Society.

 

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 Mangham Embezzlement Scandal

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 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.

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.

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.

Photo of the Griffin Manufacturing Company facility taken from the south. Although this photo was taken later, the buildings depicted were present in the 1910s. On the left in the foreground was the tail end of a structure known as the “old mill” which housed weaving and spinning machinery. The building to the right in the background was the “new mill”, the extension built in 1904. It was home to weaving, spooling, spinning, and carding operations. Photo Courtesy of the Thomaston-Upson Archives, Thomaston Mills Collection.

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: Griffin’s Knitting and Hosiery Kings

The Dovedown Hosiery Mills facility, pictured here, originally housed the Shapard family’s first operation, Griffin Hosiery Mills. The Dovedown Hosiery Mills were created as a separate company in the 1930s, it later moved into the Griffin Hosiery Mills facility before that branch of the family exited the textile business. It now serves as an office park. Photo Courtesy of Jarrett Craft.

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.

Robert P. Shapard Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps by entering the family business. He played a major role in the 1936 Spalding Knitting Mills strike as president of the mill. He passed his business down to his children, several of their descendants still make their living in the textile industry today. Photo Courtesy of the Griffin-Spalding Archives.

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.

Under One Roof: Unifying Griffin’s Mills Under John H. Cheatham

John H. Cheatham got his start under J.M. Geer in Easley, South Carolina. Geer was the head of a prominent textile family which owned mills at Easley , Greenville, and Greer in South Carolina, Hartwell and Douglasville in Georgia, and Laurel in Mississippi. Geer was well known for his affection towards his employees, an affection that Cheatham benefited from when Geer retired from managing the Hartwell mill and appointed Cheatham as his successor. Cheatham used this break as the foundation for his career, which eventually resulted in the establishment of a textile empire in Griffin. Photo Courtesy of the Griffin-Spalding Archives.

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.

John H. Cheatham formed Georgia-Kincaid Mills in 1924 by merging most of Griffin’s existing mills into one massive operation. Kincaid Manufacturing Co. became Plant No. 1, the former Spalding Cotton Mills became Plant No. 2, the former Boyd-Mangham Manufacturing Co. became Plant No. 3, the former Central Mills became Plant No. 4, and the former Cherokee Mills became Plant No. 5. John H. Cheatham eventually renamed his company to Dundee Mills, named after its Dundee Towel brand. Photo Courtesy of Jarrett Craft.

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.

Unions, Strikes, Tornados, and Train Wrecks: Griffin’s Textile Industry During the 1930s and 40s

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.

The completed Highland Mills along with its village. The train track that W. F. Ingram died on runs in front of the mill. Despite the tragedy of his death, the mill would go on to become well known for its velvet and corduroy products. Photo Courtesy of David Baugh.

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.

The 1934-35 Textile Strike in Griffin

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.

Twisting department of the Thomaston Cotton Mills’ Griffin Division, 1930-1950. Photo Courtesy of the Thomaston-Upson Archives’ Thomaston Mills Collection.

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.

Photo of Lowell Bleachery South during the 1940s, after the company’s name changed from Georgia-Kincaid Mills to Dundee Mills. The main body of the facility was for bleaching and finishing toweling produced by Kincaid Manufacturing/Dundee No. 1. Photo Courtesy of the Griffin-Spalding Archives.

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 Decline of Griffin’s Textile Industry

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.


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Douglasville

The textile industry quickly followed the arrival of the railroad, which allowed the mills to ship goods in and out of town, in this small southern community.

As with many other communities, Douglasville saw a rise in industry roll in with the new railroads. The first textile mill, New Eden Mill, was established here in 1895; it soon burned down, was rebuilt, and eventually reopened as Lois Mill. This mill featured an innovative design that allowed for more windows which, in turn, allowed for more light and better ventilation for mill workers.


Visit


Things to Do

  • Douglas County Museum of History and Art, 12431 East Veterans Memorial Highway: This museum is located in the historic Douglas County Courthouse and houses an archive of local history. The new Douglas County Courthouse was opened in 1998, leaving this location destined for sale and disposal; however, the Douglas County Tourism and History Commission persuaded the saving of this location. Their hours of operation are Tuesday through Friday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm and Saturday 10:00 am – 3:00 pm.
  • Mill Village Park, 8320 Grady Street: This city park is on property that was once a part of Lois Mil and Beaver Mills mill village. The 3-acre park features an outdoor basketball court, a pavilion, playground equipment, grills, and picnic tables.

Places to See

The following properties are not open to the public, but you can view them from the exterior to learn more about the buildings that supported the textile industry here.

  • Lois Mill Village, 12171 GA-5: The Lois Mill/Beaver Mills building is no longer standing, and the homes in this area are private and not accessible to the public. However, you can still drive through the mill village, located east of downtown Douglasville near Fairburn Road (Highway 92).
  • Douglasville Knitting Mill Village: The Douglasville Knitting Mill was required to build houses to shelter their employees. A handful of those houses remain across Highway 92 from the mill site.

History


As a railroad town, Douglasville was a hub for transportation for both goods and people from its inception. As such, cotton from the surrounding region was brought to gins and warehouses in Douglasville, from where it would be shipped off to the mills. This photo shows two men working with freshly ginned cotton in the early 1920s. Photo Courtesy of the Douglas County Museum of History and Art.

Douglasville, established in 1870, like many postbellum Georgia towns soon saw industry and commerce arrive with the railroad. The city’s textile industry flourished with the construction of the Georgia Western Railroad from Atlanta to Birmingham in 1883, which passed through Douglasville. Mills, plants, and shops were built along the rail line, including cotton mills New Eden Mill and Douglas Knitting Mill.

Constructed in 1895, New Eden Mill was Douglasville’s first textile operation; however, the new mill burned soon after completion. Reconstruction of the cotton mill began in January of 1898. Ownership was unstable during the construction with a series of buyouts and the business was known as Georgia Western Cotton Mill and New Century Cotton Mill over the next decade. The completed cotton mill reopened in 1908 as Lois Mill.

Postcard depicting the Lois Cotton Mills during the early 20th century. Photo courtesy of the Douglas County Museum of History and Art.

Lois Cotton Mill featured an innovative industrial design by Charles Paray. The mill’s external walls were comprised of alternating ridged and grooved walls sometimes described as “zigzag” walls.  The design allowed many windows in the exterior walls, providing better lighting and ventilation for mill workers. The building also incorporated two foundations for easier repair in case of fire. Lois Mill produced printed cloth in its early years, manufactured on 20,000 ring spindles and 500 looms. The company established a mill village for the workers, including small frame houses along Grady and Copper Streets, now home to Mill Village Park.

By the 1930s, Beaver Mills of Massachusetts purchased Lois Cotton Mill, and the company became part of Beaver’s broad network of cotton manufacturing across the South. Each week workers used 75 bales of cotton to produce over 17 tons of cotton products including broadcloth, a type of clothing fabric. The company shipped 90% of the cloth produced in Douglasville to other Beaver Mills locations outside Georgia for finishing and sold the final products through a New York company.

Employees in Beaver-Lois Mill unionized in 1933 with the United Textile Workers of America. Many of those workers participated in the General Textile Strike of 1934, which closed the mill for four weeks. The strike proved unsuccessful for employees, but continued union efforts led to the closing of the mill again in 1935. When it reopened, workers faced lower wages and increased workloads, leading to continued labor unrest through the 1940s. The mill closed and sat empty for many years before it burned in 2012.

Douglasville’s textile history is remembered today through the commerce it brought to its community. Like many communities along the trail, textile-manufacturing companies wove their way into communities due to the railroad. Georgia Western Railroad aided this community by shipping cotton and cloth in and out to communities all over Georgia and into major markets. Lois Mill sold some of their goods to Gilreath Manufacturing Company who used Lois Mill cloth to produce coats. Along the trail, you will find many stories of how textiles influenced each community but Douglasville’s textile history is unique because of its innovative textile manufacturing structure, Lois Mill. Though the building is no longer present today, its impact will forever be felt in this thriving city through the commerce it helped to create.


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Sargent & Arnco

These small communities have a huge textile history that hosted two mills and a railroad.

Sargent and Arnco, while never being incorporated as individual towns, hosted a rich textile industry. The first textile mill opened in Sargent in 1886 with a general store being opened not too long after to provide textile workers with basic necessities. The last of the textile mills closed in 2001 due to increased international competition.


Visit


Places to See

The following properties are not open to the public, but you can view them from the exterior to learn more about the buildings that supported the textile industry here.

  • Arnco Mills and Mill Village, 229 Arnco 3rd Street: Located in an unincorporated area just north of Newnan on Highway Alt 27/State Route 16 and Old Carrollton Road, Arnco Mills opened in 1927. Seventy-five employee homes were also constructed and five homes were built for the mill superintendent and overseers.
  • Wahoo Manufacturing Company/Arnall Mill and Mill Village, Henry Bryant Road: In 1907, Willcoxon Manufacturing constructed a new mill just north of the original mill site named Wahoo Manufacturing Company and later Arnall Mill. In the 1920s and 1930s, the owners of Arnall Mill built additional mill village housing in an area known as “New Town” in Sargent. These mill village homes were of various designs, including shotgun homes, saltbox homes, and gable-front cottages, common in mill villages of the era. Certain streets of the mill village were dedicated to shotgun homes and others to gable-front cottages. The size of the home rented to an employee was dependent on the job skill and job level the employee held within the company. Slightly removed from the main village, on Bridges Street off Railroad Street at the western edge of the mill village, were the homes built for the mills African American employees. These homes followed the same pattern as the other homes in the village with little to no ornamentation and no formal landscaping.
  • Wilcoxon Manufacturing Company and Mill Village, Henry Bryant Road: In the late 1880s, J.B. Willcoxon, H.J. Sargent, and George Sargent built the first mill to produce cotton textiles, under the name Willcoxon Manufacturing Company. Mill village homes were also built to house the mill employees. A fire destroyed the mill in 1906 however, the stone foundation of the mill still exists. Most of the homes in the mill village still stand in an area referred to as “Old Town” in the northern portion of Sargent. These simple unadorned homes were typical of mill village homes of the era.

History


  • Photo of an elderly woman working on mill machines
    Photo courtesy: Weaver Special Collections

The small industrial communities of Sargent and Arnco have a substantial textile history. Both communities were named for prominent businessmen in the area’s cotton textile industry. Sargent was named in honor of H.J. Sargent and George Sargent, partners in Willcoxon Manufacturing Company. The name Arnco is a merger of the names Cole and Arnall, two other prominent mill families in the area. These neighboring areas were an important location for cotton textile manufacturing in Coweta County. Different from the other mill communities, the communities of Sargent and Arnco were further away from the nearest cities and were never incorporated as individual towns.

Willcoxon Manufacturing Company opened a cotton mill in 1886 in Sargent to manufacture cotton rope. John B. Willcoxon, Harrison J. Sargent, and George Sargent, partners in the company, built a four-story brick building on Wahoo Creek at the site of an old gristmill. The spinning machines were powered by water from the creek. Later, two additional buildings were added at the site to serve as warehouses. In 1906, the original mill building was struck by lightning and burned down and a new mill building was constructed in 1907.

The workforce at Willcoxon Manufacturing Company was made up of men, widows of Confederate Veterans, and children as young as 5 years old. In 1888, the company was purchased by Henry Clay Arnall and Thomas G. Farmer and renamed Wahoo Manufacturing Company. Under the new ownership, the operations were expanded to make cotton rope and cotton yarn. In 1919, the Arnall family acquired full ownership of Wahoo Manufacturing Co. and the name was changed to Arnall Mills. Arnall Mills made novelty yarns and around 1929 began making cotton blankets. A weaving room was added in 1930 and additional workers were hired.

The railroad was important to the operation of the mill as blankets were hauled out by freight. The Central of Georgia rail line ran through Sargent from Griffin to Chattanooga and had a freight and passenger depot. To haul the blankets to the freight depot, a special wagon was built and the mill owner purchased a fine team of mules.

In the late 1880s, the first company store was built on Main Street to supply the mill workers with basic necessities. The original store burned down in 1935 and a new building was erected in 1936. The mill workers made purchases at the store and the cost of those purchases was deducted from their weekly paychecks. Mill workers and their family members were able to receive services from the town doctor by paying a doctor tax of 50 cents a week.

By 1926, there was a need for additional outlets for the large amount of cotton yarn made at Arnall Mill, and Arnco Mills was opened near Sargent to fill that need. The name Arnco, a combination of Arnall and Cole the last names of the mill president and vice president combined, was given to the new village built to house the mill workers. Seventy-five employee homes were constructed and five homes were built for the superintendent and overseers. Construction of the mill and mill village started in the summer of 1926, operations began at Arnco Mills in May of 1927, and Arnco became its own unincorporated town. The mill first made cotton blankets known as American cotton blankets and later made part-wool blankets. Throughout the early twentieth century, the mill village was expanded, more houses were built including segregated housing for African-American workers and a baseball field was added. The two mills and villages were entirely separate entities and the companies encouraged friendly competition between the two.

By the early 1930s, due to low wages and deteriorating labor conditions, nearly 44,000 Georgia workers participated in the General Textile Strike of 1934, including many from the Sargent and Arnco areas. The first strikers to be arrested were at the nearby East Newnan Cotton Mills and Arnall Mills in Sargent. The National Guard arrested strikers and took them to Fort McPherson in military trucks where they were forced to live outside until the strike was over. Some of the Arnall Mill employees who supported the strike efforts returned to work at the mill, others were blacklisted from the industry, and some left town to find work elsewhere.

In 1964, Bibb Manufacturing purchased Arnall and Arnco Mills and mill village to manufacture blankets from cotton and synthetic fibers. The company made improvements, modernized the machinery, and raised the pay for employees and the company store was closed. The company also built a 98-acre lake to furnish water for wet finishing blankets and for recreation use. In 1970, the mill village homes were sold to private individuals, many of whom were mill employees. The old company store was used as a recreational facility for mill employees. In 1986, Bibb closed Arnall Mills and moved its operations to Arnco Mill. Arnco Mill continued operations producing sheets, pillowcases, and other cotton items. In 1996, Bibb Companies went through a bankruptcy reorganization and were unable to recover economically. In 1998, the company was sold to the Dan River Corporation of Virginia. In February 2001, due to low-priced textile imports from Asia and the growing economic recession in the United States, Dan River Co. announced the closing of Arnco Mills.


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Newnan

The textile industry in this community began earlier than many others and grew quickly.

The city of Newnan was already an established industrial center before the textile industry appeared in 1888. Beginning with cotton, Newnan’s textile industry diversified by adding a hosiery mill in 1926. Soon after Newnan participated in the General Textile Strike of 1934. The cotton and hosiery mills operated until the 1990s when they faced international competition.


Visit


Things to Do

  • McRitchie-Hollis Museum, 74 Jackson Street: Located in Newnan, this home was built by Arnall Mills’ president Ellis H. Peniston and his wife Mildred Willcoxon Arnall Peniston in 1937. Now home to the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society’s McRitchie-Hollis Museum, the museum hosts exhibitions and shares stories of the textile industry. For more information visit newnancowetahistoricalsociety.com.
  • Newnan-Coweta Historical Society’s Depot History Center, 60 East Broad Street: This historic depot was built in the 1890s to serve passengers as well as freight. The depot is now operated by the Newnan-Coweta County Historical Society and can be toured by appointment. While you’re there pick up a “City of Homes” driving tour brochure to see Newnan’s historic homes!
  • The Coweta County African American Heritage Museum, 92 Farmer Street: The African American Heritage Museum & Research Center provides a repository for African-American artifacts and records while also serving as a genealogy workroom for African-American research. Adjacent to the museum, which is housed in a restored shotgun-style house, is the Farmer Street Cemetery which is one of the largest slave cemeteries in the South. The museum is open on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • “City of Homes” Historic Homes Tour: Pick up a self-guided driving tour brochure from the Coweta County Convention & Visitors Bureau located at 200 Court Square in Newnan’s historic courthouse. The tour provides a nice stroll through Newnan’s downtown area and includes fifty historic homes. The visitor’s bureau is open Monday through Friday from 9 a. m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Places to See

The following properties are not open to the public, but you can view them from the exterior to learn more about the buildings that supported the textile industry here.

  • Newnan Cotton Mill No. 1 and Mill Village, 110 Field Street: This mill has been transformed into Newnan Lofts. The building and the surrounding mill village are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Drive down East Washington Street past Robinson Street to see the mill village, homes built by the mill owners to house their employees. 
  • Newnan Square, 100 Court Square: The first official land sale in Newnan which took place in 1829, resulted in the construction of this small town square, featuring a log cabin and a small store. With the rise of the textile industry, the square served as a hub of trade and home to several textile-related businesses, including Newnan Hosiery Mill and the Manget-Brannon Company. Indeed, a building occupied by Newnan Hosiery Mill can be viewed from the road at the corner of Spring and LaGrange Streets. The building is brick, painted white, and features distinctive Palladian-style windows on the second floor. It currently houses several local businesses. Historic photos from the 1890s show the square full of horse-drawn carriages loaded with cotton coming from the country to sell in the city markets. The original 1829 courthouse, which has been remodeled several times, remains in its original location at the center of the square. Over the decades, the square continues to serve as a space for social gathering and home to many local businesses.
  • International Playtex Corporation, 320 Temple Avenue: In 1954, this company opened its Sewn Products Division, northwest of the town square. Playtex was among the companies that took over the textile industry in Newnan in the 1960s. Making bras and a line of baby pants and bibs, the plant employed mostly white women from the area. By the late 1990s, most textile mills across the nation closed due to increased foreign competition with Asia, and this company closed its doors here in 1999. 
  • Manget-Brannon Company, 24 1st Avenue: Founded in 1918 as the Manget Brothers Company grocery store. Later, the company shifted its concentration to the cotton brokerage trade remaining in the business until 1962. The old Manget-Brannon Company cotton warehouse now provides space for retail business and charities including the Bridging the Gap Community Outreach. 
  • McIntosh Mill and Mill Village, Jefferson Street: This mill has since been demolished. Located at the intersection of Sprayberry and Jefferson Streets, this village is an example of the type of housing provided to mill employees in the early twentieth century. 
  • Newnan Cotton Mill No. 2 and Mill Village, 94 East Newnan Road: This mill has been largely demolished and the site is fairly overgrown, although the foundations and a few outbuildings might still be visible. The mill village is still standing, it makes up a sizable portion of East Newnan. The village is centered on East Newnan Road stretching down from Freeman Street to Cole Street. Two clusters of houses are based between Freeman and Front Street and Hill and East Murphy Streets respectively.
  • Newnan Hosiery Mills Inc./Mann’s Hosiery Mill, 17 Augusta Drive: This was an important employer in the area until closing in 1950. This property is currently vacant and for sale.  

History


  • Photo of a Mill Village house
    Mill village house. Photo courtesy: Kymberli Darling

The booming county seat of Newnan had already become a leading commercial center and a railroad hub by 1888, when local investors established the Newnan Cotton Mill. The company added a second mill, the East Newnan Cotton Mill, in 1901. Both mills specialized in the production of mixed fibers. During the construction of the first mill, the company added a dozen saddlebag homes nearby to house the mill employees, and additional homes were built in 1905. By the 1920s, this mill employed nine hundred workers, both white and African American, to produce weaving and specialty twist yarn.

Keeping up with the New South trend of the 1920s, Newnan’s textile industry diversified with the opening of the Newnan Hosiery Mills in 1926. Also known as, Mann’s Mill, the hosiery mill manufactured socks and at its height employed up to three hundred and fifty local workers. The mill closed in 1950. The International Playtex Corporation opened its Sewn Products Division in the former Newnan Hosiery Mill Building in 1954. By 1965, this plant employed six hundred people locally. In 1991, the Playtex Corporation was purchased by the Sara Lee Corporation, which shut down operations in Newnan in 1999 when the company reorganized.

Newnan is also well known for its involvement in the General Textile Strike of 1934, since the first strikers to be arrested worked in East Newnan Cotton Mills and nearby Arnall Mills in Sargent. The Georgia National Guard and local civil authorities arrested the picketers, inspected them for weapons, and transported them in military trucks to Fort McPherson outside Atlanta. The National Guard kept the strikers in outdoor detention facilities built for World War II prisoners until the strike ended three weeks later. Afterward, some workers were blacklisted and forced out of company homes because of their participation. Atlanta Constitution photographer Kenneth Waters documented the strike, and his photographs are available at the Atlanta History Center.

During World War II, the Newnan Cotton Mill received the Army-Navy award for excellence in war production. By 1950, the Newnan Cotton Mill and East Newnan Mill employed over one thousand workers and were pioneers in the field of blended fabrics used for a variety of products, including men’s suits and overcoats and women’s dresses and hats. Over the next two decades, however, a series of national companies purchased the plant, including Mt. Vernon Mills, West-Point Pepperell, and Bibb Manufacturing. Operations ceased in 1970.

Facing increasing foreign competition from Asia, the remaining textile mills in Newnan closed in the late 1990s. Fortunately, remnants of Newnan’s rich textile history are still around. In 2001, the Newnan Cotton Mills buildings were rehabilitated into Newnan Lofts, a mixed-use development now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Drive down E. Washington Street past Robinson Street to see the Newnan Cotton Mills’ mill village, homes built by the mill owners to house their employees. The former Manget-Brannon Company’s cotton warehouse now provides space for retail business and charities including the Bridging the Gap Community Outreach. The historic railroad depot is available for tours and special event rental.


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Trion

Come and visit one of the oldest cotton mills in Georgia!


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Places to See

The following properties are not open to the public, but you can view them from the exterior to learn more about the buildings that supported the textile industry here.

  • Trion Manufacturing Company/Mount Vernon Mills and Mill Village, 91 4th Street: This massive facility can be viewed from the street. The historic mill has been expanded several times since its original construction after the 1875 arson attack. By 1935, the mill was a massive facility that operated 102,354 spindles and 2,358 looms and employed 1,600 people. While other mills in the region have declined or collapsed, the Trion mill has thrived and is still operated by Mount Vernon Mills. While the whole town is based around the mill, and therefore basically serves as a mill village, there are certain neighborhoods that feature historic architecture which is consistent with mill villages across the region. The neighborhood directly across the street from the mill makes up a sizeable portion of the historic village. Directly to the south of the mill, across the Chattooga River, another section of the historic village can be viewed.

History


  • early aerial view of the Trion mill and housing
    Early aerial view of Trion Mill and housing. Photo courtesy: Trion Public Library

Incorporated in 1869, the textile industry in Trion began with the first cotton mill in northwest Georgia, Trion Factory, in 1847. The original mill included 600 spindles and employed 40 people to produce yarn and osnaburg sacks for the local wheat crops.

During the Civil War, Trion Factory had a contract with the Confederacy to manufacture coarse woolens for the soldiers. Spared from the destruction of the war, Trion Factory later burned in 1875 possibly due to an arsonist. Forming a new company, Trion Manufacturing Company, the mill owner constructed a new two-story brick building and began producing indigo denim. In 1889, the company added a second mill and a third mill in 1900.

By 1912, the mills belonging to the Trion Manufacturing Company were in decline. Benjamin D. Riegel, a New York businessman, purchased the mills and renamed the company Trion Company. Both the mill and the town prospered during this period. In 1931, a glove mill employing over 900 young girls opened prompting the building of Leila Riegel Hall in 1934, a dormitory to accommodate any single girls working for the company. Later the building became the Trion Inn.

In 1934, the plant closed for a third time in its history due to the General Textile Strike of 1934. “Flying Squadrons” of union activists, traveled to Trion to encourage other textile workers to join them. Met with violence from local authorities, on September 5, a deputy opened fire on two strikers. In Trion at least 22 people died or received injuries during the strikes. The mill remained closed for six weeks.

Presented with the prestigious Army-Navy E Award in 1943, Trion Company and its employees produced 50 million yards of herringbone for use in making fighting uniforms, 4 million yards of tent twill, and over 7.5 million yards of material for gun patches, during World War II. The Glove Mill also produced over 7.5 million dozen gloves for the armed forces.

In the late 1940s, the Trion Company and Ware Shoals Manufacturing Company became Riegel Textile Corporation. Various machinery upgrades and mill expansions are made through the 1950s and 60s. In 1971, the mill began producing denim fabrics.

Unlike other textile mills, Mount Vernon Mills business was still steady in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1985, R. B. Pamplin Sr., owner of Mount Vernon Mills purchased the Riegel Textile Corporation. In 1991, the company modernized and still produces over a million yards of denim a day as of 2015.


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