Come see an old mining town that struck gold in the textile industry due to its easy access to the nearby river and railroad.
An early gold mining town in Haralson County, Tallapoosa’s easy access to the Tallapoosa River and Georgia Pacific Railway made it an ideal place for cotton manufacturing. Due to the low cost of shipping and building in the city and the presence of a ready workforce Tallapoosa became the site of a series of industrial enterprises. The first successful cotton manufacturing company, Tallapossa Mills, brought new commerce and jobs to the city.
The Jackson brothers, owners of Tallapoosa Mills, sold their majority stock holdings in the company to the William Whitman Company, after World War I, but the organization remained mostly unchanged. At the beginning of the Great Depression, C. E. Pearce continued to serve as manager of the cotton mill, and A. V. Howe, one of the original organizers and officers, served as president. After operating part-time during the Depression, the mill closed in 1939 due to economic decline.
The northeastern-based American Thread Company (ATCO) purchased Tallapoosa Mills in 1943 to make combed cotton yarn and reopening the mill on January 28, 1944. World War II ended in 1945 and ATCO expanded the Tallapoosa plant in February 1947. The three-story extension of 110,000 square feet was built next to the original building, adding 25,000 spindles.Manufacturing volume increased by 140 percent as did the number of employees, rising from 315 to 680. In 1959, ATCO expanded operations once again.
To help promote ATCO brand yarn in the 1940s and 50s, the ATCO franchise published a series of knitting and crocheting pattern books, called “Star Books.” ATCO’s Tallapoosa mill closed in the early 1980s, the last textile manufacturer to close in the city. Venus Threads purchased the mill and reopened it in the early 1990s, and continue to operate it today.
Things to Do
- West Georgia Museum, 185 Mann Street: This museum has exhibits on the Tallapoosa area’s history, as well as its natural history.
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.
- Mandeville Mills Cotton Gin, 76 East Alabama Street: The Mandeville Mills of Carrollton had a number of side businesses including a cottonseed oil mill and a fertilizer factory. To supply the cotton for their textile operation and the seeds for their oil mill, they set up a network of gins in the surrounding countryside, even up into Haralson County. Their Tallapoosa gin still stands, it was repurposed into an antique mall and local business which have since closed.
- Tallapoosa Cotton Mills/Atco Mill, 191 West Atlanta Street: This 100-year-old facility is still standing and remains in operation as Venus Threads. This building is an excellent example of both the early- and mid-20th century industrial architecture. The southern facing wall (opposite the water tower and smokestack) is the original facade. It features rows of windows that have been bricked over. The northern facing wall is the expansion added by ATCO and features a more sleek design with no windows, reflecting the fact that the building was air-conditioned. ATCO operated the facility until the late 1980s. It was purchased by Venus Threads, who still run it today.
- Tallapoosa Knitting Mill/Kimball Knitting Co., 2276 US-78: This location has since been demolished and unrelated buildings constructed in its place, but you can still see the surrounding area. This small-scale operation was only active in the 1890s and early 1900s.
Explore this community’s history via the drop-down sections below!
Founded as an early gold mining town in Haralson County, Tallapoosa’s easy access to the Tallapoosa River and Georgia Pacific Railway made it an ideal place for cotton manufacturing. Due to the low cost of both shipping and construction in the city, as well as the presence of a ready workforce, Tallapoosa became home to several textile manufacturing operations which brought new commerce and careers to the city.
Alliance Knitting Company, Tallapoosa’s first textile mill, opened in the 1890. Initially the mill employed a small shift of 13. However, they quickly expanded to employ 24 people, mostly women and children. The mill hired them to spin, knit, and weave materials such as cotton, wool, and silk fibers. However, textile companies that started with such a diverse product line often had a hard time making a name for themselves as they never focused enough on one product to catch the attention of selling agencies. In the end, Alliance Knitting Company went under after less than a year of production.
Alliance Knitting Company was not alone amongst the Tallapoosa textile startups in the 1890s; Anchor Woolen Mills, Enterprise Cotton Company, and Southern Hosiery Company all rose and fell in the same decade. Tallapoosa’s young companies, such as Alliance Knitting, were always going to have a hard time without streamlining their production. However they also had the misfortune of starting a business in and around the Panic of 1893, which brought established mills along the Trail, even the mighty Eagle and Phenix of Columbus, to their knees. Tallapoosa’s infant textile industry had no chance.
Indeed, Tallapoosa’s shaky start in the textile industry continued with several mills either closing within a few years of being opened or never making it past the planning phase. W.C. Kimball and Co., opened in 1902, produced women’s and children’s ribbed hose with 8 knitting machines and 16 steam-powered cylinders. By 1904, this mill had closed and sold off its machinery. In 1902, local businessmen proposed the Tallapoosa Cotton Mill Company, but they abandoned it by the next year.
Tallapoosa’s first prosperous mill was Tallapoosa Mills, Inc. A group of local businessmen, headed by A.L. Jackson, led the drive for the capital needed to start up the mill. They were successful, and they completed construction on the $200,000 mill building in January of 1908 during the second “Tallapoosa Boom”. By April of that same year, the contracting firm of A.H. Washburn of Charlotte, North Carolina completed the installation of the mill’s 10,000 spindles.
The mill complex consisted of the mill itself, two warehouses, an engine house, an electric plant, and a water plant with a 250,000-gallon reservoir. Thirty double-houses were built for operatives, with this number increasing dramatically during the first two decades of the mill’s operations. A major product of this mill was 20s 2-ply skeins, which means that each skein (the technical name for a ball of yarn) was made with 16,800 yards per pound. Later on, they produced 16s and 12s 2-ply skeins alongside their 20s. Even after changing ownership in 1923, this mill continued to manufacture similar products. The cotton used to create these skeins was locally grown and purchased from areas such as Carrollton, Tallapoosa, and Cedartown.
The Tallapoosa Mills did not employ a selling agent to act as a middleman in bringing their goods to market. Instead, they sold their products directly from their office, indicating that the majority of their early sales might have been from a relatively local market. However, by 1914 after operating for several years, Tallapoosa Mills had made enough of a name for itself to where their goods were demanded on a national market. It was in this that the Tallapoosa Mills faced a major complication: how could they efficiently ship their product to far away customers in New York, San Francisco, or Europe?
The challenges that the young company faced is illustrated by the sinking of the steamship Monroe, as reported by the New York Times. Struck by another ship, the Monroe went down within 12 minutes with hundreds of people, and ten bales of Tallapoosa Mills’ goods, on board. Although it might have been safer to ship the goods overland, it would have cost so much in shipping that the company could not make a profit. The shipping company employed by the mill, who chose to ship the product on the Monroe independently without consulting the mill, refused to cover the cost of the lost goods. A court case against the shipping company by the mill was not resolved until May of 1921, when the steamship company paid $671 ($9,805.67 in 2021) to cover the loss of goods.
Although they made enough money in the 1910s to expand their mill’s machinery capacity twice, the Jackson family, who had also come to control the Hutcheson Manufacturing Company in Banning, opted to sell the majority of their stock holdings to the William Whitman Company of Boston, Massachusetts for $500,000 ($7.6 million in 2020) in 1923. This new ownership group promised to employ 325 operatives the year round; however, there was no real change to on-site management for quite some time after this purchase. The Times-Recorder of Americus, Georgia notes this sale as another move of northern mill interests to the south, which can be seen in many communities throughout the Textile Heritage Trail. Tallapoosa Mills slowly but surely increased the capacity of their mill, hosting 60 cards, 16,896 spindles, and three boilers by 1935. In November of 1938, the mill was reported to be running two full-time shifts. It was no secret that the mills awarded their employees with significant paychecks, money that in turn fueled the economy within Tallapoosa.
Despite this growth, the mills closed in 1939 due to the Great Depression’s strong effects on all aspects of American industry. In the beginning years of the Great Depression, the mill continued to operate one to two days a week, just enough for its workers to be able to afford groceries. During this time, they also waived rent fees for anyone living in the mill village. This closure led to a drop in Tallapoosa’s population, with residents who remained in town having to seek work out elsewhere.
The American Thread Company purchased the mill in 1943 under the influence of an Atlanta promoter. They began producing fine cotton yarns and threads in January of 1944, operating 16,000 yarn spindles and 7,500 thread spindles. In May of 1944, the company hosted a celebration that included barbeque and a flag raising to officially open the mill. Three to four thousand people attended this celebration, including dignitaries and out-of-town visitors. Newspapers noted this event as the start of a “new era for Tallapoosa”.
Soon after opening, this company was able to give its workers a raise of eight cents per hour, bringing their hourly wages up to 73 cents per hour; today, this would be an increase of $1.07, bringing wages up to $9.74. By 1947, The American Thread Company was noted as being the largest thread manufacturing operation in the United States with plants scattered across the nation; this helps to explain how the company was able to increase their wages so soon after opening.
With the growth and wealth they were able to accumulate from this Tallapoosa mill, the American Thread Company saw fit to double down on their investment by expanding upon the mill itself as well as constructing a new sales and service branch in 1947. The new 3-story, 110,000 square foot mill building would come to benefit the company by housing 25,000 additional spindles and employing 680 operatives, an increase of 140%. The sales and service branch would carry a complete stock of the company’s sewing threads, crochet cotton, knitting wools, stamped goods, and Star Brand instruction books.
Despite this company’s success in this Haralson County town, there were a significant number of disturbances that occurred relating to this mill, specifically against those who were interested in unionizing. A group of mill employees approached a known United Textiles Workers-AFL organizer, and threatened to harm him if he did not leave and not stop until he reached Alabama. Opposition to unionizing came mostly from those who benefited from an informal system put into place by managers and higher-ups, who often went outside of understood labor-management relations. A major case involving the American Thread Company and unionizers occurred when an organizer for the Textile Workers Union of America, C.I.O., claimed to be abducted by American Thread Company employees and dumped outside of Tallapoosa in 1948. Two employees were laid off for one and three days, respectively, but no other punishments seem to have occurred for this crime.
Employees from the American Thread Company’s mill in Tallapoosa even threatened workers from the same company’s mill in Dalton, Georgia. Textile Workers Union (C.I.O) members from the Dalton mill were met in August of 1949 outside of the gates of the Tallapoosa mill with clubs and pistols. Those who were opposed went to the Attorney General to investigate this “mob action.” Two mill workers were faced with a restraining order after facing charges for assault with a deadly weapon. This altercation resulted in a suit for $300,000 to be filed for damages.
In 1951, a subcommittee of the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee found that efforts towards self-organizing and collective bargaining on the part of employees were losing ground against their employers, specifically in southern textile mills such as the American Thread Company’s Tallapoosa plant. Employers being able to avoid this collective bargaining from their employees allowed for them to have a substantial advantage over their northern counterparts.
As with the Tallapoosa Mills in the early 1900s, the American Thread Company also relied on national and international business. In October of 1950, President Truman allowed for the importation of an additional 7,500,000 pounds of long-staple, Egyptian-type cotton beginning in the following January. Allowing this increased importation saved many southern thread mills from reduced production or even closure, including the American Thread Company in Georgia. Of course it cost money to import additional cotton, and over time the American Thread Company began to feel the strain as costs mounted.
The American Thread Company operated their Tallapoosa mill through 1985, but closed it in the face of international competition. Established in 1992, Venus Thread, Inc. began operating in the old Tallapoosa Mill and American Thread Company building, and is the only textile mill in Tallapoosa that is still in operation. This location currently hosts dyeing and finishing while employing around 20 workers. The company previously operated a twisting department at their Tallapoosa location, but it has since closed down due to a declining industry. Operations occur in a newer metal building, while the historic mill building is used only as a warehouse. The company is committed to maintaining their operation in Tallapoosa despite the continued decline of American industry.
Charter Trail Members
- Tallapoosa Historical Society
- Tallapoosa Museum
- Tallapoosa Public Library
- Greater Haralson Chamber of Commerce
- Greater Haralson Tourism
- Haralson County Historical Society
Resources to Explore
Click on the following links to learn more about this region.
- Facts for Kids
- Digital Library of Georgia
- Georgia Archives Virtual Vault
- Georgia Historical Society
- Haralson County, New Georgia Encyclopedia
Back to Community List