Industrial Development: Textiles at Center of Local History

Industrial Development: Textiles at Center of Local History

From Introductory text of
Travels Through Troup County: A Guide to its Architecture and History.
Published by the Troup County Historical Society, 1996.
(This text was written by Julie Turner.)

Industrial Development. c.1847 -1920

The first industries in Troup County tended to be localized with small-scale production and appeared with the earliest settlement. Grist mills, saw mills, tanneries, and blacksmith shops developed along creeks and the Chattahoochee River providing services and goods needed by the first settlers. Grist mills often became a focal point for communities. As early as 1829, a grist mill operated on Flat Shoals Creek with a wooden dam. By 1834, a community developed around Daniel Norwood's grist mill in the northeast corner of the county. The influx of new settlers also required saw mills to provide lumber for building. Unlike grist mills, saw mills did not usually develop into communities. According to local historian Clark Johnson, "The wealthiest saw mill owners lived in LaGrange and were also in the construction business." Sometimes the early industries developed as complexes, such as Birds Mills and Shop north of LaGrange. John Bird established grist, flour, and saw mills on both sides of Beech Creek.

 

The textile industry developed slowly in the antebellum South, as did all industry. During the early nineteenth century, the economy of Troup County, like the South as a whole, remained firmly entrenched in agriculture dominated by the cotton plantation. Even so the South was not devoid of early cotton mills. In 1808, Dr. John Shecut established the South Carolina Homespun Company in Charleston on the Ashley River. In Georgia, the Wilkes Manufacturing Company was started near Washington in 1810. In the same year, the Antioch Factory was established between Madison and Monticello which would have been the western frontier at the time.

Before 1850, cotton mills in the South tended to move from one water source to another, lacking stability. Local blacksmiths often forged the machinery for these mills and they produced coarse cloth for a strictly local market. Individuals tended to own them rather than large corporations. Southern cotton mills of this period followed the Fall Line. (A geologic formation, the Fall Line was once the edge of the continent and is characterized by a distinct drop of hundreds of feet in a few miles.) Rivers and streams course over rapids and shoals creating the source of power harnessed by water wheels.

The cotton mill industry thrived in the South between 1850 and 1860, but production continued to be small-scale to meet the local needs of an agrarian society. Although in general the number of mills in the South decreased between 1840 and 1850, new mills were being built in the three states which would eventually dominate southern textiles: North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The sharpest increase in mill building occurred in Georgia. The state contained only 19 mills in 1840 and 35 in 1850.

During this time, the Robertson Woolen Mill, established in 1847 on Turkey Creek, became the first textile mill in Troup County. Robert Robertson of Scotland started the enterprise and its success encouraged the development of the Troup Factory in 1848. To establish the Troup Factory, Robertson, Leslie and Company (James Madison Creed Robertson and Thomas Leslie) converted an 1845 grist mill building into a textile mill on Flat Shoals Creek near the road which led to Columbus. Troup Factory developed into a successful cotton mill producing osnaburgs (a course cloth) for markets as far away as Philadelphia and New Orleans. A village of around 500 residents grew up around the mill. The factory continued to operate successfully until 1902 when the business relocated to LaGrange as Park Cotton Mills.

The climate of Reconstruction influenced southern attitudes toward mill building. Southern leaders such as Benjamin H. Hill of LaGrange began calling for industrialization to help build a stronger and more progressive South. Between 1870 and 1880, the overall number of textile mills increased very little in the South. However, the number of spindles (which relate directly to production) increased by 60%. During the postbellum years, U.S. textile manufacturers typically continued to produce coarse cloths and many Southern mills continued to produce osnaburgs.

After the Civil War, rather than have a local blacksmith forge crude machinery for factories, southern mills began investing in secondhand machines purchased from the Northeast as New England mills updated their equipment. The South's Postbellum mills tended to operate on limited capital and the used equipment provided an affordable alternative to the blacksmiths' product.

Immediately after the Civil War, the Chattahoochee Manufacturing Company and the Alabama-Georgia Manufacturing Company were established in the Chattahoochee Valley through the leadership and capital of West Point residents. Through the leadership of Lafayette Lanier of West Point from 1873 to 1906, the Chattahoochee Manufacturing Company became the West Point Manufacturing Company. During the 1870s, before mill fever swept the South, Lanier led his company through several significant changes using only local capital. He switched from the production of osnaburgs to a canvas-type material called "flat duck." To market the new product beyond the local region, Lanier contracted with a Boston selling agent. To relieve production problems, he purchased new machinery and dispensed with the secondhand equipment the mill had been using. He also provided experienced management by importing an English supervisor for the mill. Although the mills and villages of the Chattahoochee Valley associated with the West Point Manufacturing Company are located across the state line in Alabama, the impact of the company's development on the West Point community cannot be understated. The company's offices have always been maintained in West Point and the industrial leaders have always lived in the community. From 1880 to 1920, mill fever swept the South. The number of textile mills in the South increased during this time from 161 to 731 (in 1910). At the beginning of the period, the southern states possessed only 21% of the nation's textile mills. By 1910, the South claimed a full 60% of U.S. mills. Troup County's location, progressive attitude and leadership created the perfect mix for large-scale textile mill development. Between 1888 and 1922, nine textile mills were built in the LaGrange, two in Hogansville and three additional mills were built by the West Point Manufacturing Company on the Alabama side of the river.

The relatively new cotton oil industry led the way for later textile development in Troup County. Local merchants established the Hogansville Cotton Oil Mill in 1881 and the LaGrange Oil and Manufacturing Company in 1883. Five years after its establishment, the LaGrange Oil and Manufacturing Company began cotton textile manufacturing and became LaGrange Mills.

By 1895, "mill fever" had a firm grip on Troup County and the newspapers frequently spread the hype. As was typical throughout the South, northern investors boosted the interest of the local residents when it came to building mills. An 1895 visit to LaGrange by such investors gave rise to the establishment of Dixie Mills that year. Many LaGrange citizens invested in the mill, including Fuller E. Callaway, who would provide the most significant leadership for textile development in the county. Within a year Dixie Mills experienced serious financial and production problems. Fuller Callaway assumed a leadership role to pull the mill out of trouble. As Lafayette Lanier had done two decades earlier in West Point, Callaway replaced the secondhand machinery responsible for production problems and contracted with a northern selling agent to market the mills' products. Within two years, Dixie Mills recovered and Callaway sold his interest in the mill recovering his original investment which had been jeopardized by the shoddy equipment.

Fuller E. Callaway (1870-1928) epitomized the New South. Before the Civil War, his family had been quite prosperous. His father had established an academy near Greenville in neighboring Meriwether County and, in 1860, owned a prosperous estate with twenty slaves. At the end of the war, he invested his cash in land both in Meriwether and Troup Counties plus in 100 bales of stored cotton. By 1870 the family had moved to the land purchased in the Long Cane community in Troup County. With the death of his mother in 1878, Callaway quit school and, at eight years old, began peddling small goods such as thread in the Long Cane community. When he was twelve, he rented some farmland and bought a mule with the $60 he had saved. At fourteen, Callaway moved to LaGrange to work for merchant E. R. Bradfield. In 1888, he established his own mercantile business.

As a merchant, Callaway broke with conventional methods of doing business. He focused on stocking large quantities of one item which he could buy and sell more cheaply than the typical merchant. He also invested in aggressive sales and advertising, an unusual thing for the time. Most remarkably, Callaway ignored the crop lien system and dealt in cash sales only. Around 1890, he established a full scale department store in LaGrange with a wide selection and low prices.

After saving his original investment and divesting himself of Dixie Mills, Callaway returned to managing his mercantile business. However in 1900, J. H. Lane and Company, the northern selling agent for Dixie Mills, instigated the organization of a new mill. Once again, LaGrange merchants and residents responded with enthusiasm. Local investors included C. V. Truitt, a businessman and farm supplier; J. E. Dunson, a banker and merchant, and Fuller E. Callaway. Although Callaway's financial investment was relatively small, J. H. Lane and Company insisted he play an active management role. From the start, Unity Mill produced duck, a type of cloth. About the same time, a group of Hogansville merchants established the Hogansville Manufacturing Company without northern investment. However, Consolidated Duck of Delaware purchased the mill in 1905.

The development of three mills in LaGrange led investors to relocate the old Troup Factory in 1902 to a modern mill facility in LaGrange and renamed it Park Cotton Mills. Fuller Callaway's Elm City Cotton Mills became the fifth textile mill in LaGrange in 1905. Mill leadership in LaGrange clashed, leading Fuller Callaway to form the Calumet Company in 1907 to take over operations at Unity Mill. That same year, economic development in LaGrange received a big boost with the coming of Atlanta, Birmingham, and Coast Railroad. Callaway took the lead in securing this rail line through the City to resolve problems with high freight rates on existing rail lines. Since Reconstruction, complaints that high railroad rates were crippling the South had been common in communities such as LaGrange. The system used for calculating rates actually made it cheaper to ship goods to Hogansville and Opelika, Alabama than to LaGrange. Local merchants like Callaway viewed the system as stifling to business and industrial development in LaGrange. A second line offered competitive rates and improved access for Troup County.

After the clash with Callaway, Joseph Eugene Dunson established his own enterprise, Dunson Mill, in 1910. Hillside Cotton Mills built by Callaway in 1915 became the seventh textile mill built in LaGrange. In 1922 Stark Mills in Hogansville became the last mill built in Troup County within the historic period. Unlike other Troup County mills which were built through local control (even if northern capital was involved), Lockwood, Greene, and Company of Boston built Stark Mills without local assistance. Through its 1913 purchase of Consolidated Duck, Lockwood, Greene had acquired the Hogansville Manufacturing Company (renamed International Cotton Mills).

Mill engineers, such as Lockwood, Greene, and Company, represent the increased professional specialization of the textile industry after 1880. Sometimes referred to as "mill doctors," the engineers became indispensable in mill building. The original founder, Amos Lockwood, made Stephen Greene a partner in the company in 1882 and for the next 40 years Lockwood, Greene was the most active organization engaged in textile engineering in New England and the South. Mill engineers, such as Lockwood, Greene of Boston; D. A. Tompkins of Charlotte; W. B. Smith Whaley of Columbia; and J. E. Sirrine became involved with every aspect of the textile industry including engineering, management, and capital investment.

This dramatic industrial growth significantly affected the development of Troup County's communities. The population of the county increased by 74% as employment in the mills attracted new residents. By and large, these new residents moved to the cities, particularly LaGrange. In LaGrange and Hogansville, large mill villages provided housing for the operatives associated with each mill. With the construction of Stark Mills in 1922, the dramatic period of textile development in Troup County was complete. Although no new mills were to be built during this era, the existing mills would expand and consolidate. The economy of the county had become firmly based in industry rather than agriculture.

Continued Industrial Prosperity, 1920-1950

The prosperity associated with Troup County's textile mill development continued into the twentieth century. The county grew at a steady pace. During the three decades after 1920, the overall county population increased by 38% reaching almost 50,000 in 1950. With the textile mill developments in LaGrange, West Point, and Hogansville, the population of Troup County's cities exceeded that of the rural areas for the first time in 1920.

The West Point Manufacturing Company prospered and expanded during the early twentieth century under the leadership of George Huguley Lanier. As Lafayette Lanier's son, George Lanier assumed leadership of the company in 1906 with his father's declining health. At the height of the Depression, he initiated large scale expansion of the textile company. In 1933 West Point Manufacturing expanded beyond the Chattahoochee Valley for the first time by acquiring the Dixie Cotton Mill in LaGrange.

The textile mills in LaGrange also expanded and enlarged. In 1923, Dunson Mills enlarged its facility, doubling its capacity and shifting production to include lighter fabrics. The mills associated with Fuller E. Callaway also entered a period of large scale expansion, buying existing mills. Callaway's sons, Cason and Fuller Callaway, Jr, assumed leadership of the mills in 1920 due to their father's declining health and retirement. They sold off the interests unrelated to textile production and concentrated on the mills. In 1932, they restructured and consolidated the mills into the single corporation known as Callaway Mills, Inc.

World War II brought increased prosperity to the area's textile mills as they sought to meet wartime demands. The West Point Manufacturing Company added new facilities in Alabama and, through a surprising flip-flop in financing, acquired its northern selling agency, Wellington-Sears, in 1945. In doing so, the company also acquired Wellington-Sears subsidiaries which included other textile mills.

In response to wartime needs, the Hogansville Stark Mills constructed the Asbeston Plant in 1942. Originally, the plant manufactured asbestos pipe wrappings for the ship yards and it became the only plant to actually weave material from asbestos.

Callaway Mills established the Callaway Community Foundation in 1943 as a charitable organization. In 1945 the Foundation actually purchased all of Callaway Mills Properties from its stockholders and leased them back to the company to run the mills operations. Since that time, income from rent and dividends has been returned to the community through the Foundation's philanthropy.

Retooling for the Future: 1950 to Present

Troup County's textile industries suffered along with the national industry in the post-World War II decades. In the early 1950s, Pepperell, Inc., a northern textile giant which manufactured sheets, towels, and bath mats bought Dunson Mills in LaGrange. Then in 1965, Pepperell merged with the West Point Manufacturing Company creating West Point-Pepperell. A merger in 1993 made it WestPoint Stevens.

In 1968, Callaway Mills sold its operations to Milliken. With the industry's economic decline, the county's population decreased significantly. The community leaders of LaGrange reacted by actively and successfully seeking new industries for the area. By 1980, the county's population had recovered and the community continues to grow.