This was the most positive experience. History channel producers are so professional. I never thought I would ever be on the History channel, much less on this excellent show.
I am surprised at the interest that my second book, Underwater Ghost Towns of North Georgia. I get calls on a regular basis from producers wanting to pitch stories about Lake Lanier. Mind you that this is only one chapter in the 5 books I have written about Georgia History. It is a hot topic. One thing I tell the producers who call me, I will not make things up. I will not turn the story into a ghost story. Thank goodness, the producers on Shatner’s show are not interested in made up ghost stories. We talked about “curses.”
The stories of Lake Lanier are interesting enough with out making up sensational stories. History is sensational in all its truths. That said, I have also been accused by ignorant people of white washing history. They are ignorant, because the comments come from people who do not read what I wrote. They do not put things into context. In my next book, Lost Mills of Fulton County, I included stories about the evil treatment of African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century. I do not sensationalize the stories, just offer them as a terrible part of Georgia history.
Lost Mill Towns of North Georgiais my favorite. My third book in my lost North Georgia series got lost in Covid-19. I wanted to focus on some things in that book and include more images and stories. The first focus is Chicopee. The Johnson & Johnson Corporation established this progressive mill town in 1927. Though a latecomer to the mill village, it set a new standard in construction, cleanliness, and character.
Chicopee was so different from most of the mill villages built in North Georgia in the Mill Village era. Most mills town homes built during the “New South” ushered in my Henry Grady in the 1880s and 1890s were rudimentary wood constructions that were built quickly with the bare necessities, A few forward-thinking mill owners built with brick. They built their mill towns with care and deliberate design, like Chicopee Village in Hall County near Gainesville, Georgia. The evidence is in their survival today.
In the split image below, you can see two houses, though not the same, you can see how the construction lasted almost 95 years. The home on the left is just after its construction, about 1927. Its new owner, Malachi Mills, a local musician and American Idol contestant, photographed his home on the right. Malachi grew up near the mills (no pun intended) and lives in one of the Johnson & Johnson mill homes in Chicopee. I am sure he spends hours rehearsing in his beautifully redecorated mill home. The interior structure is strikingly similar to the original.
Chicopee was Clean
Besides building a company village, Johnson & Johnson built a community based on good health and cleanliness. They employed a community designer to place the homes on winding roads with various floor plans. Sanitary lifestyles ruled Chicopee. A guidebook listed the rules for living in village homes.
Keep washbasins, bathtubs, and water closets clean. (Special brushes are provided for this purpose.)
Keep your cookstoves and iceboxes clean.
Keep walls and ceilings clean in every room.
Keep porches clean.
Keep screens in windows through the summer.
Report at once any trouble with the lights or plumbing.
Keep grass on lawns cut, and the ground around the house clean and free from rubbish.
Do not allow garbage or ashes to collect upon the premises. Put them in the cans provided for this purpose. These cans will be collected and their contents disposed of daily without charge.
Do not waste water and electric current. Turn off all electric lights, water faucets and electric stoves or heaters as soon as you are through with them.
Follow all directions of visiting nurse when she makes her regular inspections of the premises.
Keep sidewalks swept.
Help to keep all streets, parks, and playgrounds clean. Do not scatter papers.
Never park an automobile in front of a fire hydrant.
Do not tamper with fire hydrants or the village telephones.
Do not damage trees, shrubs, roadways, or any other public property
Cows, mules, horses, and goats must not be kept upon the property and household pets must not include a vicious dog or any other animal which can menace or annoy your neighbors
Know where your children are and what they are doing when not in school or in charge of a director at the playgrounds.
Use village telephones to instantly report an outbreak of fire.
Report immediately to the trained nurse in every case of sickness.
Report all public nuisances, disturbances, and violations of the law to the Department of Public Safety.
Use village telephones to report accidents.
They furnished the town with modern homes, medical care, churches, stores, and other necessities to create a self-contained community. This was necessary for these former farmers who had left the farm with little money and no transportation. They pushed the company propaganda that they lived in “the model textile village of the world reminded residents,” where “every available expenditure and preparation [had] been made for [their] comfort and happiness.” (“The Workers of Chicopee: Progressive Paternalism and the Culture of Accommodation in a Modern Mill Village”).
Chicopee had Character
The company looked different from the traditional cotton mill of its day. Some say it looked like a college campus. The village that would accompany the progress mill would also have a different character. Johnson & Johnson extended the paternalism culture when Robert Wood Johnson walked the fields that would be Chicopee and imagined the village. Historian James J. Lorence wrote in the Georgia Historical Quarterly, “The Chicopee experiment was the personal project of Robert Wood Johnson, who envisioned a highly productive enterprise rooted in management acceptance of responsibility for the well-being of the workforce as well as a firm commitment to the premise that good labor relations constituted good business” (“The Workers of Chicopee: Progressive Paternalism and the Culture of Accommodation in a Modern Mill Village”).
The village newspaper, The Chicopee News, published from 1928 through 1934, reinforced company policies and community solidarity. According to Lorence, “A prominent feature of the paper was the regular front-page editorial filled with homilies containing moral lessons ‘for all of us.’ It addressed such issues as community spirit, ambition, personal sin, honesty, and self-assurance, counseling “faith in yourself.” In the wake of the early depression, for example, the paper advised villagers to avoid transience, urging them to “make whatever changes are needed within yourself” and “find success in your own hometown.”
Like most mill towns, paternalism waned. After WWII, men and women came home with more opportunities and began moving out of the mill villages. Owners relinquished ownership of the homes to the current residents or landlords who no longer followed the J&J rule book. This is where the mill villages got lost. The poorly built mill homes of other mills suffered from neglect and were often torn down – they disappeared or they became low rent homes. Few survived, but Chicopee did.
Most North Georgia mill villages have melted into the past or are kudzu-owned. Chicopee survived because of the brick design and construction care, cleanliness standards, and character standards infused by Johnson & Johnson. On a recent drive through the old mill town, the carefully planned curved roads wound around homes that were cared for and streets cleaned. The old place showed its age, but someone was still trimming the community areas. There are groups trying to keep the place alive. I noticed websites that were raising money for the community. Businesses like Left Nut Brewing Co. thrive in the old mill area across the street. There is still life in Chicopee. There is something special about Chicopee.
Not knowing your history leaves you rootless. Jane Blasio dug into her hidden history, found her roots, and is now planted. Jane writes her story in Taken at Birth: Stolen Babies, Hidden Lies, and My Journey to Find Home. She worked with TLC as an investigator on the TLC Docu-Series, Taken at Birth. The series was interesting, but I wanted to know more about Jane. Her book fills in the blanks but leaves you wanting a little more. However, that is the nature of Jane’s story.
This story begins and ends in North Georgia in and around the town of McCaysville, Georgia. Jane Blasio digs around the town, trying to find documents and truth about Dr. Thomas Hicks. The paths she takes us down are dusty and confusing, much like the pig trails of North Georgia. These were pre-GPS days, and she often found herself lost, but the twist and turns were all part of a bigger plan. Jane did more than find out that Dr. Hicks sold her for $1000; she helped many others with their exact origin.
Jane exhumed the awful truth about Dr. Hicks and his black-market clinic. Then she helped other stolen Georgia babies find their roots. The TLC program starts with Jane’s story but meanders through the lives of other Hick’s babies. I wanted to know the rest of Jane’s story and her book delivers.
In Taken at Birth: Stolen Babies, Hidden Lies, and My Journey to Find Home, Blasio takes us on a road trip from Akron to Georgia several times. We are along for the ride from her first visit to McCaysville in the 1990s to her final destination.
Her book focuses on her decades-long hard, scrabbled search. Imagine Jane looking in dusty windows in a small, suspicious southern town. She pried up truth from a community that did not like to share but protect its secrets. Picture her trying to ask the townsfolk questions. At the end of the book, Jane rethinks the early days of her search:
“If I had to do it over again, I’d drive into McCaysville and walk right into that small diner and ask all the right questions, make all the right moves, and eat my breakfast without worry. I’d roll that town up and put it in my pocket as though it were mine.” (211)
She found peace and danced upon the graves of those who had robbed her. Her dancing was not vengeance. She had left that to God. She danced with joy, for she knew what she had gained in this process. You will enjoy getting to know Jane. I know I did. Her writing left me feeling like I had met a long-lost friend.
I connected with Jane on many not-so-obvious levels. We both grew up near Lake Erie and were born in the 1960s. Here are some differences. I was born in Buffalo in Children’s Hospital. Dr. Hicks handed the four-pound Jane out the back door of his black-market clinic. I knew one side of my extended family, but knew nothing of my father’s side. I still long to know my bio grandmother, but Jane never knew either side of her family. In my teens, I moved to North Georgia, found God and found home. Jane came to North Georgia in her 20s to find her home and also found God. She discovered a legacy of faith and knew that someone had prayed for her to come home.
Jane gained more than the knowledge of her parentage. In her brief but affecting final chapters, she finds her people. In a GPS-deprived search, Jane made many wrong turns before but winded up exactly where she was supposed to be. She found a family she thought was hers for years until DNA proved her wrong. Jane found a woman with no relation to her who loved her like a daughter. “Carlynn taught me so much, but mostly she loved me and held me like a mother holds her daughter and tells her it will be all right. I had never known that before her” (214). Her biological nor her adoptive mom was incapable of loving her that way. Her journey was like a lost day on a red clay and gravel road with many unexpected stops.
She found her bio family after the detour. DNA proved it. She began sprouting roots in North Georgia when she found pieces of her family. The sound of the large wind chimes in Suches at her family home keeps bringing her back to her roots. Her language is matter-of-fact but also lyrical. Ernest Hemingway said of memoir, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” Her northern raising gave her concrete words, but her Southern soul is lyrical. Listen to these words:
“The invitation to visit here was a gift to me, and I listened as the breeze lilted through the chimes, as though it had as lightly upturned chin, gently challenging them to sing to me, to sing a new song. As the sun disappeared and the chimes kept on, the challenge was fulfilled with a serenade that stretched across those fields, rolling for some distance.” (168)
She lost a great deal on her trips back and forth from Ohio to Georgia, but that was the price of passage. She admitted walking away from important relationships, including her relationship with God. Jane was on a journey – her authentic path. She became rooted and grounded. As her Georgia family was always there, so was her God. She was looking for one thing, but found so much more.
For a first published memoir, this is a remarkable success. Jane’s story will help others in ways she will never know. A mentor told me that when I write from my head, it connects to the mind. When I write from my heart, I will connect to another heart. This line connected my heart to Jane’s:
I found where I belonged. It took the journey of searching, not the actual DNA, to find who I am. I’m a child of God. He knows my name, and He placed me in this world. He knew where I should be and who I belonged to all along. I’m His.” (213)
While writing Lost Towns of North Georgia and Underwater Ghost Towns of North Georgia, I came across a late 1800 Atlanta newspaper article about sightings of phantom soldiers on trains going through Allatoona Pass. I do not like to include myths and folklore in my books because I need evidence. I figured if the credible Atlanta newspaper could print this story, I could write about in my books. So, here is one of the very few ghost stories in my books:
The Haunting of Allatoona Pass The night was soaked with an inky darkness just seven years after the Civil War as the steam engine powered through Allatoona Pass on its way north. Just as the engine entered the pass, the W&A Railroad conductor noticed a soldier sitting on the top of the car. He climbed up into the darkness to collect the fare. The conductor walked toward the figure. Steps away, it disappeared. The soldier had melted into the night.
The disconcerted conductor reported to the engineer, “He was dressed in a soldier’s uniform.” Leaving the engine in the fireman’s hands, the W&A engineer investigated. A thick layer of clouds covered the moon; the cool night left a mist in the air. Through the fog, the engineer saw a figure sitting on the top of the third car.
The engineer advanced on top of the train, his attention focused on the man sitting on his train. Sweat trickled down the engineer’s back. He locked eyes with the gray shadow man. As he neared the transparent figure, it faded and then disappeared. The engineer searched the entire train and looked everywhere someone might hide. He climbed back on the top of the train and there the man was, sitting again on top of the train.
This time, the engineer marched in a quick step toward the ghost, but it disappeared again. The engineer walked back to the engine of the speeding train. Before he descended, the engineer glanced over his shoulder to glimpse the soldier back in his place. Cold air caused the engineer to shiver before he returned to relieve his fireman. The conductor kept watch and reported that the mysterious figure remained on the train for a few more miles, and then he was gone.
Perhaps the specter was reenacting this scene on the southbound train about to go through Allatoona Pass. Ghost stories are just symptoms of what lies beneath the surface, what came before and what refuses to leave.
Allatoona Pass has a reputation. It’s haunted. The unnatural cut into the mountain was the pass for nineteenth-century trains. The untracked bed follows along a sinking shore that secrets the drowned town of Allatoona. Phantom seekers claim to hear the ghost train and see specter soldiers on board. Walking through the pass today, you often hear the ghostly sounds of the trains on the repositioned tracks and wonder if they might be from another time or a current train in the distance.
The pass and the lost town of Allatoona have every reason to be haunted. The Battle of Allatoona Pass—a forgotten battle won by fake news and in defense of some bread—destroyed the trackside town. This pointless battle made a few heroes but ruined a town that was later drowned and lost forever. Residual energy disturbs the pass and the shores of Lake Allatoona, but the scariest story began and ended on October 5, 1864.
Read more about the Battle of Allatoona Pass in my books:
I hear them. And I want you to hear them too. We ignore them or just half listen to their stories. We drive by their homes in the mill villages before decay has hidden its history. If you stop long enough, you might notice them. Repurpose or decay hides the mill village towns of North Georgia.
Driving along and you might see a lonely stack or two, and down the road
you look into the past. You might see a neat row of similar yet dissimilar
homes still teeming with life next to a long-abandoned textile mill. A heavy pall surrounds the mill towns of North Georgia because the southern textile mill is dead.
The textile mill era, with accompanying mill villages, is over. What
started in the late nineteenth century slowly dissipated after World War II, ending before the twenty-first century. The communities built around the company have disappeared. No longer does the local manufacturer supply and maintain low-rent housing, medical facilities, sporting events and a company store. For a time, paternalism made sense, but the world changed.
The southern “Daddy” had to let the children go.
Chapter 1 tells the story of the textile mill era in North Georgia. This
summary is the big picture, the puzzle all put together. The other chapters
are the puzzle pieces. This is a micro-focus on each county with mill villages.
The mill towns included in this book had to meet specific criteria. It would have been impossible to include every mill in North Georgia in this book. The focus is the mills with accompanying towns. In most cases, the town and the mill are one entity. Some mill villages remain silent because the records could not be found.
Fulton and Greene Counties were originally included here but were
removed for space reasons and because they were different that the mills in
the true North Georgia area. I placed some of these chapters on my website,
along with interactive maps of the mill locations.
The South came to the Industrial Revolution party a little late, but North
Georgia mills worked hard and contributed to industrial growth. When it
was quitting time, and the silent whistle blew, the worker went home to start something new. Instead of allowing the mills to melt into the ground and disappear, some are creating new spaces from the rusty past and fading paint of old mill buildings.
The past is calling out to us. The mill workers want to tell their stories.
They have so much to say. They can teach us about perseverance and
struggle. We learn that management lost that fatherly feeling to stretch and wring out their laborers until they cried out. Can you hear them?
I can hear them. Listen. They punctuate their southern accents with
mispronunciations and colloquialisms. What some would call uneducated,
I call North Georgia culture—I respect that. Hear the stories of hardship.
The North Georgia farmers and sharecroppers went to the mills for a steady
paycheck. They were weary of the hardscrabble farm living.
Listen to the children speaking in the images of a social photographer.
Early photographs gave voice to the little ones working in the dangerous
mills—sad stories of children working as young as eight to add pennies to
the family till.
Cheer for the local teams of the Southern Textile League, supported by
most of the mills in North Georgia. A baseball game on a Saturday afternoon
generated community and good will. All the single ladies dressed in their
best, with their eyes on the prize of a textile ballplayer.
Notice the sounds of silence. The clackety-clack stops as the mill shuts down in the midst of union strikes. At some mills, you will hear gunshots in the uprising of 1934. You hear a governor’s command call out the National Guard to quiet the uprising. They go unheard and back to work. They lost, but paternalism crumbles nonetheless, and the community of the mill villages fades away.
As the world changed in the 1960s, so did the textile industry. The shaky
world of mill paternalism fell apart, and mill owners dumped the villages
as world economies shifted. Textiles could be made cheaper somewhere
else. The door slammed on the southern cotton industries, and the industry
outsourced their legacy to other countries.
My purpose is simple. I want to tell the story of this unique period in
the voices of the people who lived and worked in the textile mills of North
Georgia. The backstory is important, but the microphone is open to hear the
mill people themselves.