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What’s so Special about Chicopee?

Lost Mill Towns of North Georgia is 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.

Image on the right by Malachi Mills
Original House Plans for Chicopee

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.

The Village Handbook

Household Regulations

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.

Village Regulations

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.

Chicopee Continues

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.