Articles with Lost towns

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.

Sample Chapter of “Lost Mill Towns of North Georgia”

Sample Chapter of “Lost Mill Towns of North Georgia”

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.

Please connect with me:

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It’s always been about you – Cassville

It’s always been about you – Cassville

Cassville or the story of Cassville has chased me for years. I went to Cassville Baptist just before 2000. We left just after 9/11. When I left the church, I carried the stories with me and a strong desire to write them down. I toyed with a fictionalized version of what happened to me there or what I thought was happening in the spirit realmIMG_0013, but after I got it out of my system I put it away. I left “Ichabod” alone in a file.

The other day, I came across an advertisement calling for short-story authors to submit to a new anthology. They were in particular need of writers of historical fiction. I thought of “Ichabod” sitting in pieces and notes on napkins in my desk file drawer.

I have convinced myself that I am not a fiction writer. Creative non-fiction yes, but not the mysterious workings of fiction writing. Well, maybe it is time I stopped saying,  “I do not write fiction.” Maybe I should take a chance and pull out that old textbook I borrowed (and never returned) from Professor and writer Melanie Sumner and learn the right way to write fiction.  Perhaps I have learned something about fiction writing from the many sections of literature I teach.Maybe I can scrabble together a readable short story based on real things that happened at Cassville. Maybe old “Ichabod” needs a resurrection and lots of revision.

Oh Cassville, a lost town of little significance, you have so much more to share. I am listening.

Maybe I will do it, write a historical fiction short story.  Maybe. Maybe not. There may be a fiction writer somewhere lurking within.  I will keep you posted.


Note: The first chapter of my new book, Lost Towns of North Georgia is dedicated to the real story (written as a microhistory in the creative nonfiction style) of Cassville. The book began as a book only about Cassville, but the publishers asked me to write about other lost towns in North Georgia.