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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The third book in my “LOST” Series will be released by History Press on Monday, April 13, 2020. Release event will be at Dogwood Books on Broad Street in Rome. Stay Tuned