Thursday, October 21, 2010

2010 Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship Project Update

Georgia’s Textile Industry in a Global Context

Are closed textile mills in Georgia, like the shuttered Goodyear Clearwater Mills in ATCO, shown below, a sign of progress? [Photographer Unknown]

Countries and regions have consistently turned to the textile industry to spark growth and modernize an economy, but time and time again the industry falls into decline. Britain’s textile industry lead the way during industrial revolution in the late 18th and 19th century, and textiles became one of Britain’s chief exports, making a world superpower even more powerful. As late as the early 20th century Britain was responsible for as much as 70% of the total world textile trade, but currently its employment and output remain in a decade long decline. The New England states turned to the textile industry to help it move away from agricultural and farming, thus sparking industrial growth in the early 19th century. In an attempt to lower labor cost, the northern textile industry began shifting south in the late 1880s, and by the mid 1920s the South surpassed the North in number of operating spindles, and the United States as a whole was becoming ever important on the worldwide textile market. (Operating spindles are the most consistent measure of strength and size of the textile industry) By the mid 1930s; however, Japan, which had turned to the textile industry in an effort to modernize, was the leading exporter of textile products in the world. Following World War II it appeared that the United States, with its textile industry strongest in the South would take prominence on the world textile stage, even helping Japan rebuild its war torn textile industry, but the US’s predominance would not last. Although the decline has been gradual, the United States (and for the purpose of this project the South and Georgia), lost most of its competitive advantage in the textile and apparel industry in the decades following World War II to developing countries in Asia and Eastern Europe, who have themselves turned to the textile industry to drive improvements and modernization, just as Britain, the northern and southern states, and then Japan had previously done.

Even though there has been decline, there is, however, still a textile industry in Georgia. The 2002 Economic Census reported that 75,753 individuals worked in the textile industry, equaling about 16.7% of manufacturing employment (These numbers may be lower today with textile interests continuing to shutter). This however is a shadow of the 103,325 people employed in the textile industry in 1950, which accounted for 35.4% of manufacturing employment. Why the decline when the economy through this same time period generally improved? The textile industry is such that with advances and success in the industry and economy comes improved machinery and processes which improve manufacturing capabilities and thus decrease the amount of labor needed. Thus textile mills must be ever cognizant of improvements in technology, and if improvements are too costly as they often are, then closing may be the only solution.

For this project, the additions and alterations I will examine are generally part of modernization or diversification meant to improve a mill’s competitiveness or increase efficiency, and thus placing Georgia’s mills in a global context is essential.

Steven Eubanks is
a graduate student at West Georgia University and recipient of the 2010 Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship. The Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship provides financial assistance for projects that acquaint undergraduate and graduate students, and young professionals with preservation programs and practices.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Member Spotlight

In this week’s Member Spotlight we are thrilled to highlight Merribel McKeever, Research Intern for The Georgia Trust. A true preservationist in training, Merribel is currently perusing her graduate degree in Heritage Preservation at Georgia State University. Merribel is working on gathering information for The Georgia Trust and Southface Institute for the purpose of starting a new green renovation program geared toward historic structures, as well as creating criteria for cemeteries to be used by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Merribel serves as Treasurer for Georgia State University’s Heritage Preservation Society. Somehow, in her limited spare time, she likes to express her artistic abilities through, writing, drawing, and playing music. Merribel also bakes delicious cupcakes, which have been used to fuel the Georgia Trust staff. Thanks Merribel!

Merribel’s preservation tip:

Educate! In general people have greater appreciation for things they understand and are knowledgeable about. To the average person a structure built in 1900 might seem like just another old building, but if they knew that someone extremely influential grew up there, or that is was an important gathering place for the community or that a famous architect used a design that would later become the basis for modern architecture, they’re more likely to want to protect that resource and share the story with others.

The Trust is grateful to have exceptional members, volunteers and interns such as Merribel, whose diligent work stresses the importance of historic preservation.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

2010 Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship Project

Although a great deal is known about pre-World War II textile industry structures in Georgia, little is known about the industry and the structures which were built and modified in Georgia after the War. In conjunction with the Georgia Historic Preservation Division and The Georgia Trust, I am working to develop a historical context for these post war structures. To keep those who may be interested in the topic updated, I will post an update twice a month on my progress. The project will last until May of 2010. Also if anyone has any information on the topic, it would be greatly appreciated. Since this is my first blog posting it will be a little lengthy, and I apologize for this.


In many Georgia towns, small and large, you will find nondescript industrial buildings which were once part of Georgia’s vibrant textile industry. Although some of these structures may be in use today producing textile products or in an adaptive use such as apartment housing, many sit dormant or unused. The little that is known about the post World War II textile industry focuses on the decline of this industry. This decline was not precipitous and immediate, but slow and gradual. As a result of this drawn out decline, construction and alternations continued to occur within the textile industry, and many of these structures or changes remain in Georgia today.

An example of post war expansion in Georgia is seen fifty miles to the west of Atlanta in the small town of Bremen. Although Bremen does not look like an economic powerhouse, Bremen in the 1950s and 1960s was known as the “Clothing Capital of the South” due to an incredible concentration of apparel makers, in and around the town. One structure, just to the east of downtown Bremen, displays some key points (and questions) which this project will address. The structure (shown above) was constructed by Hubbard Pants Company in the mid 1960s, with an official dedication occurring in December of 1965. Hubbard built this International style structure to keep up with an increasing demand for the pants and slacks that it produced. The structure was initially built as a stock room and warehouse. Some limited production did initially occur in this structure, such as cutting and waistband manufacture, but after Hubbard was bought out in the early 1990s, most of the companies’ production moved from another building to this three story structure. The production process began on the top floor and proceeded downward via chutes. The building would not get air conditioning until the 1990s, and was vacated after Hubbard went out of business in 2002. This structure raises many important questions. Is this post World War II industrial textile structure like others in Georgia? Is this structure different because it produced apparel, as opposed to working with cotton or hosiery? How do post WWII additions compare to buildings constructed from the ground up? These are a few questions that will hopefully be answered by looking at and studying the Hubbard buildings and others like it.

My next blog posting will discuss the international context of Georgia’s textile industry

Steven Eubanks


Steven Eubanks is a graduate student at West Georgia University and recipient of the 2010 Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship. The Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship provides financial assistance for projects that acquaint undergraduate and graduate students, and young professionals with preservation programs and practices.