Friday, November 19, 2010

2010 Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship Project Update


Martha Mills

Thomaston, GA


Above: Aerial view of Martha Mills complex from Google Earth/ View is aligned with north being the top of the picture

On Thursday November the 11th I surveyed Martha Mills in Thomaston, GA. I want to thank Matthew Molenkamp for showing me around and allowing me to document this amazing (and vast) site.



Above: Photographer facing west, Photograph of main mill’s east fa├žade, Added during 1929 main mill expansion/ Photograph in possession of author, taken 11/11/10

Martha Mills was constructed in 1926 to make cotton tire cord for the B. F. Goodrich Company. In 1929 B. F. Goodrich officially bought the mill, which had been operated by the owners of Thomaston Mill and in that same year the mill grew in length, with the original three story mill receiving wings on the west side and east side . The mill continued to receive various additions prior to WWII on the north side of mill, which formed an L, with some of the L completed in the late 1960s. The L portion is no longer extant, but was three stories in height, like the main mill. These additions were easily integrated into the mill because raw product could enter on the west east side of the mill, pass through the appropriate processes and exit on west side. A series of covered walkways and breezeways allowed for the movement of products between the appropriate areas. When Martha Mills chose to expand in the late 1960s, they built a one story weave mill, and warehouse to the south. This addition is not directly connected to the main mill, but it does have a series of passageways, some of which could be sealed if needed. This addition is built with a steel frame, whereas the majority of Martha Mills has cast iron columns, with wood columns only receiving minimal use. The west portion of the addition was designated as a weave mill, which added loom capacity to the mill, and the east wing was designated as a warehouse, with both the weave mill and warehouse under one continuous roof. This addition may have somewhat altered the product flow, because on the east side of the warehouse, there was an all-steel building (no longer extant) built in the 1969, and housed a process which was made the product last longer. There was also a warehouse built in the 1970s just south of the all-steel building, which was used to store finished goods. Did all the products now leave the southeast corner of the mill, instead of on the west side, where a concrete loading dock was located? It is conceivable that some, and not all synthetic products had to be treated before the production process was complete, whereas cotton products required no such process. Martha Mills did start producing a variety of synthetic materials, as it attempted to remain competitive.


Above: Photographer facing north, Photograph of weave mill and warehouse exterior with main mill rising behind the one story utilitarian building, Weave Mill and warehouse constructed in 1969/ Photograph in possession of author taken 11/11/10

Above: Photographer facing west, Photograph of weave mill interior, Weave Mill constructed in 1969/ Photograph in possession of author taken 11/11/10

Although the weave mill and warehouse additions bring new questions to light, they do illustrate some key points about what was becoming standard in post WWII construction. Steel columns and steel framed buildings were the norm as steel offered greater strength and increased resistance to fire. The concrete block interior walls with brick veneer were also becoming common. Most additions, or new mills, were one story and windowless due to the increased potential to expand a one story mill and the ease of product flow. Mills could be windowless because of artificial lighting and the increased availability of air conditioning which increased human comfort and the production capability of the machines. These are just a few, of the many points about post WWII textile mill construction demonstrated by Martha Mills.


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.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

2010 Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship Project Update

The Quest for Open Space

The ability for textile mills to maximize and use all available floor space was a key concern as textile mills expanded following World War II. Improved technology allowed for the construction of large open areas.








Photograph 1: Second floor interior, Building #5(1955 Addition) at Puritan Cordage Mills, Clarke County, Georgia, Photograph taken 6/25/1995 on file at Georgia Historic Preservation Division









Photograph 2: Exterior,Building #5 (1955 Addition) at Puritan Cordage Mills, Clarke County, Georgia, Photograph taken 6/25/1995 on file at Georgia Historic Preservation Division










Photograph 3: Interior, Building #4 (1922 Addition) at Puritan Cordage Mills, Clarke County, Georgia, Photograph taken 6/25/1995 on file at Georgia Historic Preservation Division










Photograph 4: Exterior, Building #4 (1922 Addition) at Puritan Cordage Mills, Clarke County, Georgia, Photograph taken 6/25/1995 on file at Georgia Historic Preservation Division



Even though the 1955 addition (Photographs 1 and 2 seen above) at Puritan Cordage Mills near Athens, GA is two stories with an arched roof, the possibilities provided by one story open space textile mills were immense. The absence of supporting columns allowed for greater internal flexibility. An industry trade journal in 1948 believed that the increasing size of textile machinery would make columns a great hindrance and that in any progressive mill it would be “…almost impossible to predict in advance what column space will fit the machinery of the future.”1 Portions of Puritan Cordage Mills constructed in the early 1920s (Photographs 3 and 4 above) relied on long rows of wooden columns as part of a post and beam roof system. When compared to the completely open spaces of the 1955 addition, the obstruction caused by long rows of internal supports is clearly displayed. In the late 1940s the textile industry generally believed that there was little to impede its growth and that future growth and modernization needed open space construction. This does not mean that all mill additions built after World War II utilized construction techniques allowing for large unbroken space and the industry would continue to find innovative ways to create open spaces, some of which were quite radical.

Jefferson Mills located in Jackson County, Georgia after having already added typical additions on a cotton mill built in 1899, decided to construct a completely new building (Seen below). This building, completed in 1966, utilized an exterior system of tension cables, like those on a suspension bridge, to hold the weight of the roof and negate the use of interior columns. Even though architecturally very different from the 1955 addition at Puritan Cordage Mills, it is all part of the attempt to open up work space and increase the flexibility and adaptability of Georgia’s textile mills.








Image from John Linley’s The Georgia Catalog: Historic American Buildings Survey: A Guide to the Architecture of the State, 233.

In my next posting I will have an update from an upcoming site visit to Martha Mills in Thomaston, Ga.

1Ewell, David. “One-Story Mill Trend Backed By Sound Reasons” Textile World Vol. 98 No. 11, 105.


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.