Thursday, January 27, 2011

2010 Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship Project Update

Trion’s Mount Vernon Mills

On Monday, January the 17th I visited Mount Vernon Mills in Trion, GA. I was originally scheduled to visit the mill during the week of Georgia’s inclement weather, and thus this update is late in coming. I would first like to thank Ms. Jennifer Cox who was very helpful in scheduling the first visit, and then rescheduling so quickly following the snow and ice. I also sincerely appreciated Mr. Don Henderson’s willingness to spend the entire day showing me around the mill, and maybe more importantly answering my questions. His insight into the textile industry will also be invaluable to this project. Since I acquired so much interesting information about the mill, I will spend less time talking about the architectural qualities of the mill additions and focus on what I learned overall.


Trion’s mill was first built in 1845. The mill was one of the first in the state of Georgia, and was assuredly the first textile mill built in Northwest Georgia. The mill survived William T. Sherman in 1864, but like many mills suffered a devastating fire in 1875. The mill was quickly rebuilt and this 1875 mill houses the core production processes today, containing carding, spinning, warping, some weaving, as well as many other smaller processes.(See Photograph Below) The mill made a variety of products, prior to getting into the denim business in the 1970s. Denim today is the mill’s major product, and the mill takes raw cotton and converts it into massive rolls of denim which are shipped off to apparel manufacturers to be cut into blue jeans or other denim based products. If you own a pair of Wrangler jeans or a Carhart product, there is a good possibility it came from Trion’s mill.

Above: Mount Vernon Mills, Trion, GA. Photographer facing northwest. Most of the southern facade of the mill is obstructed by large three story mill additions, added prior to 1900. These early additions are in turn covered by a number of exterior buildings, such as air cleaning units, power units, and other auxiliary structures built after WWII. Many of the windows have been bricked in, but the façade is still visible./ Photograph in possession of author taken 1/17/10

Since the mill has been active for such a long period of time there are additions that date to the mid 1990s, including an enormous distribution warehouse. This warehouse shows how much even cotton mills (those that remain) are changing today. This newer warehouse, which was built on the northeastern corner of the mill, is eighty feet tall and several hundred feet long. Once rolled denim is finished and moved by conveyor to this distribution warehouse, no person physically has to touch the denim until a forklift driver puts it in the shipping container. In other words, eighty foot tall robots and conveyors do all the appropriate moving. These robots are used because they are easier on the rolled denim and cause fewer defects. These automated systems are just one of the many modern aspects of Trion’s Mount Vernon Mills, and examples of how this successful mill continues to remain competitive and modernized. Modernization is a dominate theme in the post WWII period. Those mills that did not spend the capital dollars in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were almost assuredly doomed to failure. There was a rapid advancement in technology between the 1960s and 1980s, and thus it was very difficult for Georgia’s mills to spend the required money to install new and faster equipment.

The mill does have a very nice addition added on the northern face of the 1870s mill. The addition was added in stages in the 1960s and 1970s.(See Photograph Below) The addition now serves as additional weave space and houses slashing and some of the finishing operations. Although the addition is two stories, it has the standard construction technique seen in most post WWII mill additions. The mill has a concrete foundation in addition to steel columns and roof supports. The addition has non-load bearing concrete block walls with an exterior brick veneer. The addition was built in divided sections, and these subdivided sections now house separate processes. This is just one major addition, as there are so many others in this mill

Above: Mount Vernon Mills, Trion, GA. Photographer facing west, At the far left of the photograph, the northern facade of the original mill is visible. The addition connects the main mill with a white dye house on the right, which was built in the 1990s. Completed denim leaves this addition via conveyor belt, which can be seen at right of picture, and takes it to the distribution center./ Photograph in possession of author taken 1/17/10

Trion’s mill is the only working mill I have surveyed so far during this project. Seeing the process in action was well worth the visit, but more importantly seeing the modern machinery and how efficient it was, provided a clear indication of the advantages of modern technology, and how those mills that did not modernize would surely be left behind.

If you are interested in getting more information on Trion’s mill, visit the websites below:

CNN did a piece covering Trion’s mill.

The company website has some very interesting information, including a plant tour, and a pretty detailed timeline.

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.

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