Friday, February 25, 2011

2010 Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship Project Update

Why Textile Mills Expanded

One important issue to address is why textile mills expanded. In previous posts, I have laid out how individual mills expanded, the materials used in expansions, and the construction techniques used in additions. In this post I will discuss the reasons that textile mills expanded, something that should have been in an early post but it is only after “seeing” (in paper or in person) a number of mills that I could make this assessment.


It may be obvious, but textile mills expanded to increase productive capability. New machines needed new floor space, but these types of additions are only part of the story explaining why textile mill added additions.

If a textile mill wanted to utilize cotton and manmade fibers together, in bulk, as a part of its finished product, it was cost efficient, not to buy a manmade fibers from other mills, but to construct a synthetic mill directly onto the main mill. This however required separate space because the cotton production process is very dirty and dusty, whereas manmade fibers create less dust, making it impractical to produce both cotton and rayon in the same plant without subdivided space. An example of a plant utilizing both manmade and natural fibers at the same mill, with each requiring their own production space is Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company’s plant in ATCO (now part of Cartersville) which was built in 1904, and made tire fabric.(See Aerial View of ATCO’s Mill Below) In 1952 the mill constructed an addition in order to utilize rayon. Rayon, a manmade fiber derived from the cellulose of wood pulp or cotton linters, was a very common fiber utilized in the decades following WWII. This 1952 addition does provides information on the various aspects of post WWII mill construction, because it was one story, windowless, and very wide because textile mills no longer had to be narrow in order for light to illuminate the production space. ATCO’s mill used cotton in addition to rayon in order to produce cordage. The rayon mill simply allowed Goodyear to utilize both rayon and cotton (although each within their own space) under one roof ,with both materials part of the final product.

Above: Aerial view of ATCO’s mill courtesy of Google Earth, with north being top of aerial view. The original mill is the narrow structure running north to south in the center of the view. The large rectangular structure at the bottom of the view is the early 1950s addition built to utilize rayon.

This idea of bringing multiple stages of the textile production within one mill was a common theme in the post war period. A factor pushing these developments was the wave of mergers and acquisitions sweeping the textile industry in the decades following WWII. The textile industry after WWII, consisted of a large number of small operations, operations that generally only conducted limited stages of the textile process. A mill might be able to spin and weave its product, but then relied on a finishing operation to complete the process before the product was sent to a customer, such as an apparel manufacture. This was inefficient, it limited the economies of scale, placing smaller mills at a disadvantage because they could not invest capital dollars in new equipment or development, and increased fees needed to utilize additional external operations. Larger companies could solve this problem by merging with companies who completed additional processes, a move known as a vertical merger. For instance a company owning mills that could only spin and weave, would acquire plants that could finish and dye. This affected individual mills in key ways. A mill having only one part of the textile process could seldom afford to invest in larger expansions. If a smaller mill was bought by a larger company, the larger company could then afford to spend the money to expand a plant, making it more self contained. Hawkinsville’s Cotton Mill is an excellent example of this occurrence. Hawkinsville’s Cotton Mill remained a smaller textile concern until purchased by Opelika Manufacturing Company, an Alabama based textile company, in 1951. Although Opelika would increased the spindles through adding additions, a significant addition added allowed the mill to bleach and finish goods. This large addition and others, were built directly into the original mill. Mills all over Georgia grew vastly in size because areas to accommodate finishing and dying were added, in many cases, directly into the main mill, and Hawkinsville’s mill is only one of many examples.

Mills also added a number of auxiliary buildings, meant to hold maintenance space, shops, tanks for chemicals, electrical equipment, or other non-production processes. These additions did not always require an engineering firm to construct, and could in many cases be built by mill staff. Variety is the key factor in these additions. Some of these additions were integrated into the overall interior space, in other words they opened into the main mill, while others were simply tacked on, with no entryway into the main mill provided. Most, if not the vast majority, of these mill additions are small subdivided spaces, built solely for one purpose. These auxiliary additions were by no means a post WWII occurrences. For instance, Atlantic Cotton Mills in Macon, GA,(See Sanborn Insurance Map Below) had a number of auxiliary buildings added onto its eastern end. It was common to cluster these (mostly single story)buildings in one area, so as not to block access to light.

Above: Macon 1924-February 1951 vol. 2, 1924-February 1951, Sheet 229. Sanborn Map. Accessed through Proquest, Digital Sanborn Maps 1867-1970. The Sanborn shows the collection of auxiliary structures added onto Atlantic Cotton mills by 1951. Most additions which included the boiler house, waste house, and machine shop, were present in 1924.

Although the uses may differ, with few exceptions these additions were built with steel frames, were windowless, had concrete floors, and were single storied when possible. The reasons for mill expansions provided above are only a few of the diverse and varied reasons textile mills decided to enlarge and grow following WWII.

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, February 9, 2011

2010 Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship Project Update

Dixie Mill

On Thursday, February 3, I surveyed Dixie Mills in LaGrange, GA . In addition to examining Dixie Mills, I was also able to investigate Kex and Unity Mills, two former Callaway Mills, operated by Milliken at the time of their closure. I will focus mostly on Dixie Mills in this update, because it does have a number of additions, and a decent amount of information exists on what the additions were for, as well as when they were built. Unity Mills had no significant post WWII additions, although the interior had been modernized, and Kex only had a couple of additions. I would like to thank John Knox who owns the three mills for letting me spend the time looking at the mills, as well as Mike Joyce, who took the time to show me around the complexes, even as the rain was turning to sleet.


Dixie Mills was built between 1895-1896, as the first major textile mill in LaGrange. The mill, when first constructed was built with a construction system designed by Charles A. M. Praray. The system allowed the outer wall to be built on a separate foundation, apart from the foundation of the interior structure. This made the outer walls non-load bearing and allowed for these walls to have large expanses of uninterrupted windows, allowing a great deal of light to pass into the mill. The mill no longer has these outer Praray designed walls, which had a very distinctive triangular look, but Douglasville, GA’s Western Georgia Cotton Mill, also designed by Praray, maintains this outer wall design, and even though the windows are covered the structure is still striking in appearance. Dixie Mill probably lost this outer wall during a major renovation in the 1940s.

Above: Photographer facing southeast, Photograph of Dixie Mill’s north façade, Mill façade and most of the 1940s additions are obstructed by air cleaning systems, company offices, and occupational health offices./ Photograph in possession of author, taken 2/3/11

Above: Photographer facing southwest, Photograph of Dixie Mill’s east face, The large addition on the front is an air cleaning system. Just behind that is the 1941 addition, which will built directly onto the main mill. The main mill is denoted by the bricked up windows to the left of the photograph./ Photograph in possession of author, taken 2/3/11

Dixie Mills has a series of additions on the front façade, which obstruct the original façade.(See Photographs of Dixie’s Front Façade and 1941 Addition Above) The additions along the front face were added in 1941 and 1945, and were simply meant to add additional floor space or if needed, house specific processes . The 1941 addition is two stories in height, mirroring the original mill and held carding.1 The only clear identifiable difference in the interior of the mill, is that instead of the massive wood beams, steel beams are used as roof supports. The same features apply to an addition added along the front face in 1945, except that they held intermediate processes between carding and spinning. Even though one story mills were already being built in Georgia in the 1930s, there is a transitional period during the decade of the 1940s, during which older textile mills continued to expand using multi story additions as the standard form of expanding. When Monroe Mills in Monroe, GA chose to expand in 1949, the addition they built looked very much like the original mill, except for interior steel supports.(See Photograph Below) The stylistic features of these mill additions could differ from the original mill on which they were added. For instance Swift Mill’s, in Columbus, weave shed (See Photograph Below) completed in 1945, takes on the International style, which allowed for broad window bays, very different from the original mill and its pre-war additions, which generally have the typical arched windows, but the addition is still multi storied. Although one story mills came into use, and steel was a worthwhile investment, the change from multi to single story additions did not occur overnight, and many mills continued to use multi story additions.

Above: Photographer facing southwest, Photograph of Monroe Mill’s 1949 addition. The addition was built to fill in space between the main mill and areas were weaving was done. The addition is multi storied, with window bays much like the original mill. The addition has been covered with an elevator shaft, toilet tower, and an air cleaning unit./ Photograph in possession of author, taken 1/18/11

Above: Photographer facing east, Photograph of Swift Mill’s weave shed added in 1945. This addition, built with a steel frame, is similar to many International Style buildings, and even though it is multi storied, it looks very different from the older portions of Swift Mill./ Photograph in possession of author, taken 1/27/11

These assorted 1940s addition were not the only additions added at Dixie Mills. The ever present air coolers and cleaners were added to the front façade of the mill. The slasher building on the rear south face of the mill was expanded at various points, and appears to have undergone a very recent addition as noted by exterior concrete block walls. This feature in textile mills is very uncommon, because in many cases textile mills would place a brick veneer over these non loading block walls. There was a proposed expansion of Dixie Mills in the late 1990s which would reportedly “double the capacity of the plant…”2 Another addition included a more modern loading dock on the western face. The look of the building was not the only thing changed. The mill converted to rayon in the late 1940s, but at some point switched back to cotton as its main product.3 Dixie Mills, like many textile mills in Georgia, grew throughout its history, as needed to expand or adapt to new opportunities in the market.

1 “Addition Is To Be Built On Dixie Mills Costing $25,000.” Lagrange Daily News, 1 September, 1941, 1. and “West Point Manufacturing Company: La Grange, GA” Insurance Map by Associated Factory Mutual Fire Insurance companies, 18 February, 1947, in Dixie Mill Vertical Fill, Troup County Archives, LaGrange, GA.

2”Dixie Mill Expansion to add capacity, jobs.” LaGrange Daily News, 11 October, 1998, 8.

3”Dixie is No Cotton Mill, Makes Nothing But Rayon.” LaGrange Daily News, 1 September, 1950, 1

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.