Wednesday, June 1, 2011

2010 Elizabeth Lyon Fellowship Project Update

This will be my final posting as part of the Elizabeth Lion Fellowship. I wish to provide some final thoughts and reflections on the Fellowship.


When I began researching how textile mill’s changed in Georgia, I quickly realized I had to ground myself in the entire history of Georgia’s textile industry. Although I knew a fair amount about the place of the textile industry in Georgia, and how the industry’s rise coincided with the state’s gradual movement away from agriculture, to a manufacturing society, I was; however, unaware of the sheer importance of the textile industry. The rise of the textile industry in Georgia and the broader South, between the 1880s and the mid-1920s, dramatically transformed the areas were mills decided to locate. Although the paternalism of most mill companies dissipated almost half-a-century ago, and many of the mills are no longer in operation, their effect on the society remains apparent.

Although there has been a significant amount written about the rise of the textile industry, there is far less known about the textile industry and textile mills after World War II. When I began digging into this time period I expected that the decrease in Georgia’s textile industry, in terms of employment and operating mills, would surely begin shortly after World War II. In reality I found that the textile industry in Georgia continued to grow after World War II, although slowly as part of the overall manufacturing economy, until the 1970s. Georgia is unique, in that textile employment generally hovered around 25-30 percent of total manufacturing employment until the mid-1970s whereas other states Southern states saw more precipitous decline, although today, admittedly, Georgia’s industry is a shadow of its former size. In states like North Carolina and South Carolina, where textile employment was as high as 60 percent, these states witnessed an almost constant precipitous decline as early as the early 1960s. However in this decline, there was a great deal of change and adaptation by the mills. Mills invested heavily in new equipment, new buildings, dismantled much of their corporate paternalism, and constantly struggled to cut costs and introduce new products. These aspects of the post-War textile industry were some of the key findings of my work.

I hope my work has assisted in uncovering some of the reasons that mills in Georgia underwent widespread changes. Once additions are understood and quantified, then preservation issues around these additions can be considered in context. Many of these additions are currently outside of the 50 year benchmark, but some are not, and are already historic based simply on their age. Many additions or mills that are not currently within the 50 year benchmark will very shortly fall within this key timeframe. The more mills and their respective additions are understood, in theory, the less issues may arise with the preservation of mills. When mills are being preserved it is essential to look at the entire complex, not just the original mill, as all additions on a mill display something about the changes in the textile industry and changes in mill construction, and are thus historic and important when viewed in the appropriate historic context.


I would be remiss if I did not thank the many people who helped me with this project. First I would like to thank the numerous individuals who allowed me to survey their properties, and numerous others who tried to put me in contact with the appropriate parties. I would like to thank both the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and the Georgia Historic Preservation Division, and the numerous individuals within these organizations who offered assistance and comments on my work. Additionally I wish to thank The Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia, and my professors who assisted me in greatly in completing this project. I would also like to thank Carol Griffith who introduced me to various preservation networks in Georgia and commented on my work. Finally I would like to thank Dr. Elizabeth Lyons, for allowing me do to this project, and hope that I have contributed to the understanding of Georgia’s textile mills and how they changed following World War II.

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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