Tag Archives: Georgia Factories & Industrial Sites

Sibley Mill, 1880, Augusta

The Sibley Manufacturing Company was chartered in 1880 and construction of the Sibley Mill began on the site of the old Confederate Powder Works. Jones S. Davis, who also designed the Enterprise Mill, created an extraordinary factory, 528 feet long with three floors containing 24,000 spindles. A fourth floor was added by 1882 and 30 houses for workers were also built. The Neo-Gothic architecture recalled the appearance of the Confederate Powder Works and half a million bricks from the old factory were used in the construction.

The Sibley Mill produced around 2 million pounds of cotton in 1883 and that figure increased to 8.5 million pounds in 1894. It was a symbol of Augusta’s post-war prosperity and a major contributor to the state’s economic growth in the late 19th century.

Sibley Family Coat of Arms

An economic downturn in the early decades of the 20th century saw production fall below capacity by 1911. The Graniteville Company took over management of the mill in 1921 and purchased it in 1940, though the Sibley name remained.

In the late 1970s, the Sibley Mill began producing denim for Levi-Strauss but that ceased by 2006 and the facility shut down. The Augusta Canal Authority purchased the campus in 2010 and its presently being redeveloped as a mixed-use cyber works.

Augusta Canal Industrial District, National Register of Historic Places + National Historic Landmark + Augusta Canal National Heritage Area

Carriage Factory, Circa 1818, Eatonton

These ruins in downtown Eatonton were recently brought to my attention by Dutch Henderson, who notes that they may soon be demolished. Dutch is quite knowledgeable about obscure historical locations in the area and has shared some fascinating places with me over the years.

Henderson notes that the owner, who is a preservationist/historian, believes the structure dates to circa 1818. He has actively sought a preservation solution for the ruins, but they are very compromised by long-term neglect and rapid urbanization and there may be very few options.

The structure was dated circa 1853 and identified as “Brick warehouse” when nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. This date may have been related to an advertisement for the business in the 23 May 1854 edition of the Eatonton Independent Press. It’s also believed that 1853 was the year the Marshall family purchased the factory, which was already an established business. David Kaminsky’s 1975 photograph for the nomination form shows that the roof was still in place at that time, and that at least two modern businesses, one known as Bailey’s Garage, were located in the building at some point.

The advertisement, shared by Mr. Henderson, identifies the business as “Marshall, McKavitt & Co., Manufacturers of Carriages, Rockaways, Bugies (sic), Two-Horse Wagons, &c.” [The National Register form misidentifies McKavitt as McKavilland, and includes an extra partner in the business, by the name of Rice].

The bricks were probably made on-site or nearby. Their dependence on the rich red clay dominant in the area is obvious.

There are but a scarce few surviving antebellum industrial structures in Georgia, so I was grateful to be able to document this one. I will update with more information as it becomes available.

Eatonton Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Willacoochee Elementary School, 1924

I’ve always admired this unusually large wooden structure and until recently knew nothing of its history. It has been in an advanced state of decline for many years.

Harvey Williams notes that it was the elementary school (segregated) and later a coat factory, owned by Sheila Gaskins. It’s a very large school for such a small town, and may have served more grades when it was first built.

Meat Packing House, 1917, Statesboro

Known simply as the “Packinghouse”, the Bulloch Packing Company facility that opened here in 1917 was only in business for three years before a fire took out the boiler room on an upper floor in 1920. It’s considered one of Statesboro’s most ‘haunted’ places, but  all of the lore is based on complete fiction. Brooks Simmons, who inherited the Bank of Statesboro from his father, was the president and a chief investor in the business. He lost his investment with the fire but more importantly, during the Crash of 1929, the Bank of Statesboro failed and Simmons lost what remained of his fortune. He committed suicide in 1931, and over time that somehow morphed into the legend that he killed his employees and then himself. But the stories persisted and the structure became a favorite with ghost hunters, urbexers, and squatters alike. In 2015, former Georgia Southern student Scott Taylor bought the packinghouse with the intention of rehabilitating it for use as apartments. It’s actually much more structurally sound than it appears and hopefully, it will soon have a new lease on life.

Scull Shoals, Greene County

The crumbling ruins of the warehouse and company store are the most significant remains of the once-thriving mill town of Scull Shoals, on the Oconee River in Greene County.

Built in 1846, this structure survived floods and the nearby movement of Union troops in the Civil War only to fall into disrepair after the abandonment of the village and ensuing floods.

The following history (in italics) comes from the Friends of Scull Shoals: Scull Shoals village began as a frontier settlement in 1782, and in 1793, after several Indian raids, residents erected Fort Clark. This was built by Michael Cupp, to the Governor’s specifications.  It served to protect the settlers from raids across the river by the Creek Indians to the west.  Fort Clark was manned by a local militia called “Phinizey’s Dragoons” until the Creeks were moved west towards the Ocmulgee River by the Treaties of 1802 and 1805. The settlers began to expand rapidly across the Oconee River after the treaty of 1802.  White settlers and black slaves quickly opened up the land.  Following Eli Whitney’s 1793 invention of the cotton gin, they began to raise cotton in huge quantities.  The local villagers began with a gristmill and sawmill, and soon had a cotton gin.

With funds from the Georgia legislature, Zachariah Sims and George Paschal built Georgia’s first paper mill at Scull Shoals in 1811.  Though details are scarce, it is probable that the original paper mill was an addition to the water-powered grist mill, already in place.  The Sims and Paschal plans were to expand that mill dramatically with a $3,000 loan from the Georgia legislature.   The paper mill lasted until about 1815.  The operators went bankrupt shortly after the War of 1812.  The property changed hands, but the village continued to expand.

Under its third owner, Dr. Thomas Poullain,there were flourishing mills, boarding houses, stores, a large warehouse and store combination, a distillery, a toll bridge, and other enterprises. During Poullain’s 41- year leadership (1827-1868), a devastating fire completely destroyed the wooden mill buildings in 1845, as attested in the Southern Banner.  Poullain supported his people as they rebuilt the three- and four-story buildings of Fontenoy Mills in brick. They were back in operation by 1846.  In 1854 Poullain had 2,000 spindles and looms, consuming 4,000 bales of cotton valued at $200,000. It was clearly an economically productive enterprise. As the enterprise expanded, more than 600 people were employed to make yarns and cloth.  Always a company town, Scull Shoals suffered economic problems after the Civil War, and changed hands several times. For a short period (1877-78) it was home to Georgia’s infamous Penitentiary Company #3, which operated the cotton fields and mills with convict labor.  It soon passed to other ownership.

Dr. Lindsey Durham lived across the river in what became first Clarke, then Oconee County. He was an early Scull Shoals community leader and medical specialist, trained in early life by the Indian curers.   He attended medical School in Philadelphia, and then returned to Georgia to practice.  Dr. Durham had a 13-acre herb garden and developed patent medicines that he and his medical family used to treat their patients. Durham’s 600-bed hospital was in cabins scattered around his home, near present GA Highway 15. It was a major facility for the time.  His family became a dominant medical dynasty extending to the present. 

Scull Shoals village was home to Georgia Governor Peter Early, who served in office from 1813 to 1815.  Early was born nearby, and was buried there for a while.  He died 1817 at the age of 45. 

From mid-century on, there were droughts and devastating floods.  These resulted in work stoppages, caused by either the lack of water for power, or too much water.  The 1887 major flood left water standing for four days in the buildings.  The covered toll bridge floated downstream.  Several hundred bales of cotton were in the mill, and 600 bushels of wheat in the warehouse.  They were all were ruined, bringing economic chaos to Scull Shoals Mills, from which it never recovered. A hundred years of open-field cotton farming caused erosion that removed 8-9 inches of topsoil from the fields. It was deposited in the rivers and covered the shoals. This in turn caused more frequent flooding, which continues to the present. Heavy siltation cut the “head” of water needed to power the mills, often stopping mill work.  By 1900, most people had left for regular work elsewhere, and the mills closed for good. During the World Wars, machinery was scrapped for the war efforts, and most of the brick buildings were dismantled and salvaged.

Today, only three walls of the brick warehouse and store remain, along with the arched brick bridge that took workers across the raceway into the mills. Stone foundations of the old mill’s power plant and scattered stone and brick chimney bases can be found in the downtown village and out in the surrounding woods. Remains of the wooden covered toll bridge stand in the Oconee River.

Between 1875 and 1930, the town’s land was divided and sold several times. In the 1930’s tracts were re-assembled by R. P. Brightwell of Maxey’s, and sold to the government for an experimental forest. It became a teaching laboratory for the University of Georgia’s School of Forestry.  The Soil Conservation Service and Civilian Conservation Corps also did massive reclamations, by terracing eroded hillsides and replanting the forests. Scull Shoals became part of the newly-created Oconee National Forest in 1959. The old mill town has laid quietly waiting, marked only by the ruins in the woods.  During the 1960’s funds became available for landscaping the area to make it more park-like.  It was a small picnic area popular for fishing and hunting, and generally forgotten by most everyone.  In the early 1970’s, portions of the old roadways into the site were closed.   The old roads had become eight-foot deep gullies in places.  New roads were built in new locations, and crossing Sandy Creek with a new bridge.  Old roadways can still be found approaching the Scull Shoals Historic Recreation Area.  They are easily seen along Forest road 1234, as one enters the forest from Macedonia Church Road.

As is often the case in rainy periods, the shoals area was flooded when I was here. It had been raining in the area for well over a week at this time.

I was unable to see the old arched bridge or the stone pilings of the toll bridge. I did encounter a couple of men using metal detectors around the foundation ruins. I don’t think they were authorized to be here, but I don’t know the regulations on the property. Unfortunately, this sort of activity threatens the historical integrity of the site, which is among the most significant in the state as an early industrial endeavor.

Surprisingly, the access road was easily passable, and with a few leaves still clinging to the trees, the colors of fall were still evident.

Due to the weather, however, a small pine had fallen into the roadway, a sign to be careful in the area.

Sandy Creek, which is crossed by the road in to the historic site, was well over its banks, as well.

For directions and specifics, visit the Forest Service webpage.

 

Millhaven Plantation, Screven County

Millhaven dates to 1769. According to an historical marker placed in 1953: The earliest trade center and industrial development in interior Georgia was established here before the Revolutionary War by Francis Paris, Senior. A rick dam was constructed across the creek, of which it is said that the 400 horse power developed for the feed and saw mills was by far the greatest in the colony. The rock foundations of the old dam are still embedded in the creek about 300 yards above the present bridge. Paris sold the land, mills, and appurtenances to Seaborn Jones, of Augusta, on February 8th, 1796.

It’s grown over the past two centuries into a mixed-purpose property that still includes active farming operations, timber holdings and hunting reservations.

This is part of the modern farming operation. I’m not sure what the round building was/is used for.

Today, it’s owned by William S. Morris III of the Morris Communications Company, who has received awards for its conservation and management.

That’s no small accomplishment considering it’s the largest farm operating as a single unit east of the Mississippi.

A few old houses remain around the property.

They were likely employee-related structures from the early to mid-20th century.

They are very diverse in their architectural styles.

 

Toccoa Casket Company

The mold seen above is about all that remains to indicate that this was once home to one of the biggest industries in town and the state’s leading manufacturer of caskets, which also held the distinction of being the largest supplier to the U. S. military until the Vietnam War. It is also suggested that the company supplied the specially-made casket for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s burial.

R. W. McNeely came to Toccoa as a young man, bringing his skills as a pattern carver to the Simmons Furniture Company. When James B. Simmons closed the business, Mr. McNeely purchased it and like many in the furniture trade at the time embraced a “cradle to grave” philosophy in his enterprise. This meant families could buy cradles for their infants as well as caskets for their dead, all in one place.

McNeely was very successful with this concept and served as director of the Farmers and Merchants Bank, on the city council, and as mayor of Toccoa several times. He eventually renamed McNeely and Company the Toccoa Casket Company and he expanded from his downtown location to this more modern factory on the edge of town. These photographs represent a very small part of the campus.

The Display Room, where different models of caskets were shown to potential buyers.

The Toccoa Casket Company was an iconic local business throughout most of the 20th century and when I was in town photographing the Schaefer Center for the Fox Theatre Institute last year, local officials suggested I go out and make a few shots, as the place was on the market and facing possible demolition.

There was a good deal of vandalism at the site and I must admit it was a bit creepy wandering around the abandoned buildings.

The work spaces of the old factory  are just a cluttered mess today.

Lifelong friends of mine in the funeral business always spoke highly of the quality of Toccoa Caskets. Charles Caldwell echoed the sentiment, noting: This is most sad for me. After using Toccoa Caskets for many years and appreciating the product, they are no longer available. I’m sad for the workers and economy of Toccoa, where so many worked. But most of all, I’m sad for all of the funeral directors, like me, that cannot purchase one of these fine caskets for their loved ones and client families.

Mark Slaughter notes that the factory buildings were all gone by the mid-2010s.

 

Commercial Ruins, Stapleton

Ruins of Stapleton Denton Hardware Grocery Master Trouser Garment Factory Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

Demolition of this large structure began as early as 2007. It was first home to Stapleton-Denton Hardware & Groceries, a general merchandise store. More recently it housed the Stapleton Garment Factory and its predecessor, the Master Trouser Corporation.

Ruins of Stapleton Denton Hardware Grocery Master Trouser Garment Factory Rural Diaspora Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

Anthoine Machine Shop Shed, Fort Valley

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This outbuilding is located at the Anthoine Machine Shop along Railroad Street. Established in 1885, the Anthoine Machine Shop is the second oldest business in Peach County and is one of just a few machine shops still using line shafts in Georgia. Vanishing icons of the Industrial Revolution,  line shafts were the common mode of power transmission in machinery until the widespread availability of small motors deemed them unnecessary.

Fort Valley Downtown & Railroad Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

Pittman’s Machine Shop, Benevolence

benevolence-ga-pittman-machine-shop-photograph-copyright-brian-brown-vanishing-south-georgia-usa-2012

Charles Robinett writes: I recall in the early and mid 1960’s going to Pittman’s Machine Shop in Benevolence with my father Dean Robinett to have machine work done for equipment used in the furniture factory in Shellman. After all these years I can see Mr. Wyatt now working a turn lathe and actually hear the voice as he and Daddy talked. What a walk down memory lane this is.