Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

THE DUBLIN COTTON MILL


The Birth of a Dream




 When Dublin's Kings of Cotton gathered together in May 1897, it seemed only natural that Dublin and Laurens County should establish its own cotton mill.  Cotton mills in Georgia were a new and coming thing.   The New England states had been the first to establish mills to weave cotton fibers into threads going back to the latter half of the 18th Century.  One hundred years later, businessmen in the South figured that it was far easier for Southern companies to mill their own cotton to save on shipping costs.  The same was true of the business leaders of Laurens County.  For the first time in the history of our county, a large non-exlcusive group of local businessmen and one woman assembled together to form a local company to mill cotton to take advantage of the vast amounts of locally produced cotton.   In Georgia, all but ten percent of Georgia's mills were located above a line from Savannah to Columbus.
  
 Then the cotton industry was less than stable.  With drastic variations in supply, resulting from weather conditions and demand based on market conditions, the price of cotton could rise or fall rapidly in a matter of weeks.   And with the fluctuations in the price of cotton, so went the fortunes of the mill's owners.
 The company's first informal meeting resulted in the contribution of $50,000 in capital investments with much more to come.   J.D. Smith, the city's richest man, pledged $1000.00 to open the stock subscriptions.  The money kept coming.  Eventually, more than $150,000.00 or 4.3 million in today's dollars would be invested in the venture.   

 The Dublin Cotton Mills, Inc. was incorporated on July 27, 1899, by virtually the entire "who's who" of Dublin's businessmen, namely Capt. R.C. Henry, J.D. Smith, T.J. Pritchett, Wm. Pritchett, F.W. Powel, J.M. Finn, W.F. Schaufele, L.A. Chapman, Gilbert Hardware Co., Lord & Brooks, T.D. Smith, W.S. Burns & Co., M.A. Kendrick, H.D. Weaver, J.A. Spann, T.H. Smith, J.T. Bales, G.S. Hooks, F.W. Garbutt, W.W. Robinson, W.B. Rogers, A.A. Cowar, J.E. Smith, Jr. J.A. Jackson, Courier Publishing Company, E.R. Orr, A.W. Garrett, W.G. Day, Dr. Wm. Brigham, A.G. Hightower, W.A. Hood, J.M. Reinhardt, Joe M. Fordham, E.S. Baker, W.S. Ramsey, T.E. Freeman, Frank G. Corker, and Mrs. E.M. Whitehead.  P.L. Corker of Waynesboro joined the company as its only outside investor.

 The directors of the company chose a site some 2.5 miles west of the courthouse along the tracks of the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad.  The building itself was located some 100 yards from the center of the railroad at the southwestern intersection of today's Kellam Road and Marion Street. The plant encompassed nearly 65 acres, which stretched beyond Academy Avenue Extension (The Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad) on the southwest.  

 Construction began on August 8, 1900.  President Pritchett laid the first of the estimated 200,000 brick to be used in the mill.  Frank G. Corker, a former mayor and a mill director, laid the second one.   The bricks, if stretched from end to end, would span the entire 25-mile width or height of Laurens County. The new mill, originally intended to make wool threads as well, was substantially completed in November 1901.   President William Pritchett personally bought the first 100 bales of cotton to test the mill's equipment.   Frank Corker, President of the First National Bank, traveled to New England in hopes of implementing the successful practices in its mills, while other officers traveled to other mills in Georgia and South Carolina to observe the processing of cotton.  The board of directors implemented the use of day workers, which had allowed the school board to complete the new high school quickly and less expensively.  

 After an unforseen and long delay in the completion of the plant, The mill, designed by the Wrigley Engineering Company, went into full operation under the direction of Superintendent P.L.  West, formerly of Eufaula, Alabama,  on January 5, 1902 with 160 looms supplemented by 5000 spindles were in full operation.  James Pritchett, son of the company's president, turned on the steam engines for the first time at 6:00 in the morning.  Maude and Lyton Stanley, children of the company's first chairman of the board, Hal Stanley, ceremoniously placed the first the first cotton in the hampers.  Twenty workers started working that day.  Thirty more were added by the end of the first week of operation.

 The two-story brick building was supplied with water by a 50,000 gallon cistern fed by an artesian well and a 20,000 gallon, eighty foot tall brick water tower.  Two large warehouses, supplied with cotton with rail cars along a side railroad track,  were located on the eastern end of the complex to supply the mill.  

 After 18 months of daily operation, the mill was forced to temporarily shut down in August 1903 because of the lack of cotton.  

 The area around the cotton mill soon developed into a village of its own known to locals as West Dublin.  A new road, Marion Street, was constructed from Academy Avenue parallel to the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad to the mill site.

 The stockholders re-elected Wm. Pritchett as President in 1903.  H.E. Pritchett served as vice-president.  J.M. Finn was elected as the corporate secretary.   The directors were T.J. Pritchett, Furney Bartow Stubbs and Frank G. Corker.  The same officers served at least though 1905. 

 In the spring of 1904, Dublin Cotton Mill's president, William Pritchett, helped to lead the effort to build  the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad (D&S RR,)  the last  railroad to be constructed in Laurens County, began operating its trains in and out of Dublin.  Like the Oconee and Western Railroad,  the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad originated from a tram road.  The Williams Lumber Company built a tram road from Eastman to the future site of Rentz, Georgia,  where the mill of the Georgia Shingle Company was located.  

The original plan called for a railroad that would intersect the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad near the Dublin Cotton Mills in West Dublin and run in a southwesterly direction to Eastman, terminating at Abbeville on the Ocmulgee River.  Among the early backers of the project were the Macon, Dublin, and Savannah Railroad with Col. J.M. Stubbs being the driving force behind the project.  E.P. Rentz, a Dublin banker, owned a saw mill in Rentz and took a keen interest in the project, becoming the main owner. Pritchett, a director of the new railroad, invested part of his fortune in hopes of more profits for the cotton mill by running the railroad along the southern end of the mill's land.


The Death of a Dream

 By the end of 1904, more than 200 workers were employed in two shifts and processing from 1,800 to 3,500 bales per year at Dublin's Cotton Mill.  As Laurens County's cotton production skyrocketed, the potential profits began to soar.

 Even before construction began, the members of the First Baptist Church began a discussion about building a mission church near the site of the mill.  The deacons of the First Baptist Church authorized a new church, West Dublin Baptist Church.  W.C. Floyd and J.A. Stinson were elected to serve as the church's first deacon.  Rev. Brady G. Smith, was selected as the church's first pastor in the summer of 1904.  First and third Sunday services were held in a tent while the new church was being built.

 The church building was constructed on a triangular lot given by Mrs. Fannie M. Robinson at the intersection of present day Kellam Road and Marion Street on the site of the present day city water tower. 
 Brother W.E. Harvill took over the role as Pastor in 1905.  The Rev. T. Bright, served as pastor from 1908 until the church closed down in 1909.  With no prospects for a thriving mill, the church was all but abandoned until 1912 when work to repair the church and appoint a new pastor was  initiated. Rev. Reginald Russell was selected to serve as the last pastor, serving at a reduced salary of $10.00 a month, down from the usual annual salary of $200.00 per year.

 The Methodists, under the direction of Presiding Elder Rev. George W. Mathews, assigned Rev. J.L. Scruggs as the first pastor of The Second Methodist Church of Dublin in the spring of 1907. 

 W.E. Duncan was put in charge of the commissary to help feed and supply the workers and their families, many of whom lived in newly constructed homes around the mill.

 Just as the mill was reaching its pinnacle of success in 1906, the country suffered from a financial crisis in 1907.

 The Georgia Cotton Mills, which purchased the mill for $123,000.00 in March 1909,  was incorporated in February 1909 by J.C. Cooper, W.P. Jackson, Athens, C.C. Cooper of Eatonton, and John R. Cooper of Macon. C.A. Penton of Houston, Texas, was hired as the new superintendent.

 A series of misfortunes followed.  At the request of several of its creditors, the Georgia Cotton Mills was forced into involuntary bankruptcy in the autumn of 1911. 

 During the next thirty months, the mill saw steep declines in revenue.  Despite the efforts of W.D. McNeill of Fayetteville, North Carolina, the Citizens and Southern Bank foreclosed and sold the 8,000 spindle, 260 Lowell Machinery loom mill to James McNatt of Montgomery County, Mrs. Maude Stubbs (Mrs. William) Pritchett of Dublin, and the Southern Cotton Mills and Commission company for a bid of $85,000.00 in December 1911.  Seven months later, the mill changed again when it was sold to Oconee Cotton Mills.  

 Oconee Cotton Mills was incorporated by President W.N. Leitch of Eastman, Vice President M.H. Edwards, Secretary C.H.Peacock,  E.S. Smiley manager,  James McNatt of  Ailey, and  R.L. Denmark, Vice President of Citizens and Southern Bank of  Savannah,
 The beginning of the end of the Oconee Cotton Mills came in the summer of 1913 when Superintendent Ed Turner and three other men were indicted by the Laurens County Grand Jury for working children under the age of twelve and sitting idly by without paying them even a pittance.   

 By early spring, the Oconee Cotton Mill was shut down for lack of cotton to process.  Despite the leadership of its principal owners, the plant closed for good.  President Leitch had been a successful Dodge County businessman, a director of the Dublin-Laurens Banking Company and an owner of the Citizens Bank of Eastman.  C.H. Peacock was the organizing President of the Citizens Bank of Eastman.  Mills B. Lane, the founding President of the Citizens and Southern Bank.  

 On a Wednesday morning, June 10,  1914, the night watchman discovered that lightning from a strong electrical storm ignited the store room and offices of the mill destroying all of the company's business records and eventually the entire vacant structure was enveloped in a mass of flames.    The losses of $150,000 could have been prevented or limited had the specially designed water works been functioning. 

 The principal owners of the Oconee Cotton Mills did not choose to rebuild despite their $ 133,000.00 in insurance payments.  With something less than stellar credit and the erratic prices for cotton, the company went into default on its $90,000 loan from the Citizens and Southern Bank of Savannah.  The bank took exception to the mill owner's claim, winning its case after an appeal by the mill owners to the Georgia Supreme Court.  Undaunted the primary principal operating investors concentrated their efforts on their Eastman Cotton Mill, which was thriving a decade after the disastrous fire in West Dublin.


 The bank held the title to the property until 1936, when it sold the land to Dublin business tycoon, Cecil E. Carroll, who eventually removed all signs of the former cotton mill with one exception.  When W.R. Werden constructed his Mediterranean style home on Bellevue Road, he used a great deal of the brick salvaged from the remains of the Dublin Cotton Mill, which died on June 10, 1914, one hundred years ago today.  

1 comment:

Ben Tarpley said...

This was an interesting piece of history. The names of several of those business leaders from years ago are remembered even today. My dad would have enjoyed reading this blog. Thanks for making the effort to share this with some of us older guys. Good job.