Exploring Northeast Georgia Mills – Our Forgotten Industry. Kitty Stratton

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Mills have always fascinated me. I have reason. My father taught Economic History at the University of Manchester in England where I grew up. My childhood is scattered with memories of weekend visits to old mills, where my brothers and I would romp and play in the fields and streams while my parents enjoyed a more historic approach.

My father’s particular interest was Industrial Archaeology, he contributed to several books and authored The Lagan Valley, 1800-50: a local history of the industrial revolution by E.R.R.Green. He grew up in a beautiful rural area of Northern Ireland near Lisburn and his father owned feed mills in Belfast, so his interest in the history of the mills in the area had deep roots in his family heritage.

If my father were alive today he would delight in joining me on my wanderings to discover the history and most especially the history of the mills in the area. I believe I have inherited his eye for detail and depth of interest in things of the past.

I recently visited the old Habersham Mill on the Soque River situated on the Habersham Mills Connector Road. To say that Habersham Mills has played an important part in the history of Habersham County might be an understatement. It was not only the oldest industry but also the location of a mill town.

This important part of Northeast Georgia history all began back in the 1800’s. At first there was Burnt Mill on Minus Shoals on the Soque followed in 1837 by the Habersham Iron Works and Manufacturing Company.

Iron ore was mined near Demorest by the Habersham Mining Company, which was incorporated in 1821. The iron ore was transported to the foundry on the banks of the Soque River. In the 1860’s Habersham Iron Works contributed canons to the Confederacy. Evidence of these canons, with “Habersham Iron Works” stamped on them, can be viewed at Chickamauga National Battleground.

Habersham Iron Works was replaced by Porter Manufacturing in 1882 which replaced the ironworks with a woolen mill. In 1906 the woolen mill was replaced with a cotton mill to produce cotton yarn. S.Y. Stribling Sr., President of Roswell Manufacturing purchased the mill in 1906 for $38,000. Many changes were made at this time. In 1914 the lower power plant was built and in 1925 the upper power plant including a dam and tunnel were built.

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PHOTO OF SOQUE RIVER DAM  NEAR HABERSHAM MILLS

When the cotton mill first went in to operation, cotton bales were received at the Habersham Station on the Tallulah Falls Railroad at the Habersham Mills Road intersection. The cotton bales were transported by wagon to the mill and the manufactured yarn was returned to Habersham Station for shipment.

In 1930 a new mill was built which made the mill twice as large. Before 1914, and the addition of electricity the mill was run by water power created by a water wheel. The workers living in the mill village were provided electricity free of charge by the company. When Roswell Manufacturing purchased the mill from Porter Manufacturing 25 mill houses were included in the purchase. Over a span of many years approximately 75 more houses were added, along with a company store and a one room schoolhouse.

Habersham Mills Company Store

PHOTO OF HABERSHAM MILLS COMPANY STORE

A new school house was built in 1921 for grades one through seven. The company even had its own baseball team and in 1920 the company provided a movie projector for their employees to enjoy movies.

By 1957 the mill was completely modernized.  The mill had many owners over the years.
By 1977 the Mill was purchased and owned by the Russell Corporation of Alabama. Major changes at that time included round-the-clock operation and manufacturing changed from two-ply cotton weaving yarn to single polyester-cotton knitting yarn. In 1999 the mill closed.

Starting around the year 2000 organizations have been seeking ways to preserve the property as an historic site. At the present time an historic marker has been placed near the mill to indicate the importance of this part of Northeast Georgia’s historic past.

Habersham Iron Works Historic Marker

Habersham Iron Works & Mfg. Co.

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