The Textile Heritage of LaGrange

The Textile Industry plays a huge role in LaGrange’s history. These mills paved the way for today’s industrial growth.

The textile industry debuted in Troup County in 1843 when Maxey Brooks added wool carding to Brooks Mill on Flat Shoals Creek. In 1847, Robert Robertson built the county’s first mill dedicated to textile work, Robertson’s Woolen Mill. It was located on Turkey Creek and carded locally raised raw wool and rolled it into yarn for spinning.

The first textile manufacturer in LaGrange was a hosiery mill started in 1876 by Sarah Baxter Mabry that employed women. She received orders for her product from New Orleans to Philadelphia. The first cloth-producing factory in LaGrange began in 1888, when the directors of a cotton seed oil plant added cotton manufacturing. LaGrange Cotton Mills was built entirely by local capital and direction and was spearheaded by Lewis J. Render, John M. Barnard, and James G. Truitt. It was bought by Northern investors in 1905 and underwent various name changes before being purchased by Cason Callaway in 1928 and renamed LaGrange Calumet Mills. It was incorporated into Callaway Mills in 1932. 

Lasting Legacy

LaGrange owes much to its textile heritage. LaGrange Cotton Mill furnished the town its first electricity in 1889, allowing the town to bypass the gas-light era. Textiles changed the appearance, size, and nature of the town, adding to its architecture, population, economy, layout, transportation network, and diversity.

Yet unlike many industrial towns, LaGrange was not created by its factories, having already been a wealthy, cultured and economically diverse city long before 1860. The spirit of economic diversity fostered rapid recovery in the 1870s after the Civil War and led to industrialization. The founders of Troup County’s textile plants were all from families who led antebellum development.

The welfare of the employees and their families was always a major concern to the management of the various textile mills in LaGrange and Troup County. It was a distinctive feature that set LaGrange apart from other areas where cotton manufacturing was an important factor. Although necessity required the mills to furnish housing, they went the extra mile, creating spacious lots and creating beautiful villages with landscaped neighborhoods. The mills provided all the amenities of a quality life with church buildings, schools and kindergartens, recreation facilities, sports teams, playgrounds, pastureland, vegetable plots, medical facilities and community houses with classes in art, music, dance and domestic instruction.

Numerous news articles by visiting reporters remarked on the quality of life and amenities found in LaGrange’s mill villages. When asked what he did for a living, Fuller E. Callaway once remarked, “I raise American citizens, and I operate a string of cotton mills to finance it.” Town merchants benefitted because none of the LaGrange mills operated “company stores” to compete with their trade. Even during the Great Depression, the mills sought to help their operatives by keeping at least one person from every family employed. As production for war support brought returned prosperity, every textile plant in Troup County won military E (excellence in war support) Awards. In the 1950s, the mills began selling the village homes and employees had first option on the houses they occupied.

Eventually, the benefits offered to their villages by the mills extended to the community as a whole. The various agencies created by Fuller Callaway, Sr. were merged by Fuller, Jr. into today’s Callaway Foundation, Inc. and with the Fuller E. Callaway Foundation, continues to expand the charitable and philanthropic work begun by Fuller, Sr. with the Textile Benefit Association, Relief Association and Hospital and Mission of the Good Shepherd in Southwest LaGrange. Joseph E. Dunson provided funds in his 1916 will for the city to open its first public hospital, the forerunner of today’s West Georgia Medical Center, for which Callaway assistance has created the current modern medical complex. Generous donations from James G. Truitt, the family of Joseph E. Dunson and John M. Barnard’s niece and heir, Mary Nix, saved LaGrange College from closing in 1920. 

To witness this textile legacy for yourself, take a driving tour to some of our historic mills, or visit the Elm City Mill to see the beautiful tower that still stands. 

Troup Factory

In 1847, Maxey Brooks built Troup County’s first cotton manufacturing concern for Robertson, Leslie, & Company. Troup Factory opened in 1848 and was located next to Brooks’ 1829 grist mill. Troup Factory won the gold prize for osnaburg, a heavy, rough cloth at the State Fair in 1849. The town of Troup Factory soon developed, complete with churches, schools, stores and a Masonic Lodge. Eventually, there was a foundry, a cotton, gin and a tannery in town. The factory added a dye house and continued grinding wheat and corn. Orders came from across the country and Troup Factory even shipped cloth to China in 1888.

After 50 years, competition from later cotton factories that were not dependent on waterpower during droughts, plus several failed attempts to secure a railroad to their site, eventually caused Troup Factory to fail. Most of the operatives moved to LaGrange to work at LaGrange and Dixie Mills and the town all but vanished. Lemuel M. Park bought the closed industry in 1899, attempted to revive it, and renamed it Park Mill. In 1904, his sons moved the machinery to a new building in LaGrange on Greenville Street, where it operated until 1911 and again from 1913 to 1922. In 1927, investors bought the plant to salvage the machinery for a mill in Alabama. The building was razed in 1932.

The current landowners of old Troup Factory are working to open the area for touring, but at this point you can drive past the former mill site on Flat Shoals Creek on US 27, 10 miles south of LaGrange. There is now a historical marker and the remains of a Rock Store (visible from road) remaining where a thriving community once stood.

Visit the Legacy Museum On Main to see a beautiful red and white coverlet manufactured at Troup Factory and one of the original grinding stones! 

Dixie and Dunson Mills

The second LaGrange factory was Dixie Cotton Mills, funded by local capital and promoted by Northern speculators. The buildings were well built, but poorly equipped, and would have eventually failed if several local men had not intervened. Otis A. Dunson, John M. Barnard and Fuller E. Callaway stepped in and took over the management. It was the first time Fuller Callaway invested in a textile mill. He recouped his money as soon as the factory became profitable and sold his interest. West Point Manufacturing Company bought Dixie Mills in 1933 and incorporated it into their company in 1958. Dixie continued to operate until 1985, reopened in 1988, and was permanently closed in 2004.

In 1910, another group of local men, led by Joseph E. Dunson, chartered Dunson Cotton Mills, which opened in 1911. It manufactured mostly industrial fabrics and was the largest mill in LaGrange and for a time the largest in Georgia. In 1923, the size of the mill was doubled. Pepperell Manufacturing Company purchased Dunson in 1952 and made it their Dunson Division. Operations continued until West Point Stevens closed the mill in 2004. Both mills became the property of West Point-Pepperell through a merger of West Point and Pepperell in 1965, that became West Point-Stevens in 1993.

Exciting changes came when a development company began construction to renovate the building for a mixed-use facility with shops and lofts! 

Visit the new development and former mill site at 710 Greenville Street in LaGrange, Georgia.

Callaway and Milliken

In 1900, reputable promoters encouraged local men to raise funds to construct a third cotton mill in LaGrange. Unity Cotton Mills, later named Kex, was the result. John M. Barnard, Cornelius V. Truitt, Joseph E. Dunson, George E. Dallis and Fuller E. Callaway were among the prime investors. It was the first mill in a chain of independent mills that were largely built by the same local men and headed by C.V. Truitt, James G. Truitt and Fuller Callaway. Initially, these mills were known collectively as Truitt-Callaway Mills, then Callaway-Truitt Mills and finally Callaway Mills. The loose association was formalized in 1932 when Cason Callaway and his brother, Fuller Callaway, Jr. created Callaway Mills Company. 

The other mills of this company were Elm City, built in 1905; Unity Spinning, built in 1909; Hillside, built in 1915; and Valley Waste Mills, built in 1917. In 1928, Valley Waste Company, which then included four other mills, split into five separate corporations. The 1932 re-organization of Callaway Mills Company included all of these mills plus Calumet.

Deering-Milliken purchased Callaway Mills in 1968 and operated them as their Callaway Division. Milliken went on to build additional mills in Troup County. Today, production continues only in the three Milliken-built plants and Valway from the Callaway Mills days. Hillside Mill is used as office space but all other former Callaway Mills have since closed.

Elm City is one of the prettiest remaining mills. The mill showcases the attractive architectural features of textile mills during the early 1900s. All mills had towers and the Elm City Mill has the most beautiful tower and entrance still standing.

The Elm City Mill is located in Southwest LaGrange, better known today as Hillside, the former mill neighborhood that has been brought back to life with new businesses and renovations of the old mills and buildings by D.A.S.H., founded by local businessman Ricky Wolfe.

Visit the Elm City Mill at 1000 Elm Street in LaGrange.

Hogansville Manufacturing Company

Local men organized Hogansville Manufacturing Company in 1897 and built a cotton factory that sold in 1905 and again in 1913 to Northern companies. The latter company built a second mill in Hogansville in 1924, known as Stark Mill. Cason Callaway bought both in 1928. He sold Stark Mill to U.S. Rubber in 1931. Callaway Mills sold the older mill to U.S. Rubber in 1942. They renamed the old mill Reid Mill in 1943 and razed it in 1969. Between 1986 and 2007, several companies owned Stark Mill, including Goodrich, Michelin, Westek and Goodyear. Closed from 1993 to 1998, the company now operates as Specialty Fabrics, Inc. 

You can see former Stark Mill (now Specialty Fabrics, Inc.) on the west side of Hwy 29, just north of downtown Hogansville. 

For more information about local mills and how the industry helped transform our towns, visit LaGrange’s Legacy Museum On Main to see their extensive collection of Troup County history!

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