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Gainesville Mill: Cotton Mill purchased in 1901, started in South Carolina

Housing was sold to village residents, private land owners in 1939

POSTED: December 22, 2012 11:59 p.m.

In 1925, Cecil Boswell, 8 years old at the time, moved from Jackson County to a mill village just south of Gainesville.

His father was looking for work because, as Boswell remembers, the crops in Hall’s neighboring county, were “all burned up in the field.”

That year, his father landed a job at the Gainesville Cotton Mill and Boswell spread roots in the area that have only been uprooted for a five-year stint in the military.

In 1901, the 203 acres located in the corridor framed by Georgia Avenue, West Ridge Street, Dean Street and the railroad tracks, was bought by the Vesta Mill Co. for $8,120.

The company, started in Charleston, S.C., decided to move to Gainesville because of “unsatisfactory labor conditions” in South Carolina.

According to statements from the company at the time, employees, who were spread out all over Charleston, were not showing up to work on time, or at all, because of a “lack of housing.”

Their answer was to develop an area where mill employees could work and live in the same area. Locals called it the Gainesville Mill Village.

“The company owned all the houses at the time,” said Boswell. “Everybody worked in the mill and you knew everybody on practically every street — I did when I was a young boy.”

Boswell grew up on Georgia Avenue, where he still lives today.

After finishing grammar school, also housed on mill property, Boswell, 15 then, began working in the mill on the third shift, 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The village, he said, was all-inclusive at the time.

All residents worked in the mill, which took room and board out of the paychecks of its employees instead of exchanging currency. Most residents even had livestock pens on their property.

“Most people had their own cows and their own hogs, believe it or not,” said Boswell. “There were gardens all over the place.”

Residents worked, went to church, school, the doctor, the store and the theater all on the property and operated by the mill.

 “The mill had the stores, the school, the clinic, everything like that for the village right there then,” Boswell said. “There’s a lot of people that worked in that mill and never drawed a dime — (the mill would) take all of their paycheck every week.”

It even had a baseball team, which Boswell’s father played on. The team played other mill towns, including Chicopee and New Holland, from Gainesville to South Carolina.

The inclusiveness created a fierce sense of independence within the mill town. In fact, Boswell said, some residents were known to exchange blows with outsiders.

“As a young boy, you played on the street you lived on,” he said. “You didn’t go on another street because somebody’d whip ya before you got back to your street. You’d better take a gang with ya and it was like that all the way across.”

The same was true with dating.

“You dated on the mill you lived on,” Boswell said. “You stayed at your place and they stayed at theirs.”

But, trouble was rare and living was good on the mill, he said.

“I’ve always enjoyed living on the village, myself,” said Boswell. “We had good neighbors — if you needed help, you got help.”

But in 1939 the mill began selling off the housing to both village residents and private land owners outside of the village.

“The company didn’t want to fool with the housing no more,” said Boswell. “It was costing them too much.”

People from outside of the village, who didn’t work at the mill, began renting housing in the area and the dynamics began to change.

“Up until this time, the mill community was almost a separate social structure from the surrounding community,” wrote Hall County historian Kevin Markuson.

One year after the mill began selling its property, Boswell joined the Army and spend five years in the service.
In 1945, he returned and again looked for work in the mill, which had switched owners.

From 1939 to 1943, the Gainesville Cotton Mill sold all of its residential property and in 1943 lost control of the mill to Pacolet Manufacturing.

But Boswell never again worked in the mill. Upon his return, the mill wanted him to again work the third shift, but Boswell refused.

“I said, ‘I’ll go back into the Army before I work the third shift,’” he said.

So, he worked as a hotel chef for a brief stint before working the first shift in the rival New Holland Mill where he stayed for 20 years.

Now, Boswell still lives a stone’s throw away from the house he grew up in, but the area is hardly recognizable.

In 1967, the mill became part of the Deering, Milliken and Co. out of New York City, N.Y., effectively marking the end of the mill village era.

The road may be paved and mill gone, along with the livestock and the sense of community, but the shadow of the mill stills looms over the South Gainesville community.

“It was a place to work,” said Boswell. “It wasn’t no easy work. You had to keep on the move, but it was home.”


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