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Johnny Vardeman: Hosiery mills once hummed in Gainesville
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

North Georgia, specifically Hall County, long has been known for its poultry industry, Gainesville being dubbed as the “Poultry Capital of the World.”

That came about after World War II when J.D. Jewell and others innovated with new methods in raising, processing and marketing chickens. Gainesville, however, dating back decades had been known as a poultry center where farmers brought their chickens in mule and wagons to trade with merchants, fellow farmers and restaurants around the public square.

Gainesville might well have been known, too, for a time as “the hosiery center” of Georgia, if not the Southeast. Two plants that employed hundreds produced yarn and women’s hose. One was Owen Osborne on Spring Street, now Jesse Jewell Parkway, and the site of the present Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Center. The other was Gaybourn Mills on Woodsmill Road at the end of Oak Street.

Owen Osborne was purchased in 1933 by Leslie Quinlan, for whom Quinlan Visual Arts Center is named. He had been plant manager when the company, whose founder was Owen Osborne Sr., moved to Gainesville from Philadelphia. It began as a maker of full-fashion silk hose, the kind with seams down the back. During World War II, it had to use nylon and dacron synthetic fibers. It also expanded to make parachutes for the military. Quinlan sold the company to Chadbourn-Gotham in 1950.

Owen Osborne’s companion plant was Gaybourn Mills, whose building still stands and is filled with other companies. Laboratories operated in that location, and at its peak in the late 1960s, Gaybourn was producing yarn that supplied hosiery mills all over the Carolinas.

Gaybourn had been founded in 1938 as Best Manufacturing Co. It, too, was affected by World War II, as its supply of silk for yarn came primarily from Japan. The “throwing plant,” as yarn operations were known, switched to nylon in 1941. Nylon hose was much in demand during those years. Best became a subsidiary of Chadbourn-Gotham of Charlotte, N.C., in 1946.

Benny Cape, who became manager of what came to be called Gaybourn Mills, was quoted at the time as saying, “We process raw nylon and dacron yarns … we twist it, shrink it, make stretch yarns from it … We are the throwing plant for the Chadbourn-Gotham mills.”

It also produced Spandex yarns for such items as surgical stockings and stretch stockings.

Many remember F.E. “Gene” Bobo, who was plant manager, later a top executive for Chadbourn-Gotham. An active civic leader, he retired in Gainesville.

In 1968, Gaybourn added 12,000 square feet to its 43,000-square-foot building. The next year it added 150 employees and doubled its production.

By 1976, the company, then owned by Stanwood Corp., was down to 73 employees. At the end of the year, the plant closed.

Owen Osborne, then owned by Chadalon Inc., closed in 1998, the last 164 employees losing their jobs and bringing to an end to hosiery operations in Gainesville. The six-story blue-and-white checkboard building had become a landmark next to Owen Osborne Mills on that side of Gainesville.

Guilford Mills had bought the plant for $3.5 million in 1976. Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic now stands on that site.

The Woodsmill Road former Gaybourn Mills stood vacant for a while, but over the years has housed various operations. Joe Smithson is the present owner. The familiar, long brick building houses such tenants as Four Seasons Auction Gallery, Randy and Friends, a dental laboratory and a tile company.

Let’s pull this string a little more

Roy Judson, Claude Bagwell and Don Barrett were among others who played key roles in hosiery and yarn operations in Gainesville. Former Gainesville Mayor Ernest Moore worked for a time at Owen Osborne when wages were 40 cents an hour, but much appreciated because jobs were scarce, and other industries paid less. Most employees at the time described their jobs as the best in the area.

Osborne Street, which runs between Jesse Jewell Parkway and Myrtle Street, naturally gets its name from Owen Osborne.

Watch for more local history in this column next Sunday.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville; 770-532-2326; johnny.peggy1956@gmail.com.

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