There have been some big days in the history of Hall County: the railroad coming in the 1870s, Johnson & Johnson building the model Chicopee mill village in 1927, opening of what would become Brenau University, likewise Riverside Military Academy, Lanier Tech and Gainesville State, the formation of Lake Lanier in the 1950s and construction of Interstate 985/Ga. 365.
At its time, however, none was more significant than the landing of Pacolet Manufacturing Co. at New Holland in 1900. It was the first sizable industry for the county, though smaller manufacturers were operating. This would be the largest textile mill in Georgia.
Rumors about the possibility of a big industry coming to Hall County had been swirling for weeks. An announcement might be forthcoming, local newspapers hinted. Civic-minded residents wondered what it would be, at the same time worrying that it might decide a different location.
When the announcement did come, it was so exciting that Gainesville’s Georgia Cracker published an extra edition. "$1,000,000 Mill," read the headline in the newspaper that significant Saturday.
The textile mill was to be located on what was earlier known as Limestone Springs, a creek that still runs in the area and along Limestone Parkway northeast of Gainesville. The name had been changed to New Holland Springs when E.W. Holland bought the health resort. Holland’s widow, Kate, sold the property to Pacolet.
A group of local citizens headed by Judge G.H. Prior, S.C. Dunlap and H.B. Smith had been in the forefront of negotiations of the deal. Pacolet bought 850 acres on which to eventually build the five-story plant, about 200 homes, a recreation building, store, school, church, athletic fields and offices.
When completed, New Holland was considered a self-contained model mill village. It would employ 1,400 workers, but the population of the village would soar to at least 3,000, mill officials estimated. Gainesville’s total population at the time was about 5,000, Hall County’s a little more than 20,000.
The plant would run 50,000 spindles and use about 30,000 bales of cotton a year, good news to local farmers. Its product would be standard sheeting for export, mainly to China. New Holland would put out about 125 yards of sheeting per day, enough to wrap around the world in a year’s production.
"A $1 million cotton mill for Gainesville seems almost too big a thing for the people here to realize," the Georgia Cracker commented, "but it is a certainty nevertheless."
The payroll would amount to $15,000 to $20,000 monthly, a sum that brought smiles to the faces of merchants around the square in Gainesville and elsewhere. V.M. Montgomery, who made the announcement, would move to the community to manage the mill.
The main mill building as designed would be in the middle of a public road that ran through the property. But county commissioners quickly agreed to relocate it, separating residences to be built from the industrial complex.
The late Osee Bennett described the New Holland community: "Beautiful landscaped streets were laid out, trees and shrubbery were planted, comfortable attractive houses were built with enough room for a flower garden in the front and a vegetable garden in the rear. Prizes were awarded on each street for the prettiest front yard ... Each section of the village was provided with a pasture and cow stalls by the company ..."
Methodists and Baptists alternated Sundays in the company-built church. You could watch movies in the village theater for 15 cents. Dr. J.H. Downey, who later built Downey Hospital, forerunner of Northeast Georgia Medical Center, was the first New Holland doctor in a clinic that also had a dentist and nurse.
Pacolet in the 1920s built a gymnasium that featured a heated swimming pool, bowling and billiards.
Tragedy struck Pacolet’s New Holland mill village in 1903, barely two years after it had been built. A tornado struck the mill itself, but also destroyed numerous homes and caused some fatalities. Across town at Gainesville Mill, built about the same time, many children died in the mill as the storm scored a direct hit.
New Holland also suffered damage from the 1936 tornado that had torn through downtown Gainesville. The mill, now a part of Milliken, continues to operate in its 11th decade with almost 300 employees.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.