About the series
These days, small towns are beginning to look more and more alike, with a fast-food chain on the corner and a big-box retailer down the street. But this winter, The Times will take you to the unique communities within Hall County, sharing their history, their characters and their charm. Look for a story each day through the New Year. To see previous profiles, go to gainesvilletimes.com/hamlets.
Gone are the days when the mill-run community had everything residents wanted, such as a general store, barbershop and even a clinic where women bore their children.
But Chicopee Village, with its towering trees, manicured lawns and tiny church buildings, still retains much of its old-fashioned charm.
“There have been spots that have gone down, but overall, it’s been quite good,” said Joe Holcomb, a longtime resident who worked at the Chicopee Mill from 1951 to 1986.
Holcomb also is bit of a self-styled historian, having written a piece on the community, “Chicopee Ramblings.”
“People kept saying there ought to be a history of Chicopee,” he said. “Nobody else, seemingly, would make a move. So, even though I’m not a writer, I decided I’d put down a few things.”
The sprawling building that housed the mill and the rows upon rows of cookie-cutter brick homes are still intact in a large area off Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway, south of Gainesville and next to Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve.
According to Holcomb’s work, Johnson & Johnson, the company that built Chicopee, held its groundbreaking for the mill in February 1927.
Citing an article from the then-Gainesville News, he said the “official opening for the inspection of Chicopee Mill and cottages” took place on June 23 of that year.
The event marked “an epoch in the industrial history of this section the importance of which is recognized by our people in every walk of life,” the article states.
The cotton mill was equipped with about 30,000 spindles and 1,200 automatic looms, which would be used to make surgical gauze, cheesecloth and buntings.
Johnson & Johnson Inc., under the leadership of Robert Wood Johnson Jr., bought the major part of the Walnut Creek watershed to build the mill.
“Johnson’s plan was influenced by Thomas Edison, Fred Kilmer, a pioneer in pharmaceuticals, and Gifford Pinchot, noted forest scientist,” according to the Elachee Nature Science Center’s website.
Elachee manages the nature preserve through a lease/management agreement with the Chicopee Woods Area Park Commission.
In the late 1970s, Johnson & Johnson began to cut back its mill production and sold the houses in the village to the residents, the website states.
The village got on municipal water as Johnson & Johnson closed its water filtration plant. The company, deciding the watershed was no longer needed, donated 3,600 acres of it to the park commission to create a public park.
Chicopee’s houses were laid out in a grid, with an alphabetical and numerical system of naming streets and avenues. All water pipes and utility lines were placed underground.
The community featured a school, which had a gymnasium and theater/stage. The Hall County school system, grappling with budget issues, closed Jones Elementary School in 2010.
Chicopee Woods is going through other brushes with modern times.
Hall County is planning to build the Central Hall Multiuse Trail between Palmour Drive in Gainesville and near Frontage Road in Oakwood, with Chicopee Village a connecting piece. The trail also is expected to include a pedestrian tunnel at Atlanta Highway near the Georgia Department of Labor.
Also, Chicopee park officials want to build a fence delineating its boundaries from Gainesville Industrial Park, Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport and Chicopee Village.
As head of the Association of Chicopee Village Residents, Andrea Chastain keeps an eye on such matters.
“Chicopee is a soft spot in a lot of people’s hearts, even those who may have lived here at one time,” she said.
Chastain and her mother, Connie, live in the neighborhood.
“I lived in here prior to that (as well),” she said. “I restored a home that my mother now lives in ... then I moved to Atlanta, then I moved back. I’ve been here a total of nine or 10 years.”
Longtime residents “are just solid gold,” Chastain said.
“They are what people call salt of the earth. You don’t meet people like that anywhere else — or I haven’t, and I’ve lived in a lot of different neighborhoods around metro Atlanta.
“It has that sense of community that I haven’t seen anywhere else.”
Bill Stroud, another Chicopee resident, has a similar passion for his village, which has been without Johnson & Johnson’s presence since 1994.
“I love living here,” he said of his place. “It’s old, it’s funky. If I could pick it up and drop it down in Virginia Highlands (in Atlanta), it would be worth $400,000.”