My Georgia History

Cotton Mills

Cotton played an important role in Augusta’s history.  Governor James Hammond, of South Carolina said, “Cotton was King.”   Until 1921, Augusta was the second largest, inland cotton market in the world.  Memphis was first.  At its peak, 500,000 bales of cotton went through Augusta annually.  With lots of cotton, and the canal for power, the mills did well.  In the area where the Confederate Gunpowder Mill had been, new mills sprang up. The Sibley Mill was built in 1880 and the J. P. King Mill was built in 1883.   The Sibley Mill was built to look like the “Confederate Gunpowder Mill.”  The Sibley Mill was purchased in 2010 by the Augusta Canal Authority.  Up until then it was owned by Avondale Mills, making textiles that were shipped to other factories. The mill was named for one of the organizers, Josiah Sibley.  By the way, the original bell is still hanging in the tower.  The Sibley Mill gets 100% of its power from the canal. If you drive along Goodrich Street, in front of the mill, you’ll pass over the water turning their water turbines. In fact, they make more electricity than they can use, so they sell the excess, back to Georgia Power Company.

The Enterprise Mill, although not a working mill, gets all of its power from the canal.  They produce enough electricity, to supply all the businesses and apartments there.  When the Enterprise Mill shut down, Mr. Clay Boardman, from Augusta, bought the building.  He refurbished it and leases it out to businesses, like the Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Canal Interpretive Center and others.  The top floor of the mill has been turned into condominiums.

Another mill still operating, is the J.P. King Manufacturing Company. The initial investors meeting was held on June 1, 1881.  It was held to organize the new company.   The major investor was Emily Thomas Tubman.  She invested four years before her death in 1885.  However, you don’t see her name in bright lights because she was a woman in a man’s world.  The shareholders met again in December of 1881.  During that meeting they elected former Mayor Charles Estes as the company’s first president.  J P. King Manufacturing Company began operations, in October 1883.  The original building was four stories tall and contained around 35,000 square feet.  If you drive on Goodrich Street and look at the front of the building, those walls are 3ft. thick.  You’ll also notice the windows have been bricked up.  They did this when air conditioning was brought into the building. Before that, you would open the windows in an attempt to keep the air moving.  The J. P. King Mill was purchased in 1968, by Spartan Mills. The price tag was $10 million dollars. They had over 600,000 square feet and almost 1500 employees.  About 30 years later, the Spartan Mills went bankrupt.  On that Friday, people who had worked there for years, were handed a pink slip and told not to return to work Monday because the mill would be closed.  And it was!  Then Central Textiles of Cincinnati Ohio started operating the mill as they do today.  50% of their electrical power comes from the canal and the rest from Georgia Power.  The Mill makes sheets and blankets, for children’s hospital beds across the US.   Presently, the Mill employees about 400 people.

Written by Mark Woodard

Research sources:

  • The Story of Augusta. Cashin, Edward J. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Company Publishing. (1996)
  • Augusta, A Pictorial History. Callahan, Helen. Richmond County Historical Society Publisher. (1980)
  • Confederate City, Augusta Georgia 1860-1865. Corley, Florence Fleming. (1995)
  • Memorial History of Augusta, Georgia. Jones, Charles C. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Publishers. (1890)
  • From City to Countryside. Published with the cooperation of Historic Augusta, Inc. Haltermann, Bryan M. (1997)
  • The Brightest Arm of the Savannah, The Augusta Canal 1845-2000. Cashin, Edward J. (2002)
  • From City to Countryside. Haltermann, Bryan M. (1997)

1 Comment

  1. I WAS RAISED IN AUGUSTA BY MY GRAND MOTHER SARAH JOWERS WHO WORKED IN THE KING COTTON MILL MY GRAND FATHER GEORGE JOWERS WORKED IN THE SIBLEY MILL SUCH HAPPY TIMES I AM 73 YEARS OLD BUT HAVE SO MUCH GREAT MEMORIES WE LIVED ON MIDDLE STREET IN THE COTTON MILL HOUSES. GOD BLESS

Leave a Response