“Loom production stopped at Enterprise at 10:22 a.m.,” he wrote in a faded production ledger, adding somberly, “It’s all over.”
His words, and that ledger, are part of a vast collection of records, stock documents, blueprints, drawings and other ephemera collected by the Augusta Canal Authority and donated Tuesday to the Augusta Museum of History.
“There are probably 40 to 50 large boxes, not including stacks of payroll ledgers and other stuff,” said Nancy Glaser, the museum’s executive director. “It’s going to be like Christmas every day for a while.”
The canal authority, which operates a major interpretive center and museum within the restored Enterprise Mill, also owns the nearby King Mill and the vacant Sibley Mill.
All three textile giants were among the post-Civil War industries that relied on the canal to power looms and factory equipment. Today, that culture is vanishing, and so are the records it generated, said Rebecca Rogers, the canal authority’s marketing director.
“A lot of this stuff had been stored in a walk-in safe at King Mill,” she said, showing a ledger from the mill’s Mutual Aid and Burial Association, which offered a death benefit to mill workers who paid a small amount into a special fund.
Many of the documents were deteriorating and infested with bugs.
“We have a big freezer back here, and we were putting everything in there for two weeks at a time to kill them,” she said.
Although the canal authority has a museum of sorts, the Augusta Museum of History is the reigning expert in historical preservation, Rogers said.
“This would be overwhelming for us to keep or try to preserve,” she said. “At the museum, it can be copied and preserved and kept as the Augusta Canal Collection.”
Glaser said the material will be sorted, categorized and preserved for research – and eventually could be available through the museum’s Web site.
“The first step is getting it processed,” she said. “Once we put numbers on it and know what we have, we want to make it more accessible.”
There are many important items in the collection – including original India ink blueprints on parchment paper, she said.
Augusta’s mill culture was much like the textile industry in many cities, where workers toiled long hours for wages that often went directly back to their employer.
“Some of this stuff from way back has handwritten payroll records,” Rogers said. “It shows the hours worked – and then shows how much they took out for wood, rent, cash advances and scrip.”
The “scrip” was a type of mill money that workers could spend at the “company store,” which was usually near the mill and the mill-owned houses rented to workers and their families. It was a way of life that spanned many generations.
Enterprise, for example, opened just after the Civil War and operated for more than a century. When its 908 looms were silenced in 1983, workers said it was like losing the pulse and heartbeat of a cherished friend.