Historical mill records donated to Augusta Museum

Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 12:34 PM
Last updated Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 10:33 AM
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Jimmy Jordan was the last person to leave Enterprise Mill when its doors closed March 26, 1983 – idling 400 workers and ending a way of life for generations of Augustans.

See more than a dozen historic photos of mills and mill workers in Augusta.

“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.

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my.voice 01/15/13 - 02:24 pm
I think consolidating

I think consolidating Augusta's history in the Augusta Museum is a smart move. Augusta has a very diverse history that needs to be displayed in a single location. Wish the GHOF had used some of this insight into creating a wing at the museum.

Great story, Rob

David Parker
David Parker 01/15/13 - 02:56 pm
It should be a blast going

It should be a blast going through all the old material/documents.

happychimer 01/15/13 - 08:06 pm
I would like to know if there

I would like to know if there are any pictures of the King Mill workers.My great grandmother worked there. She moved to Augusta in 1920 and died in 1931.I don't have a picture of her.

Jake 01/16/13 - 11:22 am

While scanning through the photos in the slideshow, they show a street in "Gregtown" which was apparently near one of the mills and housed some of the workers. I wonder where that is located?
Interesting article and great photos.

seenitB4 01/16/13 - 03:21 pm
Fantastic article

Great article & pictures...thanks for putting this on here...

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