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Mildred Parker doffs bobbins, 1983
Mildred Parker replaces full bobbins with empty ones on the spinning frame at Enterprise Mill in Augusta, February 1983 Photo: Millard Parker

Augusta Canal Textile Mill Employees: Oral Histories

Through tape-recorded oral histories, this legacy project documents the lives and stories of the individuals and families who worked in the textile mills in Augusta. Development of the Augusta Canal in 1845 generated much needed economic prosperity for Augusta and made the city a leader in the South in transforming the agrarian economy to an industrial one. Key to this process was the location of numerous textile mills and related manufacturing facilities along the canal. The manufacturing companies were drawn to Augusta because of the abundance of cotton raised in the immediate vicinity and by the prospect of harnessing the canal water for inexpensive hydropower to operate their manufacturing equipment.

The Augusta Manufacturing Company secured the first canal water rights and constructed a five-story building. The mill's first year of operation was so prosperous that in 1849 it built a second mill, and by 1851 the company was running 20,000 spindles, making it one of the largest mills in the South. Other mills followed, and the city's population doubled between 1845 and 1851. Soon that Augusta was called the "Lowell of the South" after the northern mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts. Over the years, the canal was expanded, and more mills were built. During the Civil War, the Confederacy used the canal's water power at a mill which manufactured gunpowder. Many of the mills closed during the 1960s and 1970s, and by the turn of the 21st century only three mill buildings remained. One of these had been converted to a mixed-use residential, office and retail complex, but still was deriving power from the mill.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the mills practically dominated every aspect of the lives of workers and their families. For instance, they lived in company housing in mill neighborhoods, shopped at company stores, participated in mill-sponsored activities, and started and left work according to the ringing of the mill bells. Many of the retirees and individuals who lived in the mill neighborhoods during this period were interviewed for the project's oral histories. These personal stories from people who lived through specific events or times add rich detail and a unique perspective to historical records.

In 1996, the U.S. Congress designated the Augusta Canal as a National Heritage Area, and the Augusta Canal Authority as its management entity, mandated to establish and implement an overall plan for the preservation, development, and management of the canal as a public resource.

Documentation includes a text report, photographs, and about two dozen cassette tapes of oral histories.

Originally submitted by: Charlie Norwood, Representative (10th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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