As the embers cool from the huge fire at the old mill at Berryton in Chattooga County, used as a plastics recycling center but dating back to the 1880s in textile history, perhaps some recalled that much of the old Aragon mill burned down about four years ago. At the same time the giant mill everybody still calls “Pepperell” continues to come down by brick by brick in Lindale; the Galey & Lord plant, still called Brighton by many old-timers in the Shannon area, has similarly all but vanished.
There are many such places now gone from the textile operations that once dominated this region; others are still in use but, like the home of this newspaper, barely hint they were once something entirely different.
There is an ongoing effort to create a Textile Heritage Trail throughout this region. Good thing the old Tubize/Celanese plant, now an industrial park, and its surrounding worker village (now called Riverside) are still mostly there so something is still left to see that looks vaguely like it was.
Also probably increasingly a very good thing is that Past Times, this newspaper company’s annual magazine devoted to regional history, dedicated a word and picture rich two issues to this heritage: “The Rise and Fall of Mill Life” in 2007 and “Life and Strife in the Mills” in 2008. Pretty soon such a paper trail may be all that remains. (Copies are still on sale and at our offices.)
Given that the textile industry first appeared in these parts less than 150 years ago, the fast disappearance of remaining traces is surprising. These were gigantic structures, after all, as well as the livelihood for thousands. Of course, anything of a historic nature seems to fade fast in these parts unlike, say, New England where it is doted upon. Not much of the Cherokee Nation to discover without hard searching, for example. And while the Civil War raged here, good luck on finding many visible signs of that. This town long held the world record for Coca-Cola consumption per capita with those red signs plastered on everything … and now on almost nothing.
But it is way more than that. Once upon a time Rome was the wood-stove and iron-skillet manufacturing center of the South. Before that, when cotton was king, giant warehouses dominated the riverfront and riverboats docked along the rivers.
All things textile now appear on the same path of going, going, gone. What a shame. What a failure of a community’s appreciation of its own rich and extremely varied heritage, even as it brags about how “historic” it is.
Kind of makes one wonder whether, in a 100 years or so, anybody living here will even know that there used to be several hospitals (one already mothballed) and colleges here.