King Mill and the Golden Cherry

Cotton Mill and canal, Augusta, Ga. 1970s
King Mill and canal, Augusta, Ga. 1970s

Marty worked briefly at the King cotton mill after we were married but I didn’t take pics of the mill until after he’d worked there. Across the canal from it was the bulk of the cotton mill neighborhood, the worst part of which, the tenements lining the street, I think were already being torn down. But I remember going past them when I was younger and the humanity sitting out on the stoops was sad. As for the tenements, I remember a distinguishing feature being a lack of paint, such as in the cotton mill area we briefly lived in later outside of Atlanta.

The color of and outside the King Mill was all Georgia red clay but inside, in the mill, it was blue, indigo fibers floating so thick in the sweltering air that it was difficult to breathe and Marty came home covered in blue. You couldn’t get rid of the blue, as if it was millions of worms working into the skin. And after a few short days he was coming home coughing blue. If that was happening after a few days, one could imagine what it meant to work there a lifetime, and how many people lived in the tenements who no longer had their health because of their work. Marty only worked there a brief while but it was long enough. I yelled at him each day that he had to get out of there now. Not later. Now. He was just coming out of a long illness during which he’d been unable to work and had been unable to find work afterward.

Marty’s job was carrying these 12 foot long, three foot diameter rolls of denim as they came off the machines that rolled them. Carried them from one end of the building to the other from where they’d be shipped out. The indigo dye vats were directly below where he was working, thus the blue. He has no idea why King Mill didn’t have carts for carrying these huge rolls of cloth.

It was a non-union mill.

As you can see in the above photo, the windows of the mill are all bricked up. It was perpetual night in the mill in that sweltering blue cloud of fibers. I don’t know why they bricked over the windows. This link goes to an old postcard of the John P. King and Sibley Cotton Mills of Augsta, Ga. The postcard is from about 1900 to 1910 and the windows seem to have yet been bricked over.

The description reads:

Early-twentieth century postcard image of the John P. King and Sibley cotton mills on the Savannah River in Augusta, Georgia. John P. King Cotton Mill appears in the foreground of the image and Sibley Cotton Mill appears in the background. The expansion of the Augusta Canal between 1872 and 1875 served to further spur the growth of the cotton manufacturing industry in Augusta. In 1880 the Sibley Cotton Mill was built on the former site of the Confederate Powder Mill. The mill was outfitted with automatic sprinklers in addition to electric lighting and provided tenement housing for its employees. At the turn of the twentieth century Sibley Cotton Mill employed approximately eight hundred Augustans. Construction began on the John P. King Cotton Mill in 1882 and the mill produced its first bobbin in October of 1883. The four story mill was headed by Charles Estes and employed approximately six hundred people at the turn of the twentieth century.

If you care to take a look at the Summerville house of King Mill’s Landon Thomas there are five impressive images here. “On the hill”, or Summerville, was an older area in Augusta with some fine, large houses. It was cooler on the hill and being on the hill meant, in the old days, you wouldn’t be flooded. We lived in several different apartments there before and after living in downtown Augusta (when no one lived downtown).

The website with the postcards and links to Thomas Landon’s residence is “The East Central Georgial Regional Library”. Their page “Introduction to Historic Picture Postcards of Augusta” talks about “King Cotton” and the mills and the wealth that flowed from them, and then gives a brief paragraph on the labor situtation.

On the other hand, Augusta’s history of labor strikes demonstrated the unrest that sometimes flowed from wealth disparities and other problematic aspects of industrial practices.

Here is a pretty green picture taken of King Mill in 2001 when it was abruptly closed, supposedly unable to match overseas competition.

The film “Norma Rae” is based on the unionization of the J. P. Stevens mill. In the film Ron Leibman as Reuben Warshowsky delivers the following speech to the mill workers.

On October 4, 1970, my grandfather, Isaac Abraham Warshowsky, aged eighty-seven, died in his sleep in New York City. On the following Friday morning, his funeral was held. My mother and father attended, my two uncles from Brooklyn attended, my Aunt Minnie came up from Florida. Also present were eight hundred and sixty-two members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and Cloth, Hat and Cap Makers’ Union. Also members of his family. In death as in life, they stood at his side. They had fought battles with him, bound the wounds of battle with him, had earned bread together and had broken it together. When they spoke, they spoke in one voice, and they were heard. They were black, they were white, they were Irish, they were Polish, they were Catholic, they were Jews, they were one. That’s what a union is: one… Ladies and gentlemen, the textile industry, in which you are spending your lives and your substance, and in which your children and their children will spend their lives and their substance, is the only industry in the whole length and breadth of the United States of America that is not unionized. Therefore, they are free to exploit you, to cheat you, to lie to you, and to take away what is rightfully yours – your health, a decent wage, a fit place to work. I would urge you to stop them by coming down to room 207 at the Golden Cherry Motel, to pick up a union card and to sign it…It comes from the Bible – according to the tribes of your fathers, ye shall inherit. It comes from Reuben Warshowsky – not unless you make it happen. .

The film was made in 1979, which is after my husband was working at King Mill in Augusta.

This is the Golden Cherry Motel in Opelika. Filming for “Norma Rae” was done there. We were on the road doing the Holiday Inn circuit in the SE not long after “Norma Rae” was released and found ourselves put up at the Golden Cherry any time we were at the Holiday Inn in Opelika. Yes, they’d do that, not put you up at the Holiday Inn where you were playing, but put you in a cheaper motel. We called the Golden Cherry the Cherry Pit as the room was as cramped as I’ve ever been in, and was dirty and depressing. In order to film at the Golden Cherry, they’d knocked a wall down between two of the rooms. I never saw that particular room.

Staying there, our only consolation was the Golden Cherry’s vague notoriety.

Sally Field and crew may have filmed at the “Golden Cherry” but they stayed at the Holiday Inn. Apparently the people who ran the Golden Cherry were a couple called Aunt Loudell and Uncle Cell. If this is so, I don’t recollect anything about them. I had thought that the Holiday Inn and the Golden Cherry were owned by the same guy. I ask my husband about it and he says that they were. So at least that was the situation by the time we stayed there, which was early 80s. I never met the owner. I only remember the manager.

It has became fashionable and artsy to live in the mill area here in Atlanta. Small mill houses go for sizeable rents. Like most of these things, it started out as a cheap place for artists and musicians to live, then the upscaling happens and prices jump out of sight. After living in several different mill houses when we were first married, I can’t stand them and we have always steered clear of the mill area here though some find it yesteryear romantic. I don’t. I don’t like the smell of mill houses. Don’t like the quality of the air in them. Don’t like the feel of everything held together by a few rusty nails. I don’t like remembering how bitterly cold they are during the winter months and, because of lack of insulation, expensive to heat.

I feel just incredibly sad looking at a cafeteria token for King Mill. Maybe because a cafeteria token seems so perfectly symbolic of taking your sustenance from the place that steals your health and life, but finances fine homes and gardens in Summerville. It seems perfectly symbolic of a system that created generations of dependency poverty, people who worked for just enough money to have the tenement roof but never enough money to hope of getting away while still healthy and then unable to get way when disabled and their family members all working for the mill. This token at the above link was worth 10 cents and is now an item for trade and I wonder who wants to collect items from the textile mills.

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Juli Kearns

Juli Kearns is the author of Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine and Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (or) In Search of the Great Penguin. She is also an artist/photographer, and the person behind the web alter of "Idyllopus Press".

One thought on “King Mill and the Golden Cherry”

  1. I found this blog about the King Mill while doing research on an old Christmas Card I purchased in a box lot at an estate auction. The auction was held to sell items from the estate of an antique dealer in Jacksonville, Florida. In the box were Christmas cards sent to a single donor, the widow of Supreme Court Justice Joseph Rucker Lamar. In with the cards were two sent from Landon Thomas with artwork of the gardens (the Cloistered Garth) at his home in Summerville. I have no idea how the antique dealer came across the box of cards, all of which were dated between 1913 an 1933.

    It was an interesting trip down the rabbit hole and as I am selling the card on ebay for only 5.00, it was perhaps ill-advised to have spent hours researching both the Lamar family and Landon Thomas but I am glad to have learned what I learned about both of these families.

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