Troup Factory was early industrial town

by W. Winston Skinner


The buildings at Troup Factory were impressive for 19th century Southern industries. The middle building was the grist mill that held the mill stone recently given to the Troup County Archives. 

Although western Georgia was settled by farmers, early in the region’s history, there were people in those early days who saw opportunities in commerce and industry.

There are few reminders of its economic strength in the mid-1800s, but Troup Factory was a true industrial town – with rippling economic impacts across several counties. A grist mill operated by Maxey Brooks was at the site before Troup Factory was officially started, and a grist mill remained part of the operation for decades.

“This grist mill is one of the earliest mills in West Georgia,” said Kaye Minchew, director of the museum and the Troup County Archives.

Anita Ellison of West Georgia Technical College referred to Troup Factory as “a very early Troup County mill and factory.” She noted, “The community that grew around the mill was recognized on early Troup County maps and known as the town of Troup Factory in southern Troup County.”

“Troup Factory opened 18 years after the grist mills and helped introduce textile manufacturing to West Georgia. Later mills, whether they opened later in the 19th century or more recently in the 21st century all owe a debt to Troup Factory,” Minchew said.

“The success of this factory – which operated for almost half a century – showed local residents and other investors that textiles could be produced with a profit in West Georgia,” Minchew said. Textile mills in Coweta County were operated in Newnan, Arnco, Sargent, Grantville, Moreland and Senoia.

A June 2010 article in the Georgia Journal of Science noted Troup Factory was founded in 1846 in Flat Shoals Creek. Troup Factory was “the first cotton mill in Troup County and the second such plant in Georgia.”

Robertson, Leslie & Company operated at Troup Factory for most of its history. The plant was known for the sheeting and homespun produced there. Cotton fabric made there was sold to companies in New York.

Early partners in the enterprise were James Madison Creed Robertson, Thomas Leslie and Alexander M. Ragland.

Leslie, manager of the factory, and Robertson lived in Greenville, the county seat of neighboring Meriwether County, where they also ran a store. William H. Davidson in his 1971 book, “Brooks of Honey and Butter: Plantations and People of Meriwether County, Georgia" described the three entrepreneurs as “men of character and property.”

Robertson and Leslie were described in 1849 as “men of good character, business habits and responsibility.”

The establishment of an industrial facility at such a remote spot required the creation of a village with homes and amenities. A newspaper report in 1878 stated Troup Factory had 27 two-room houses for factory workers, with wells and springs nearby. There also were "three or four nice cottage residences for proprietors and agents.”

Along with the factory itself, the owners “opened a store or commissary in connection with the factory,” Davidson wrote. There was a post office at Troup Factory from 1847 until 1902. One of the postmasters was Samuel W. Hasty, who was from Harris County and was a cousin to Nancy Hasty Whitten of the Rocky Mount community near Luthersville.

Maxey Brooks had already shown the viability of industry – on a smaller scale – with his mill. “Cleaning and carding of wool by hand was a tedious process. Maxey Brooks installed a wool carding machine at his mill. It stayed so busy that people welcomed the announcement that he was installing more wool carding machinery at Brooks' Mill in 1843,” Davidson wrote.

Davidson also noted that “a distillery … operated as a side line” was often part of milling in antebellum days. “There is a strong tradition that Maxey Brooks operated a distillery at Brooks' Mill,” he wrote.

According to Davidson, plantation owners sent “clipped wool in bags to Brooks' Mill for carding” with a toll being taken for processing.

The industry at Troup Factory “was a successful combination of water power grist milling and cotton spinning and weaving,” Davidson wrote. The spinning room had 1,000 spindles. Early in its operations, there were 35 workers processing as much as 600 pounds of cotton daily.

The Columbus Enquirer in 1847 reported: “The machinery is equal to any in the Southern country, the yarns, a sample of which we have before us, is of superior quality and spun from good cotton. Indeed, we are informed that no other kind of cotton will be used in the establishment.”

In 1848, the factory was valued at $60,000. That would be about $230,000 in current U.S. dollars. Davidson related the factory was “not over prompt (in paying its bills) but always good for their debts."

Ragland sold his interest to David E. Beeman, owner of a profitable stagecoach line, in 1853. Beeman was also from Meriwether County. He died a few years later, and Thomas Crenshaw Evans became a partner.

A native South Carolinian, Evans was a “colorful early settler of Troup County, … a captain in the Indian War of 1836 and … a general of state militia,” according to Davidson. He also served as ordinary – now probate judge – of Troup County.

The company continued to grow in financial strength. Just before the Civil War began, the company owned one slave, a man named Sam, according to Davidson.

“Troup Factory engaged in manufacturing goods for the Confederate States of America. Some of its key operatives were deferred from military service to keep it running,” Davidson wrote. “A new grist mill for wheat and corn grinding was installed in 1861.”

The factory resumed its operations at the war’s end – with some of the partners now living in northern states. “It is a credit to their business acumen that they (Robertson, Leslie and Company) ably managed the business through the Panic of 1873 and subsequent depression years,” Davidson wrote.

James Madison Creed Robertson and Thomas Leslie offered the entire factory town for sale in 1878, but the property did not sell. A few years later, investors from Troup and Meriwether counties formed a company to run the Troup Factory operations.

Some new equipment for the factory was purchased, and one source listed a population of 200 at Troup Factory in 1888. At that time, in addition to the factory, the town had a grist mill, a gin, a lumber business, a tannery and a general store. A cobbler and a doctor were among Troup Factory’s residents in 1888.

The factory issued $12,000 in bonds in 1890 to make improvements. A fire destroyed one of the factory buildings two years later.

A financial downturn in 1893 led to the bankruptcy of the company five years later. Lemuel Madison Park bought the company for $7,500.10. The sale included a four-story mill building, a storage building, a cotton warehouse, a store building, a two-story grist mill, 930 acres of land and housing for factory workers.

Troup Factory’s workers were paid based on the length and quality of the cloth they made. Like workers today, they often worked less hours or days when the economy was in the doldrums.

A massive flood in February 1902 led to the closing of the industrial operations at Troup Factory. Park moved the textile operation to LaGrange, and timbers from many of the Troup Factory buildings were taken away for projects in LaGrange and even as far away as College Park.

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