Though devastated by the Civil War, Columbus’ industrial riverfront would rapidly be rebuilt and anchor the city’s reemergence as a textile manufacturing center in the 1870s. For the next 125 years, textile mills would be at the heart of Columbus’ economy. The mills produced a wide range of goods, including cloth, yarn, hosiery, towels, denim, linens, blankets, and drapery, employed thousands of citizens, and gave the city its identity as a “mill town.”
Large textile mills were loud and often dangerous places to work. Featuring hundreds of pieces of heavy machinery with rapidly moving parts, mills often literally vibrated to the point that the whole building shook. They could be very hot or cold, depending upon the season, and the air within them was usually filled with small particles of cotton lint similar to dust.
Phenix City, Alabama received its name from the Eagle and Phenix mill. The name Phenix, a misspelling of the name of the mythic phoenix bird, was chosen to symbolize the rebirth of the business from the ashes of destruction after the Civil War. Many mill employees at one time lived in company-owned housing in the Eagle and Phenix village on the Alabama side of the Chattahoochee River.
The Macon-based Bibb Manufacturing Company at one time operated the largest cotton mill in the country in Columbus. The large mill village surrounding the facility, known as Bibb City, operated for decades as an independent municipality. The company remained in operation here from 1900 to 1998.