Textile Industry

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.

  • 10-year service pin, Eagle & Phenix Mills
    ca. 1920
    Museum purchase made possible by the Evelyn S. and H. Wayne Patterson Fund 2010.121

    The Eagle and Phenix Mill, which was one of the largest mills in the country in the 1880s, remained in operation until 2002. Click here for more information

  • Letter and fabric sample sent to Eagle and Phenix Mills
    Gift of the Meridian Art Group 2005.39.12

    When ordering cloth from a mill in the late 1800s, clients often sent a letter with a sample of the requested fabric attached. Click here for more information

  • Group of Boys, Massey Hosiery Mills, Columbus, Ga.
    gelatin silver print
    Lewis Wickes Hine
    born Oshkosh, Wis. 1874
    died Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. 1940
    Museum purchase 1985.79.7

    These boys, like many local children as young as 9, worked more than 12 hours a day at a Columbus mill. Click here for more information

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