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Introduction

This web site hosts a rich variety of interpretive materials on Bibb City, a former company-owned mill village in west central Georgia. These materials are the product of a unique multi-disciplinary project. Project authors include over 40 students in four concurrent classes during Maymester, 2009. The project was directed by Dr. Becky Becker (Department of Theater) and Dr. Amanda Rees (Department of History) at Columbus State University.

To support a growing interest in Bibb City our interpretive project includes: an oral history play, text and images from the history exhibit, "in character" walking tour scripts, a printable self-guided community tour and a downloadable audio tour.

Bibb City is historically significant because it reminds us of the central role of the cotton mill industry in the South, in Georgia and in the city of Columbus during the 20th century. Two elements make Bibb City unique. First, unlike most other mill companies in the South who turned away from paternalistic management, Bibb Mill kept its fatherly eye on this segregated company town. Second, Bibb City captures two very distinct methods of company town design. The early residential section offers a very dense, unvarying urban, industrial feel, while the new homes (built in the early 1920s) provide more varying architecture situated in a rural landscape that produced the more isolated feel of the countryside.

Welcome to our project.


Timeline: Looking back 100 years, Life in a mill town

At the turn of the 20th Century, construction began on the Bibb dam and mill that would impact a community for an entire century.

1902 Bibb Mill was operational. Village contained 101 mill houses for workers.
Aerial photo of Bibb Mill and surrounding city
Aerial photograph of Bibb Mill and surrounding city, date unknown.
1907 Bibb City was incorporated and a town was born.
1910 Child labor in mills was exposed by a series of shocking photographs by Lewis W. Hine.
Children at work on mill equipment
This photograph was taken at a Bibb Mill in Macon, GA.
1915 Bibb Mill was expanded and began producing tire cord, the largest profit generator during upcoming World Wars.
1920 Bibb Mill was further expanded making it one of the largest in the South, producing more than all other Columbus mills combined.
The New Village section was built adding 160 new houses. The New Village section was designed by renowned landscape architect Earle Draper.
1934 As the depression wore on, one of the largest organized strikes of the textile industry raged throughout the South, but it was less severe at the Bibb.
1940s Mill expanded further during World War II and Comer Auditorium was constructed giving both adults and children recreational space.
1960s Mill became desegregated. Beginning in 1964, company began selling houses to residents. Bibb Mill ended their sports program and Comer Auditorium along with control of the school was turned over to Bibb City.
1980s Brought change when Thomas Foley purchased The Bibb Company.
1998 Bibb Manufacturing closed its doors. March 20, 1998 was the last day of operation.
2008 Over 100 years of history was lost when Bibb Manufacturing went up in flames and burned to the ground leaving only the front facade.
Photo of Bibb Mill engulfed in flames
Photograph courtesy of Robert Goolsby.

Photo Gallery

Images Used in the History Exhibit

Aerial view of Bibb city

Bibb Mill and surrounding city

Strike form

Comer Auditorium

Mill working speaking

Bibb Mill engulfed in flames

Front view of Bibb Mill

Weaving room

Women in spinning room

Women in spinning room

Black worker

Group photo of workers

Houses

Children at work on mill equipment

Newspaper photo of children in Comer Auditorium

Class photo

Newspaper photo of basketball team

Bibb City's Senior Girl Reserves group photo

People at swimming pool

Drawn map of Bibb City area

Other Images

Mill machinery covered in dust and lint

Mill building

Bibb City water tower and mill building

Aerial photo of Bibb City and the mill

Aerial photo of Bibb Manufacturing Company's plant

Women at work in the mill

mill machinery

large room full of machinery

Dam across the river, mill in the background

Machinery belts

Mill building, west end

Mill building

Front of large mill building with clock

Many cars in parking lot beside mill

A few cars in mill parking lot

Houses

Houses

Blueprint map of mill buildings and residences

Dusty mill equipment


Self-Guided Walking Tour

If you are planning to take a tour of Bibb City, here are some resources to guide you.

You can print out the self-guided walking tour directions and map to explore the community. You can also download the audio tour files for use with or without the printed tour directions (but you'll still want the map for the audio tour).

Click here for the self-guided walking tour directions.

Click here for map of Bibb City with highligted walking tour route.

Click here to download a zip file of tour audio files.


Character Scripts

These character scripts were developed to take a walking tour audience through Bibb City. They were developed from different perspectives to give a broad experience of life in the community.

Ellie Johnson

Anonymous Worker

Supervisor

Children's Tour


Performance Script

Click here for the performance script.


Resources and Education Topics

Resources

The project, "Bibb City: Collected Lives from a Mill Town", was created to provide a more in depth view into southern mill living and to experience the variety of aspects which characterize the makeup of mill villages and to interpret the history of Bibb City more particularly. The research team has organized a list of educational terms and resources to further extend knowledge about the Bibb Mill, as well as other southern mills. These resources are an excellent guide for teachers, students, and anyone else who would like to become more aware of the numerous aspects which defined life in southern mill villages. Below are the list of resources and the various topics that are vital to grasping a complete understanding of why this project is so important and how it can be put to use to extend education about mill living.

Bibb City History

McKinney, Jesse. Memoirs of a mill town. Columbus, Ga. : Brentwood Academic Press, c1998.

Spinning into history: A Bibb City Story; Carson in Columbus: McCullers, the lonely hunter. [videorecording] Produced by Young Historians, Brookstone School. Columbus, Ga. : Young Historians, Brookstone School, [2002]

Lupold, John "Mill Town" White Water, Red Clay and Blues [videocording]. Public History Program, Columbus, GA, 2006-07. Produced: Virginia Causey.

Lupold, John. "Bibb City Historic District." National Register of Historic Places application. Unpublished, No date.

Bibb City and Bibb Mill, Macon Images
Oral Histories

Education Topics

Economics
  1. What role did the mill play in the operation of the community?
  2. How did the relationship between the mill owners and workers affect the local economy?
  3. How did the global economy affect the mill's production?
Labor
  1. In what ways did the family system affect the labor supply?
  2. Compare child labor during the time of the Bibb to child labor now.
  3. Why was the transition from farm to mill important to families and workers?
Religion
  1. What role did religion play in community?
  2. How did religion affect the moral standards of the community?
  3. In what ways did regular church attendance coincide with the mill owners opinions of the workers?
  4. Was religion a requirement for mill workers?
Culture and Community
  1. What type of culture did the mill create?
  2. How did the workers community lives affect their work lives? Consider the punishments for negative behaviors.
  3. What were the cultural values in the mill community? What helped create these values? Consider inside and outside factors.
  4. What roles did women play in the community?
Race
  1. What role did African Americans play in the mills labor force?
  2. How did desegregation affect the mill community? How did it affect job security for White mill workers?
  3. How were African Americans treated inside and outside of the mill?
Geography
  1. How did the fall line affect the location of the mill?
  2. Compare the layout of Bibb City to other mill villages across the United States.
  3. What role did the Chattahoochee play in the mill community?

History Exhibit

Students developed ten text panels to interpret the history of Bibb City. They also developed a child's guide to the exhibit.

Click here for a gallery guide for children as a companion to this exhibit.

This is the text from the ten history text panels that make up the exhibit.

Bibb City: Collected Lives from a Mill Town

On a crisp autumn night in October 2008, a small fire began in the Bibb Mill. As the flames popped and crackled their way through the 1000-foot-long main building, they destroyed the very reason for Bibb City's existence. The smoldering mill drew hundreds of people for several weeks afterwards. As if attending a funeral, they came to share stories about their working life in the mill and living in the company's town.

Our exhibit adds another voice to that chorus to answer the questions: What was life like in Bibb City, how did it change over time, and what made it unique?

Bibb Mill: A Century of Influence

The Bibb spun more than just cotton; it spun a community.

Opened in 1902, the Bibb Manufacturing Company operated for 96 years. Often referred to as "the Bibb", the mill produced print cloth, yarn, carpet backing, bed sheets and pillow cases. The most profitable product was heat resistant tire cord for companies such as Goodyear.

Begun as a spinning mill, the main building was 300 feet long and housed 24,000 spindles. (A spindle is a spike around which newly spun yarn is wound.) It soon expanded to meet the needs of a growing car industry and World War I requirements. By 1919, it was over 1000 feet in length and housed over 100,000 spindles. The Bibb produced more than all other Columbus mills combined.

To help attract workers and maintain their loyalty, the Bibb Mill created a town with over 260 homes. The Bibb Mill provided a strong sense of community felt in few other places; the mill looked on the town as its family.

Mill Labor: Not Your Average 9-5

Mill work was long, loud, and lint-laden but some changes at the Bibb made work more tolerable.

Imagine working in a hot southern mill for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, for only $10 a week. For men, women, and children working at the Bibb before the 1930s, this was a grim reality.

Inside the mill, the air was full of dust and lint that swirled up from the spinning process. The massive machines were very loud it was hot, extremely hot! Temperatures reached 118°F in the later summer. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal laws reduced hours, raised wages, and protected mill workers from the worst excesses of mill management.

Millworkers in the South usually earned about 1/3 less pay than millworkers up North. This was one reason southern mills flourished long after northern mills closed. By the 1960s, southern mill owners welcomed desegregation because it provided a source of even cheaper labor as owners worked to combat lower labor costs from mills across the world.

Equal Opportunity

Before the 1960s, southern textile mills segregated their work force to keep production cost low. Workplace segregation was a subtle reminder to White workers that they could accept their conditions of they could be replaced.

Black workers would always be found in the mill. They were assigned menial or physically challenging positions such as janitorial working and bringing in and opening large cotton bales. At the Bibb they entered through a separate side door. Black workers traveled further to work as they could not rent homes in Bibb City. With desegregation, opportunities opened for Black workers.

White mill workers labored as technicians, spinners, and weavers. Though they made less money than northern textile workers, they earned more than their black co-workers. At this time only White workers could be promoted to higher paying supervisor, or over-seer positions; they could rent inexpensive homes, and take part in social activities in Bibb City. After desegregation the mill could no longer maintain segregated housing.

Creating a Sense of Family

Maintaining family life was a tremendous struggle for the folks in Bibb City.

At the turn of the century, the agricultural economy was depressed and farming families began to migrate to towns like Columbus for mill work. To ensure a stable workforce, the Bibb Mill offered inexpensive homes, basic healthcare, and social activities to its White mill workers. But hours were long and wages were low. After child labor laws banned children from working, childcare became a constant challenge for parents.

To meet the problem of child care, parents worked different shifts which sometimes meant that children became familiar with only one parent. Fathers and mothers also relied on extended family to take care of their children: "I remember when I was 3 or 4 years old him coming to pick me up at night as my grandmother's house when she used to keep me." (Maria Butler Meltzer, Bibb resident) Children came to see a web of kinship ties throughout Bibb City; it was their extended family.

Work First, Play Later

From dangerous work to summers filled with reading and swimming, the life of a Bibb City child changed dramatically.

Prior to the 1930s children were working in the mills. Two-thirds of mill labor was made up of young women and children. Small and agile, they worked long hours doing jobs in hard to reach places. Their income was essential to the family. In 1938, federal legislation ended child labor under the age of sixteen. Summer in the 1950s found children heading for the Comer Auditorium each morning. They often spent time in its makeshift library or played games such as table tennis. Hired as a cleaner at the Comer, an elderly Black lady named Hattie Monroe became the community's summer babysitter. When they weren't at the Comer, kids were at the city's pool.

Community and Loyalty

"It was very unique in the way that it treated the people that lived there, the way it took care of people, the pride that we had knowing we lived there." Maria Butler Meltzer

In the early 1900s, many farmers and their families made the journey from the rural south to work in growing industrial cities. Employees chose to live in worker housing because it was in expensive, rather than take the trolley that ran from central Columbus. To the mill, renting homes meant that they could maintain a strong influence over its residents. If renters or their families stepped out of line (in the mill, in the community, or in the school) they faced possible eviction. To influence community behaviors and attitudes, the mill stressed healthy, moral activities for workers, tenants, and their families. Programs for boys focused on loyalty and physical activity. Programs for girls focused on etiquette, encouraging "proper" speech, and civic education.

Manufacturing and Community

In an effort to foster a sense of community and reduce "idle time," the mill sponsored organizations and activities throughout the year.

Between the 1940as and 1960s, the Bibb created a wide variety of activities to build a sense of community. It built an auditorium with a bowling alley and basketball court, a swimming pool, as well as a golf course and several parks. Activities were provided for men, women, and children. Women's organizations included the Women's Club and the Girls Reserves. Women would produce fall festivals, pageants, charity balls, parades, and other events to unite the community. Members of the Girls Reserves worked hard to earn opportunities to visit distant cities like Washington D.C. and New Orleans. Mill workers could try out for activities such as semi-professional baseball and basketball. Men who held low-level management positions joined social organizations like the Men's Progress Club. Boys could join the Boy Scouts that had its own building by the river.

What makes Bibb City Unique?

Bibb City was one of hundreds of southern mill towns. But two things made it unusual: the mill's long-lasting fatherly control over its "village family," and the design of the mill town.

Paternal Influence Over the Village.

After the 1930s most Southern mill owners began to dissolve paternal control over company towns. In contrast, Bibb Mill retained and increased its fatherly management over this segregated company town until the 1960s.

Community Design

"It always have been a little town looked like it was set off to itself." Ophelia Perry, mill worker.

Bibb City demonstrates two contrasting ways of building a town. The old village, surrounding the mill, was tightly spaced; featuring unvarying, modest homes on gridded streets with no green space. The mill's no-frills, regimented, industrial process extended into worker homes. The new village (1919-1921) shows more diverse home styles, on curved streets. Located in the northern part of Bibb City, the new village included parks, separate pathways across the community, and trees dividing sidewalks from the street. The new streets looped back on themselves giving the village an isolated, rural feel to what in actuality a dense urban, industrial community.


Credits

This project would not have been possible without the following groups and individuals.

Performance

Writer/Director: Becky Becker

Writers: Brittney Allen, Brittany Brooks, Nicholas Crawley, April Hollingsworth, Jacquelyn Kappes, Gwendolyn Labod, Melissa Manning, Carrie Poh, Elizabeth Schad, Cassie Scott, Katie Truett, Jimmy Whelchel, Heather Willis, Nick Wolfe

Designers: Abbey Dutton, Issac Waters

Walking Tour Team: Kizzy Louis, Krista Maggert, Andrew Miller, Jenny Ross

History Exhibit and Interpretive Program

Curator: Amanda Rees
Assistant Curator: Shannon Williamson

Interpretive Writing Team: Meredith Duke, Mike Elston, Jet'aime Kelly, Jamie Houle, Joshua Kinman, Vanessa Lewis, Eric Mosley, Dianne Niles, Sammantha Reddick and Laurel Shapiro.

Image Curator: Meredith Duke

Gallery Guide Development: Frances Griffin and Vanessa Tevebaugh

Self-Guided, Audio, and Character Tour Development: Mindy Gillow, Robert Thomas, and Eric Mosely

Web Development: Gary Deloach and Jeremy Sasser

Design Team: Abbey Dutton and Issac Waters

Special thanks to the following people and entities that made the play and history exhibit possible:

Tony Adam and the Historic Comer Auditorium
Brent Buck and the River Mill Events Center
Mike Bunn and the staff of the Columbus Museum
Fred Fussell
John Lupold
Deb Moore
Giselle Remy-Bratcher and staff at the Columbus State University Archives
Dwayne Tharp
Ann Watkins
Columbus State University Department of History
Columbus State University Theatre Department
Columbus State University Writing Center
Kimberly Garcia
Kimberly Manuel
Tim McGraw
Alice Pate
David Rush
April Waldron

This is a joint project of Dr. Amanda Rees's geography and history classes and Dr. Becky Becker's theater classes at Columbus State University, Columbus, GA.

We would like to thank Chattahoochee Shakespeare Company for their support.



Contact Us

You can reach Dr. Amanda Rees at Columbus State University's Department of History website.

You can reach Dr. Becky Becker at Columbus State University's Department of Theatre website.