Porterdale Mill on the Yellow River
NAMED for: Oliver S. Porter, Mill Owner

 

 

The History of Porterdale
From The Newton Country History Reference
Prepared and Submitted by Lucille Ivey Shaw

 

The town now known as Porterdale, Georgia was, in 1830, nothing more than a large cotton patch located on the shoals of the Yellow River three miles south of Covington, Georgia, county seat of Newton. 

This settlement was in District Ten and part of it had formerly been included in Henry County and Rockdale County. Because of the many beautiful cedar trees that grew along the banks of the river the settlement adopted the name of Cedar Shoals. 

There were only seven houses on the property known as Cedar Shoals. Three were located on the north side of the river and four on the south side of the river. One of the houses on the south side was constructed of rock found down the river from the settlement. Further up the river and not included in this property, was a settlement called Boston. Later these houses were purchased by Cedar Shoals Manufacturing Company and moved to the north side of the river, as the river would rise over the bridge and people were unable to cross.  

A gristmill, blacksmith shop, saw mill, foundry and small country store were the business establishments in the settlement and were owned by Samuel J. Bryan of Chatham County.  

The town was the result of a dream of a young man, Noah Phillips, from Litchfield, Connecticut. He came south in search of land to build a foundry. His inquiries led him to Covington, Georgia. Here he was told he might be able to purchase land three miles south of Covington on the Yellow River near a settlement called Cedar Shoals. With his brother-in-law, John Persall, they purchased land near the settlement and one-half interest in the foundry from Samuel J. Bryan with the promise Bryan would continue to run the foundry for one year.  

On June 14,1831, Phillips and Persall purchased water privileges from Joseph Harris to carry the machinery in the mill. In the deal was also enough land to build houses.  

With a capital of forty thousand dollars they erected a factory for wool carding and cotton and called the factory Cedar Shoals Manufacturing Company. The factory included eleven hundred eighty-four spin- dies, ten looms and operated with forty five employees making a salary of $5.75 per month. Operation was from six a.m. to six p.m. Lamps were used for light. 

The lovely white house high atop a hill in Porterdale overlooking the Yellow River probably dates in part to the 1830's. It has been the home of several of the businessmen who have taken advantage of the excellent natural water power source of Cedar Shoals.  Information courtesy of Dr. Michael Warren.  Photo by Dr. Harry Faulkner.

From 1835 through 1863 the partnership changed hands many times. On September 3, 1841, John Persall sold his interest in the company to Noah Phillips making him sole owner of Cedar Shoals Manufacturing Company. 

On November 19, 1859, Charles Camp of Covington, Georgia, purchased one-half interest in Cedar Shoals Manufacturing Company and land for eleven thousand dollars. Then on April 4, 1863, he purchased the other half of the company for eighteen thousand dollars and this left Noah Phillips still owning many acres of land in and around Cedar Shoals.  

On November 19, 1863, Enoch Steadman, grandfather of the late Chancellor Steadman V. Sanford of the University of Georgia, purchased one-half interest in five hundred acres of land in Cedar Shoals from Noah Phillips for eight thousand dollars. The other half of the land belonged to Charles Camp. Mr. Steadman raised cattle on his land and with some of his steers he hauled brick from Covington to use in the building of the mills. It was because Enoch Steadman was a Masonic brother and friend of Sherman that Cedar Shoals was not harmed during Sherman's march through Newton County. Some of the soldiers camped on the south side of the river where Oliver Porter later erected a home. 

Soon after the end of the war Charles Camp died. Survivors included his wife, Julia A. McCracklin Camp and a daughter, Charley Camp. Their home was located in Covington, Georgia. 

Oliver S. Porter, a native of Penfield, Georgia, came to Covington, Georgia, seeking a teacher's job after serving in the war. He taught in Covington several years and became a friend of Enoch Steadman. Steadman recognized the abilities of this young man and hired him as his bookkeeper. 

It was through this friendship that Oliver Porter met the widow of Charles Camp and married her in 1869. With the uniting of this marriage, Oliver Porter became guardian of Miss Charley Camp, and with his wife, inherited the shares in Cedar Shoals Manufacturing Company owned by Charles Camp. 

In 1871, Oliver Porter, acting as guardian of Miss Charley and husband of Julia, sold the estate of Charles Camp in Covington, Georgia, and built a new home in Cedar Shoals and called it Cedar Shoals Place, which later became known as Porter Place. The home was built on the south side of the river on a knoll overlooking the mill. The foundation was rock from the banks of the river. The home was two storied with a wide veranda completely circling the house. A servants' quarters was built behind the house and the carriage house was to the left of the front veranda. The house was a masterpiece of fine carpentry and carvings.  

On September 19, 1871, Oliver Porter and David W Spence bought from Enoch Steadman, land, water power machinery privileges and a brick building used as a chair factory. This was to help with the growing needs of the mill. Houses were built as many of the families were moving near the mill to obtain employment. 

With the growth of the settlement, Noah Phillips gave land for a schoolhouse to be built on the Rocky Plains Road. This was named Liberty School and the children from Cedar Shoals walked the two miles each day to school. Noah Phillips also gave land for a church for the Methodists and it was called Liberty Methodist Church. This was on the same road as the school. Later, he gave the Baptist congregation land to build a church and it was located on the Salem Road, now Highway 81. By 1887, he had increased the number of houses on his land in the settlement to eighteen. 

On May 27, 1890, J. F. Hanson, 0. D. Johnson and Oliver S. Porter applied for a charter under the name of Porterdale Mills, Inc. On July 8, 1890, Oliver S. Porter sold to Porterdale Mills, Inc., land, mill, houses and waterpower privileges for fifty thousand dollars. Mr. Hanson was elected president of the company and Mr. Porter was secretary.  

On September 15, 1890, bonds were issued by the Porterdale Mills for the purpose of raising money for proper management of the business as provided in the charter. All bonds bore the date, October I, 1890, and were payable at the mill office of the company or at the Union Savings and Trust Company in Macon, Georgia, on the first day of October 1900, or ten years after this date and bore interest of six percent per annum. Bonds were in denomination of one thousand dollars each. 

No record can be found as to the exact date the dam was constructed, but it is recorded that on the sixteenth day of November, 1897, an agreement between W T. Smith and J. F. Vining of first part and Porterdale Mills, Inc. of second part, for Porterdale Mills to be allowed to raise the present dam across Yellow River to any height they saw fit to increase water supply. The company gave each party two hundred acres of land for this privilege, the land having been purchased from J. D. Roseberry. 

The mill was changed into a yarn and seine twine mill and operated under this corporation until it was purchased by the Bibb Manufacturing Company of Macon, Georgia, on May 6, 1898. This company owned mills in Macon, Columbus and Reynolds, Georgia. 

In 1889, the Bibb Manufacturing Company built a twine mill on the north side of the river and it was named Porterdale Mill. The mill on the south side was changed from Cedar Shoals Manufacturing Company to Welaunee Mill. All machinery was moved from Welaunee Mill to Porterdale Mill. Welaunee Mill was used as a  storage for supplies until 1922, when it was started up as a waste mill. This building was tom down and rebuilt in 1925. Porterdale Mill had the honor of being the largest twine mill in the world at that time. 

After the Bibb purchased the mills, they persuaded the Railroad Company to extend the tracks from Covington to Porterdale, and on May 22, 1899, Oliver Porter deeded land to the Central of Georgia Railroad to run the track into Cedar Shoals. 

The size of Porterdale Mill was increased in 1910,1918,1936 and 1941. A storage plant, known as the Line Walk, was built on the hill overlooking the mill. During World War II, machinery was placed in this plant to help carry the demand of goods. All mills ran seven days a week during this war. 

[Webmaster Insert: There is a remembrance that the "Line Walk" was originally a rope mill which was later used for storage.]

Oliver and Julia Porter had three sons: John, James, and O. W. and two daughters, Mary Erin and Miss Charley: Mary Erin died as a teenager. All the Porter children were educated in the Covington schools and furthered their education at Emory College in Oxford, Georgia. 

While attending college, they also worked in the mills. James followed his father's interest and returned to work in the mills upon graduating from college. John was more interested in the welfare of the employees and so his father made him overseer of the village. O. W. (Wick) was in charge of the company store. Miss Charley, with her mother, was busy seeing to the needs of the sick. 

The Brannen family built a large two-story house to take in boarders around 1894, on the south side of the river. W J. Kiser and his wife ran the hotel until 1921, when Mrs. Effie King, a widow, took over the duties. Most of the young married couples spent their honeymoons in this hotel.  

John Porter realized the need of having a school nearer the village and persuaded his father to let him build a building to house the school. In 1900, Oliver Porter gave the go-ahead signal for a two-story building to be erected behind the company store to serve as a schoolhouse, community house, and the top floor to be used for all local secret orders. This proved to be such a success that a building to house a kindergarten was built on the south side of the river at the base of the Porter lawn so more mothers could work in the mills. The first schoolteacher was Mr. John Cowan and the first kindergarten teacher was Miss Annie Laurie Jefferson, who later became Mrs. John Porter. 

As the enrollment in the school increased, four more rooms were added to the right side of the community house. This addition was one level, three rooms for classrooms and one large room for a kitchen. These were added in 1914-, and some of the first teachers were Miss Cleo Fondsworth, Bess Harwell, Mary Deen Speer, Helen Williams and Grace Whitehead. There were forty pupils and Mr. J. E. Cline was the principal. 

Doctors in the area were scarce and people had to go to Covington for medication. Mr. Porter secured the services of Dr. Lee of Covington to come to the village two hours a day. An office was built onto the mill office for the doctor to use. After two years of this arrangement, a young doctor, Dr. Tuggle, moved into the village and stayed two years. When he left, doctors from Covington again came at intervals to service the people in the village. Transportation was difficult because of road conditions between Porterdale and Covington. 

As houses were added to the north side of the river, the company store was moved over there with the blacksmith shop. This became the center of the village. Later, the mill office was moved into the company store and the room attached for the doctors was made into a post office to the rear of the store. 

The Welaunee Hotel was originally a dormitory for young women who worked at Bibb Manufacturing in Porterdale. Built by the company. It later became co-ed, and housed Georgia Tech students who worked on co-op at the Bibb. Now, it is well known as the Village Inn and Restaurant.  Photo courtesy of the Georgia Department of Archives and History.


With the aid of Mr. Baun, pastor of Liberty Methodist Church, a Sunday School was organized in the Community House on January 17, 1904, with Mr. C. T. Lummus serving as first superintendent. There were thirty-five charter members. The sun- day School grew so rapidly that it was decided to have both a morning and afternoon session with the Baptists and Methodists alternating times of service. Young ministerial students attending Emory College at Oxford, Georgia, came out to assist in the services. 

John Porter asked the Bibb to secure the services of a social worker for the village. Miss Martha Dupree was sent from Macon, Georgia, to fill this position. The needs of the village were so great that she asked a group of the ladies in the village to meet with her to make plans for organizing a Mother's Club. The club was organized in May 1915, with thirteen charter members. The object of the club was to furnish food and clothing for the needy. Clothes were made from material donated by Mr. James Porter. A linen closet was established to lend sheets and towels to the sick. This club is known today as the Porterdale Woman’s' Club. 

A new brick school was erected in 1917, and named the John Porter Building. Bricks left over from this building were used to erect an indoor swimming pool. The building contained a large auditorium that was furnished by the Porterdale Woman’s' Club. This was used for not only the school, but the town as well. 

In 1916, a small group of citizens met and organized a Presbyterian Sunday School and officially organized the Presbyterian Church in 1917 in the old kindergarten building on South Broad Street. 

Cedar Shoals was incorporated as a town in 1917. The voters of the district voted on March 10, 1917, to incorporate the town and Judge Charles w: Smith recorded it on March 19, 1917. It was given the name Porterdale after Porterdale Mills, Inc. and Oliver S. Porter. With the incorporation of the town came the first electricity. 

Construction on the third mill had begun in 1916, and was doubled in size in 1920. This included a total of over 40,000 spindles and 662 looms. This mill was named Osprey. Brick left over from this project were used to erect a dormitory for girls and it was called Welaunee Inn. It was erected in 1920. A matron was hired to look after the girls and they were allowed to go home on weekends to visit. 

One hundred and fifty, six-room houses were built in 1920, which increased the number of houses in Porterdale to five hundred and eighty-seven. Later, twenty-five modern homes were built on Bibb property on Jackson Road.

The Presbyterians built the first church in Porterdale in 1923, followed by the Methodists in 1925, the Baptists in 1930, and the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in 1948. 

Clubs were plentiful in Porterdale. Besides the Woman's' Club, a club for teenage girls was organized and named the 0. S. Porter Club. This was in 1919. The Boy Scout troop was organized in 1915; Men's' Four Square Club in 1929; Night Hawks Club in 1930 and the Pep Club in 1935. There were also the secret orders of Masons, Eastern Star, Woodman of the World and Redmen.  

Because the Bibb Manufacturing Company owned and operated mills in Reynolds, Columbus, and Macon, Georgia, be- sides the mill in Porterdale, it was decided that mill villages needed a communication between them and the answer to that problem was the publishing of the Bibb Recorder. The first issue was published on January 31, 1920. The last issue of this paper was December 11, 1970.  

With this communication between the villages, a social worker for all villages was employed, and Mrs. Pearl Taylor left Porterdale to fill that position. She immediately formed Women's Clubs in all the villages and clubs for the girls. The girls' clubs were named the Girl Reserves.  

In 1922, the Bibb began the construction of two large buildings separated by a wide driveway. The first building was to house the general store, bank, barbershop, shoe shop and post office. The second building was to house the company store, drugstore, dentist's office, funeral home and Bibb offices. 

The first general store was opened October 1, 1923, by Mr. and Mrs. T. G. Callaway of Covington. The drugstore was rented by druggist, H. H. Harrison. Mr. Jack Elliott and O. W. Porter leased the company store and called it the Porterdale Mercantile Company: Dr. Frank Wesley was the first dentist. The bank never materialized and Mr. Callaway sold part- interest in his business to his sister-in-law, Lucy White, and together they rented the portion designated for the bank and made a ladies' ready-to-wear department. G. W. Caldwell and Son operated the funeral parlor. Mr. Pennell rented the barbershop and Mr. Finch rented the shoe shop. 

In 1923, another school was built to hold grades five through nine. It also contained a home economics department and a band room. In 1929, Mr. James Porter gave the school forty-band instruments and a band director was hired. An athletic director was also hired in 1929. 

A brick building was erected at the north entrance to the village to be used as a school and church for black people. The Bibb hired a teacher and secured the ser- vices of a minister for this community. This was completed in 1937. 

On November 25, 1938, the Oliver S. Porter gymnasium was dedicated by Mr. James Porter, honoring his father, Oliver S. Porter, one of the founders of Porterdale. The first basketball game in the new gymnasium was between Porterdale and Livingston Schools on December 3, 1938. The first high school graduating class, with fourteen graduates, held their exercises in the new gym in May 1939

In 1942, a new activities building was constructed on the site of the old community house. The building was named for William D. Anderson, Chairman of the Board of the Bibb Manufacturing Company: It was to house the men's clubs, band, kindergarten, dentist's office, beauty salon and Masons.  

A new bridge across the Yellow River was dedicated on July 30, 1943. This was needed to replace the old wooden bridge which was so low, when the river rose from heavy rains, people could not get to the mills to work. 

At the height of production of the mills from 1940-1970, twenty-five hundred people were employed. With this progress, the Bibb Manufacturing Company decided to allow the employees to purchase their homes which were owned by the company. These transactions took place in 1964. 

A village that once won the distinction of being named a "Model Textile Town", owned and operated by the Bibb Manufacturing Company, is now a town governed by the laws of a mayor and council. A new city hall has been placed on the grounds of the first school building, which was demolished with progress. Porterdale and Welaunee Mills have been sold. The grocery store and general store no longer exist. Osprey Mill still operates with approximately three hundred people. The William D. Anderson activities building have been sold.

The home built by Oliver S. Porter still stands proudly on the knoll overlooking the Yellow River, and the welcome sign at the entrance to the town still rings true, "A Friendly Place to Live".