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Armuchee - Busy Trade Center

from All Roads to Rome by Roger Aycock, pp. 335-339

IN THE relentless forward march of modern transportation, the steamboat and passenger trains are not the only victims of the almighty automobile.

Our little country towns and settlements, in early days the economic and social mainstay of the South, have given way in their turn, vanished outright or transformed to residential suburbs peopled by commuters to whom a few miles represent no more than a few minutes of driving. Once, before World War I, the Pocket area above Everett Springs was a well-populated community with its own grist mill, church and cemetery, and Central Grove (west of Pleasant Valley North Church, just off the Texas Valley Road where Berry School forests now surround the old

Mountain Spring Methodist Church) once supported 55 "flatwoods" farm families whose church and school faced each other across a sandy, tree-shaded road.

AND ARMUCHEE, shortly after the century's turn, was the busy commercial hub of an area far wider and more populous than today's casual visitor might believe, its post office and stores, sawmills and cotton gins and grist mills serving a surprising number of families who - in those horse-and-buggy days before the automobile made distance a matter of no account - looked upon it as their trading and visiting center.

Headlines of the Rome Tribune-Herald summed up that attitude on September 15, 1909 in a news story by an Armuchee correspondent:

"PANTS FACTORY WILL BE BUILT AT BUSY ARMUCHEE BY JANUARY 1," its headlines reported. "New factory will employ 40 hands and bring new families, gins and sawmills . . . and the Rome & Northern Railroad is coming to make things busy and prosperous in the Valley City.

"Armuchee is going to be a busy town. Plans have been agreed upon to build an up-to-date pants factory here, said plant to be in operation by January 1, 1910 . . . Mr. E. D. Bean of Rome made a proposition to our little city that if it would give a $500 bonus he and his associates would build a (modern) pants factory at this place.

"IT WILL employ 40 hands, a number which will double next year to from 80 to 100 hands. This means the bringing in of at least 25 families to Armuchee the first year and from 75 to 100 the second year. The $500 was subscribed at once . . .

"With this factory will be operated an electric plant for lighting said plant and the city of Armuchee . . . Everything seems to be in a prosperous condition about Armuchee. There are four sawmills in operation within less than a mile, and you can hear the singing of the saws and the knock of the hammer from early morn till late at eve . . .

"The Rome & Northern Railroad is getting along fine out this way, grading along . . . Thousands of crossties are stacked on the right of way, ready for the rails.

"Scoggin & Rudd have just completed one of the best cotton gin plants in the country, having a capacity of 40 bales a day . . . Professor 0.H. Hamrick will open a nine-months school here next Monday, and a new Woodmen of the World camp will be organized by the first of the month."

THE ARTICLE concluded with a series of chatty personal mentions, pointing out that "Emmett Burke, our clever rural carrier, is having his "house remodeled," and a final survey of the Valley City's economic outlook:

"A man worth millions (R. G. Peters, Michigan industrialist who bought thousands of acres of iron ore land in the area and who prompted the building of the Rome & Northern Railway from Rome to Gore) is laying plans to build an electric car line from Armuchee to Rome. Just think of Armuchee with the Rome & Northern electric car line, a pants factory, and other big businesses, so keep your eye on a growing Armuchee."

The electric car line never materialized, but Armuchee's new pants factory opened on schedule.

Records at the Floyd County courthouse show a charter petition of October 21, 1909 by Allie W. Watters and E. D. Bean, both of Floyd County, for a capital stock company of $50,000 to "manufacture cotton and woolen goods into clothes, sacks, bags and other items. That the venture prospered is evidenced both by official record and by recollections of Rome and Armuchee people who witnessed its operation.

APPLICATION was filed on October 9, 1913, four years after the original petition, by Watters and Bean, "each holding 50 per cent of the stock in the "Armuchee Pants Manufacturing Company," for an amended charter 'to encompass added ownership and operation of wheat and corn mills, lumber and sawmills and cotton gins; to own, sell and lease water power, to buy and sell cottonseed, to manufacture cotton and woolen goods from the raw material and to weave and spin and manufacture all kinds of knit goods . . .

This expansion marks the purchase by Watters and Bean of the electric power plant that furnished current for the pants factory, a 220-yolt generator mounted in a busy combination of grist mill, flour mill, sawmill, planing mill and cotton gin, all driven by a powerful water turbine at a milldam situated on the Armuchee Creek just below the Little Texas Valley Road bridge and perhaps a quarter of a mile from the new Armuchee Baptist Church on U.S. Highway 27 nine miles north of Rome.

This busy enterprise, known to old-timers as the Seab Wright mill, seems to have been built well before 1900 and to have been managed by a number of able superintendents. Unlike most other mills of this region, which used standard overshot wheels of limited power, this structure housed a vertical-shaft turbine which, driven by the weight of countless tons of water escaping through its vanes from the deep "water house" above, furnished power in plenty to supply the many machines it served.

A TWO-STORY wooden building, the new pants factory was located a few hundred yards from today's U.S. Highway 27 on grounds immediately behind the Armuchee Baptist Church and extending south to the Little Texas Valley Road along the line of the Rome & Northern Railroad, of which no trace remains there now beyond a time-rounded hill which runs up from fragmentary abutments of its long-vanished railroad bridge.

Herbert M. McKenzie, retired after many years of service with the Rome Hardware Company and now living at the Plaza Apartments, recalls the old factory clearly.

"I worked there for about a year when I was a boy of 16 or 17," he says today. "The plant was new then . . . Allie Watters, who lived in the house now occupied by the Piedmont Life Insurance on McCall Boulevard (then 603 West Seventh Street) and E. D. Bean owned the mill. Bean was superintendent."

Weaving machines were upstairs, McKenzie recalls, with cutting room downstairs. Cutter was a man named Summerville, for whom he was helper; pants made were shipped out mainly on the Rome & Northern Railroad.

The milldam site with its multiple functions of grain mill, sawmill, cotton gin and electric power plant belonged to Seaborn Wright, he says, until bought in 1913 by and Bean; McKenzie's father operated the water mill for some years, probably 1901 to 1908, when he was succeeded by Cicero Rudd.

"THE IRON bridge that crosses the creek just what is left of the old dam," McKenzie says, "was built around 1910 or 1911. It replaced an older wooden bridge."

The milldam itself impounded at least eight feet of water, providing a considerable pressure. Remnants of its masonry construction still are imbedded in the creekbanks on either side, just below the bridge, and of the dam itself only enough remains across the creek bed's bottom to provide a swift-water drop of perhaps one foot in normal weather. A sizable lake farther upstream in Texas Valley, formed by the dam of what was once known as the Fouche Mill, was a haven for local sportsmen; Herbert McKenzie recalls that he used to fish there in latter years with such anglers as B.T. Haynes, W.J. Griffin, Nevin King and others. A "Fouche's Mill Fishing Club" was chartered on October 27 of 1905 by W.J. Griffin, S.A. Marshall, B.T. Haynes, D.W. Curry, H.P. Meikleham, Ralph L. Wilson and George B. Smith. With them, often came others including D.B. Hamilton, "Ad" Dean and Buck Simpson.

Presumably, this old site was the Texas Valley Milling Company, since such a concern was chartered on January 23, 1897 by D. W. Curry, H.A. Dean, W. J. Griffin, D.B. Hamilton, Arthur Sullivan et al, "to gin cotton, grind grain, build dams, etc. ..." Long after the mill had discontinued operations the dam was breached by heavy storm floods and was not rebuilt.

William F. Rudd of 2009 North Broad Street, retired for years from his position as superintendent of the Etowah Cooperage Company but still active at the age of 77 in overseeing the 5,000-acre timber holdings of that corporation's successors in Flovd, Bartow and Chattooga, also remembers both the pants factory and the grist-mill-powerplant complex on the creek by the Little Texas Valley Road.

"That used to be the only road into Texas Valley," he says. "The mill and dam was built some before 1900, just below the bridge."

His father, Cicero Rudd, managed the mill just after Herbert McKenzie's father, but resigned upon its purchase in 1913 by Watters and Bean.

"The dynamo was belted to the big waterhouse turbine that pulled the grist mill," he says. "And a hundred or so feet of shafting extended down the north bank of the creek to pull a sawmill and cotton gin there. Nobody worried about pollution then - the sawmill had a diversion channel cut from the creek to run right past and carry away all the sawdust and loose bark."

In his younger days Rudd also worked at the pants factory, as did his sister, now Mrs. Annis Wade, who furnished a photograph of the millsite during a flood of about 1910. Later he joined the Armuchee Cooperage Company established in October of 1912 by J. R. Brown, H. F. Brown and J. R. Raible, all of Etowah County, Alabama, to manufacture heads for kegs.

"THE COOPERAGE mill stood just north of the pants factory," Rudd says today, pointing out sites with the assurance of long acquaintance. "The new brick church sits on what used to be the cooperage company's log yard . . . Its property came down to the Little Texas Valley Road at the creek, along the line of the Rome & Northern Railroad, so close that we used to pipe live steam from the cooperage plant boilers to heat the pants factory in winter."

The cooperage mill was burned at an early date, Rudd says, and was rebuilt. It burned again in 1934 and the company was dissolved on November 26th of that year on petition of vice president A. G. Montgomery.

The parts factory itself was closed for a time for lack of power after its generating plant burned, The Rome Tribune-Herald of May 14, 1916 carried a graphic account of that destruction:

"BIG FIRE AT ARMUCHEE . . . Blaze at Midnight Destroys Power Plant, Mills . . . Probably started by a defect in the dynamo or other portion of the power plant; a big fire shortly before midnight completely destroyed the plant of the Armuchee Water Mills, nine miles from Rome. The plant owned by A.W. Watters included a flour mill, electric plant, sawmill and cotton gin, all of which are a total loss...

"First intimation of the fire reached the people of Armuchee when their electric lights went out, leaving the little community in darkness. The electric plant furnished power for the Armuchee Pants Company, which will now be compelled to shut down for a time. Loss was estimated at $12,000, and was not insured. Mr. Watters says that he will rebuild . . .

THE WATER MILL complex was not rebuilt. The pants factory reopened, presumably powered from commercial electric lines; during World War I it turned out large quantities of U.S. Army uniforms, specializing, from information by Bill Salmon (now retired in a handsome home on a tree-shaded hill just north of the once-busy hamlet of Armuchee) in the khaki trousers of the "lace-legged" type worn with boots or the old spiral-wound puttee leggings.

The building stood empty for some years after operation ceased, Bill Salmon says. Will Rudd recalls that its machinery was moved to a location on West Fifth Avenue about where the Dempsey-Covington building now stands, and operated there for a time. Co-partner E. D. Bean was also a founder, along with J. L. Bass, E. A. Heard and J. H. Taylor, of the Rome Manufacturing Company in October of 1901; it is entirely possible that the West Fifth Avenue plant may have operated as a branch of this older and larger company.

Talking with others besides Herbert McKenzie, W. F. Rudd and Bill Salmon--among them Harry and Larry Salmon and W.G. Scoggin, familiar through family heritage with the once bustling community's history--brings to light other interesting facts about old Armuchee.

AMONG THRIVING early businesses were the Scoggin & Rudd and the Burkhalter gins, the Scoggin brick store at the upper end of the town's street and the Salmon grocery and garage center. This garage, Bill Salmon says, in the 1920's operated the first automobile wrecker service in Floyd County.

Tom Salmon, who founded his original business in a huge and rambling wooden building that combined merchandising with warehousing, was area distributor of Coca-Cola in the early 1900's, sending a huge wagon to Rome daily for stock and distributing the drink by smaller horse-drawn vehicles to stores at Gore, Subligna, Everett Springs, Curryville, Floyd Springs and Rosedale.

E.D. "Doc" Bean, co-owner of the pants factory, lived at Armuchee, Bill Salmon says, and owned the first car in that community.

An old bridge known as the "Farmers Bridge" once crossed just above the present weathered concrete span on old U.S. Highway 27 (then called the Summerville Pike), leading directly into Armuchee. This was built, both Bill Salmon and W. G. Scoggin say, by chain-gang labor under Warden P. B. "Bun" Conway around 1926.

THE PANTS factory and accompanying grist mill and power plant combination are gone now, the cotton gins vanished and the sawmills quiet. The new U.S. 27 Highway by-passed the little community center years ago with a new white concrete bridge, and an new brick church has replaced the old wooden one above the hillside cemetery.

Little is left of the old industries except weathered traces of masonry abutments where the once busy milldam harnessed clear mountain waters, and crumbling stone piers mark the crossing of the old Rome & Northern Railroad and the Farmers' Bridge.

These, and the weed-grown lots where the Salmon and Scoggin stores once hummed with activity, where the Masons and Odd Fellows met in their joint lodge and the local "switch house" telephone exchange hired its own operators and set its own rules of operation.

THERE IS NO lack of prosperity in the community today, and it may be that not even the most nostalgic older resident would like to see the return of the old, slow days.

Still the once bustling little town stands as a mute monument to a way of life destroyed by the swift and distance-conquering automobile and at the same time offers, in this time of mushrooming inflation and worsening power shortages, the bare possibility of eventual resurrection.

For, if the automobile dies, the small town may live again.

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