Family Stories: The Union-Chipman Mill and the families who worked there
Employees waiting for work shift
In searching for history on the Union-Chipman Mill in Union Point, I found a gold mine of info in a financial document…. treasures waiting for me to discover.
I might assume that when the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 went into place… many businesses were audited. The FLSA is a federal law which establishes minimum wages, overtime pay eligibility, record keeping, and child labor standards affecting both fulltime and part time workers in the private sector and in federal, state and local governments. President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to it as the most important piece of “new deal” legislature since the Social Security Act of 1935.
Like many documents you click online… discovering that you really can’t download… or telling you access only at local library. Well as I never give up right away…. and that paid off for me as I noticed a link to actually download if you were affiliated with a college. Hmm… I scrolled down and located Yale as an affiliate, and bingo.. an hour later, with a friends help, it was in my drop box. I was so excited to finally have my hands on it!
Granddaddy Bryan received this coin when he retired from the mill. In possession of granddaughter Paulette.
Almost everyone in Union Point has worked, or had a family member who worked, in the mill… it pretty much supported the entire town until it’s final closing in 2001. My grandfather, Paul Bryan, worked there for 38 years. His brothers, Leon, Clyde, and Gordon, and even my grandmother, Evelyn Bryan, also worked there along with several cousins. My mother worked there after she married, but only for a few weeks… she hated it!
Map showing mill location and mill housing
This document on the Union Manufacturing Company was of a study done by the Research and Statistics Branch of the United States Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. It was written in 1941, from data studied between October of 1938 through March 1941 of their payroll deductions. I found this document at the University of Illinois library… and am still wondering how or why they came to have this document?
Samuel H. Sibley began bringing hosiery mill machinery from Athens, in 1890, to Union Point… he had an idea, and that was the beginning of the towns textile mill industry. Construction didn’t begin until 1897, and by 1898 the mill was incorporated as the Union Manufacturing Company. The first charter to begin the mill was signed by several local family names… Hart, Carlton, Newsome, Thornton, Fluker, Sibley and Bryan. The mill soon began producing cotton underwear… later changing to socks and yarns.
Making the socks!
All my father’s socks came from the mill… whenever we visited my grandparents, there was always a few boxes of socks waiting for him. I don’t remember if my socks came from there… actually I don’t even remember wearing socks as a kid… living in the south, it was often either barefoot or flip flops for me! I even remember granddaddy buying socks for my husband when I married in 1971. They initially produced the yarn used in knitting socks in the beginning, but later imported it when it became un-productive to produce. Granddaddy saved many of those cones the yarn was wrapped around for my mother once… she made a circular-type craft with a mirror in the center when we lived in Perry.
The “one-sided street” of Union Point, Georgia
The small one-street town of Union Point was growing… due to the railroad and the mill! It was the mill which supported the people… and which grew the town! The town soon needed more housing for the workers, so like many mills all over the country… they built housing. About 1900, a subsidiary of the Union Point Improvement Company was began by the Hart Family. Mill housing was built on surrounding mill property along Wooten Ave., off Lamb Avenue. Later additional housing was built north of the mill along the streets off Witcher, Newcome, Hilliard, Ray, Underwood, Hendry, Dennis, and also on Carlton and Hart Avenue.
Mill housing began to be rented out in the 1920’s and 30’s at the weekly rate of fifty-cents per room, per week; at that time there was no electricity or sewage services. Heat was supplied by coal… at a cost of $3 a ton to the mill. The U. M. Co. owned all the mill housing until selling it off in 1950-60 to the renters who continued to live there. Four-room houses sold for $1, 500 at that time. My cousins grandparents, Louella (Cheatham) and Jim Lewis, was one of the last renters of the millhousing and finally was allowed to purchase it for $2400… possibly in the late sixties. By the late seventies, the mill began buying back all their mill housing they had sold… all but the house of Louella and Jim Lewis. They were the last remaining mill house near the mill, at 303 Lamb Avenue, to never be sold back to Union-Chipman Manufacturing Co.
Louella and Jim Lewis’ mill home at 303 Lamb Avenue was actually a little square house, no hall… each room leading into another, with a tiny front porch where everyone enjoyed to sit. Today the mill has built up around this little house, with fencing surrounding it from the mill. This was the only house next to the mill that was never bought back. These type of mill houses were often referred to as “pyramid” housing… in reference to the shaping of the roof.
The Lewis home was very well-known on Lamb Street for the black mynah bird called “Joe” who often sat in his cage watching and talking to everyone who passed by on the sidewalk. When Joe mimicked the train whistle, you had to look twice to see if the train was really there. I can only imagine the workers walking by the Lewis home… looking over to see if Joe was out in his cage… and probably saying “Hi Joe.“
My cousin, Cindy (Bryan-Moore) remembers Joe always being at her grandparents home as long as she can remember. But one thing you didn’t do was try and pet Joe… he never came out of his cage and you never put your fingers inside if you didn’t want to feel the wrath of his beak! One of the most remembered sayings of Joe was “Awe, birds can’t talk” in Mr. Jim’s voice… all his words were only in his voice. If Joe distinguished a woman walking by, you can be assured he gave his best whistle (wolf whistle). There’s a story told that a disgruntled husband once knocked on Mr. Jim’s door to complain that he had whistled at his wife… hope that ended well! My mother often talked about “Joe’s” loud whistle he gave when hearing a woman’s voice!
Evelyn (Little) & Paul P. Bryan
My grandparents lived only a few houses down from “Joe”… as Mama remembers spending the night with her in-laws after she married; it must have been just before granddaddy finished building their house on Binns St. Even after moving just a short ways away, my grandmother still visited Louelle and I have a vague memory of going along with her and seeing Joe. It was Louelle and my grandmother who gave mama “my” baby shower at 303 Lamb Avenue.
Those employees paying that 50-cent per room rent, were earning between 4-5 dollars per day as a knitting machine fixer in 1933; that was one of the highest paying jobs in the mill and probably the most desired.
The 1938 payrolls showed the mill in Union Point employed between 550-600 employees. The number of employees varied between those numbers… depending upon the season of the year. That could be attributed to school kids working there or family needed during certain seasons to help on the family farms. At least 400 of those employees lived in Union Point, with another 1/3 living in nearby towns like Greensboro and Penfield. Those that worked in the mill from out of town often boarded at the City Hotel, just across from the mill; staying there during the week and returning home on weekends.
The Union Manufacturing Co. was pretty much the sole primary industry supporting the community of Union Point. While there was other retail and establishments there… they provided secondary livelihoods; it was the railroad and mill which kept the community of Union Point growing.
After WWII, the importance of the railroad was decreasing… which began changing the workforce of the country. Passenger travel wasn’t dominant on the trains now as more and more Americans began to own a car. The train line in Union Point once brought workers to the mill, even stopping directly behind the mill for them to exit off. There was also a tunnel walk-through under the railroad lines for town people to walk through if the train was stopped on the tracks; the locals called it the “rat hole.” My mother remembers walking through there with her girlfriend… although she says we usually ran through as they found it scary.
The “rat hole” where workers walked to work… under the train tracks.
Anyone growing up in Union Point told time by the mill whistle… it blew daily at 6 – 2 – and 10. When we lived on Binns St., mama tells me I’d run to the front steps when the afternoon whistle blew… to wait for my grandfather, and I’d fall in-step behind him to walk down to his house. If you knew my grandfather, Paul Bryan, you know he walked with a limp… one leg slightly shorter than the other; being a young child, I mimicked his walk. It drove my mother crazy… she worried I would continue walking that way.
Binns St. – Granddaddy’s short daily walk to the mill
My grandparents, Paul & Evelyn Bryan, me (Jeanne) with my children Stephen and Melissa… on the famous Bryan back porch!
My grandfather worked in maintenance making gears and later in a department referred to as the “fixers“…. there was never anything he couldn’t fix! He was a foreman in the maintenance department when my mother first met him. Before finally retiring in the mid ’70s he worked the night shift as night watchman, probably so he could farm more during the day… that was his love. When he walked behind his mule and plow… he was the happiest… and when the mule stopped for a break, he enjoyed his cigar!
Being of the generation of “never throwing anything out“… granddaddy told me how he’d bring home scraps of steel to make his famous BBQ choppers; he told me that story when he gave me one. My grandmother also worked at the mill on the carding machines in the spinning room, but I have no memory of her every working… I don’t think she worked there very long.
Work Employment changed with the times
With the advancement of more people now owning cars, it meant that other forms of work soon became available for them outside of Union Point. Automobiles changed the workplaces of America and began the slow demise of the Union Manufacturing Company.
In 1972, the U. M. C. merged with Charles Chipman’s Sons Co. and became known as Chipman-Union, Inc. It still continued to dominate as one of the leading textile mills… an exclusive manufacturer for the IZOD label… a patented sock label. Even though the mill continued, it began slowing down due to open/free trade with overseas countries. It was still operating in the 90’s, but eventually was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2001.
There were about 354 housing units in town owned by the Union Manufacturing company and the Union Point Improvement Co. Rents of employees were deducted from payrolls. My grandparents, Paul & Evelyn Bryan, rented at 48 Lamb Avenue… it was there in that mill house… my father Clayton Bryan was born in 1928.
My grandfather, Paul Bryant (Bryan) listed at 48 Lamb Avenue
48 Lamb Street was a 4-room house with a cost of $1.43 a week. I’m assuming it was a two bedroom with a kitchen and a living room… having open porches on both ends. From the ones I remember, the front porches were enclosed with screen wire… which may have been done over the years by the renter, and at their expense. The back open porch wasn’t very large. While this house is no longer there, I’m told all the ones on the street by the mill pretty much all looked alike. I do have a vague memory as a young girl of seeing that long line of white mill houses.
Granddaddy’s brother Clyde Bryant (Bryan) was listed as living at 9 Binns St., paying $1.71 weekly. Eventually my grandfather bought the dead-end lot on Binns Street and built a house after the 1940 census was taken; he was listed as living in mill housing on the 1940 census.
When my uncle Floyd and Aunt Vivian Bryan (son of Paul Bryan) returned home from the Navy in 1946 he and Aunt Vivian bought the house next door to his parents. They both soon began working at the mill, but later moved to Hickory N.C. in 1950 for more work opportunities; it was a booming hosiery town.
My parents moved back to Union Point after Daddy left the Navy in 1949 and built a house on the corner of Binns and Wotton Ave… one house away from his parents. My granddaddy McKinley purchased the lumber and granddaddy Bryan built our house. In being with the times… Granddaddy McKinley bought the lumber of a house being torn down… the generation of the true green “recyclers” – they threw nothing out, which could be reused; everyone had a pile of junk saved somewhere behind a garage… to pick through when something was needed. I can only imagine the “junk pile” they kept at the mill!
My family remained in Union Point until later moving to Perry about 1957. I’ve always wondered why my father didn’t work at the mill, but I can only surmise that from his training in the Navy as a technician gave him skills to pursue a career in the television repair field and later as a technician at Warner Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia.
My grandparents home sat at the end of a dead end on Binns St. Our house was also on the same block… one house away from theirs.
Mill Apartments on Moody St. (Hwy. 77)
There were varied type housing offered… from houses to apartments, but all were bare basics. The houses had open porches on both ends with outside toilets and water was only piped to about 10 feet from the back door. There was no electricity in the beginning, kerosene lamps were used for light and coal for heat… which was bought through the mill. Inside toilets weren’t installed in the housing units until 1937.
The average rents were “averaged” per room… ranging from 40 to 50 cents per room, per week, with apartments renting slightly lower than housing. On a random inspection of twenty-three house, 16 did not have running water, while 7 did. One house had an indoor toilet, with the rest outside toilets and one house had a bathtub.
Anything and everything the mill supplied to their employees!
Many mills ran stores for their employees to shop in and the Union Manufacturing Co. was no exception. They ran the Super Service Station, which offered a gas service station, groceries, and a meat market. The station was owned in partnership with Mr. F. S. Bryan (VP of mill) and Mr. Owen A. Scott (VP & Superintendent of mill)
Later, the mill even set up its own electrical system around 1926 – Mill Village Electrical System. Before 1938, employees were sold electricity and deductions made through their payrolls.
The Meredith Optical Co. of Augusta sent annually an optician to Union Point to examine employees eyes and fit them with glasses if needed. Prices for new glasses ranged from $7 to $20 dollars… and were deducted from their wages.
In the early 1930’s, the mill also began making small loans to their employees… most likely a practice of many corporations at that time. People didn’t go to banks like they do today… and many didn’t trust banks at that time. The mill borrowed from the Bank of Union Point, charging them a slightly higher rate of interest, or a fee of one-dollar. Again, your loan was repaid through your weekly wages, often over a ten week period. By the 1940’s, they stopped making new loans and dissolved the business. Most likely, at that time, employees were beginning to deal more with banks and not relying on their work employment for everything they needed.
Deductions on payrolls were for houses/rents, grocery/gas/store, electricity, coal, loans and miscellaneous items such as eye glasses. They made it easy for them, but makes me wonder what was left in their weekly paychecks… but at that time, if they didn’t buy on time, they might not have been able to have some of the things they needed. While many may have budgeted well, I’m sure some over-extended themselves and often ended up with almost no paycheck at times.
Just like today, if you are a mechanic, you supply most of your working tools. I always questioned that to my husband, who replied, “if the company supplied all your tools, many wouldn’t take care of them and many would “walk” away.” So it seems that times haven’t changed in that respect.
I found many family members making purchases through the mill for various items, either to perform their work jobs or for home use. It was recorded that my great uncle Clyde Bryant (Bryan) bought many pounds of cotton batting… my grandmother, Evelyn Bryan, sewed quilts… she must have bought her batting from there also? It wasn’t like we had craft stores back then, but I do remember sewing stores around with bolts and bolts of fabric. The women did much more sewing then… from their clothes to the many quilts that warmed their beds. We always had more quilts in our house than needed… and I still have a few of my grandmothers.
All my Bryan family was listed as “Bryant” in their books… maybe they listed them to distinguish from the Bryan family who owned the mill. Neither family was related as their family had been established there for many years before my Bryan line moved to Union Point, Georgia. I also found many misspellings of their name in the document… such as Bryon.
Miscellaneous Items bought through the Mill Store
I also found it interesting in this document that, prior to 1939, the employees in several departments joined together to buy ice to cool their drinking water used during working hours; deductions were made through payrolls. At one point, they finally purchased two mechanical water coolers… also purchased by the employees and paid for through deductions. Imagine today, if a company asked employees to buy through own water and coolers… how times have changed!
What once was a busy area of workers coming and going on shift changes… to the tune of the daily whistle… now sits silent… with only its ghosts and memories.
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