Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Support team: Crew finishes work that will protect Georgia textile mill ruins for decades

Wooden support shortly before it was removed near end of project
Arch now supported by ring of steel plates (Don Scarbrough photos)

Add Tropical Storm Irma to the list of hazards that the remains of the Civil War-era New Manchester textile mill have weathered.

Crews wrapping up a 10-week stabilization of the towering brick ruins at Sweetwater Creek State Park in Douglas County, Ga., were concerned by approaching high winds and the potential for flooding.

“It did fine. The park lost only a few trees,” said park interpretive ranger Don Scarbrough. While Sweetwater Creek rose, water did not flow into the mill’s interior, as it did in 2009.

Contractor Aegis Restauro recently completed a $375,000 stabilization of the New Manchester Manufacturing Co. factory, which at five stories was the tallest building in North Georgia. Thread, yarn and cloth were initially produced when the mill began operations in 1849.

It produced a variety of material for the Confederacy before it was burned in July 1864 by Federal cavalry moving on Atlanta. Nearly 100 New Manchester residents, mostly female workers and their children, were sent north by train to spend the rest of the war. Many took an oath of allegiance to the United States. You can read details of that sorrowful story here.

Graffiti includes Gilbert, a Union soldier part of unit that took mill

“There were some interesting discoveries, like more Civil War graffiti as they cleaned the walls,” Scarbrough said of the project. Some of the initials are believed to have been etched by Federal soldiers, though officials are not certain how many of the new discoveries were made by them.

Workers put in steel rods, applied specialized mortar and installed concrete caps on pillars and around windows, stabilizing the 160-year-old bricks and protecting them from moisture. Some of the bricks are still scorched from the fire that sent tons of machinery crashing to the bottom floor.

Ricky Day, an engineer with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said the slaved-made bricks were solid, but made of softer material than today’s versions.

Mill now includes capstones on top of brick (Photo by Don Scarbrough)

The project was meant to keep the ruins stable at least for several decades and “to keep it from tilting out,” said Day.

A few years ago, Scarbrough said, a group was paddling near the rapids and took a closer look. A member of the Friends of Sweetwater Creek State Park “thought a column was leaning slightly.” Engineers visited the interior in late 2014 and closed it. This summer’s work is the most significant since about 1990.

The work crew had to contend with loose bricks through the structure, including at the tops of brick columns. They used bricks strewn on the floor to make repairs. The top of the tallest wall lost a little height because the masonry was so deteriorated, Day said.

Photos by Don Scarbrough
Plate used to buttress many remaining windows, openings

For at least three decades, a wooden piece supported the arch connecting the mill race (or stream) and the giant wheel that drove the mill machinery. The piece was finally removed in the renovation, and steel plates are supporting the historic arch, making for a more authentic appearance.

Now that the project is complete, the picturesque mill interior will be available again for guided tours by park staff, weddings, photo sessions and filmmakers – all a source of revenue for the state. The mill is enclosed and locked.

While the interior is accessible to only those with a guide, you can get impressive views of the mill from several angles outside the fence.

Courtesy of Don Scarbrough

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