The ruins of a forgotten factory sit in the woods just a short drive from downtown Atlanta. Originally known as the Sweetwater Manufacturing Company, the factory was built and operated by former Governor, Charles J. McDonald and Col. James Rogers. The land was purchased in 1845 with construction beginning the following year. Built using the natural resources in the area; the mill used the rushing waters of Sweetwater Creek to power a cotton mill that supported an entire town in its heyday. The factory opened on December 21, 1849 producing thread, yarn, and cloth. Incorporated in 1857, the factory was renamed New Manchester Manufacturing Company. Arnoldus V. Brumby became President of the company in 1860. He modernized the facility with new equipment, doubling daily production to over 750 pounds.
In the summer of 1864, the Civil War was nearing its end. General Joseph E. Johnson removed the Confederate Army across the Chattahoochee River, leaving the New Manchester factory exposed to the Union Army. The factory was at full production when two divisions of Union troops under Col. Silus Adams (1st Kentucky) and cavalry under Major Haviland Thompkins (14th Illinois) arrived at 10:00 AM on July 2, 1864. They were given orders to shut it down and arrest all of the employees.
On July 9, 1864, following orders from William Tecumseh Sherman; Major Thompkins returned from destroying the woolen mills at Roswell and burning the New Manchester mill. Union troops poured flammable liquids across all five floors and set the building on fire. The workers were moved to Marietta and detained with other mill prisoners. There were a total of 600 women and children. No adult male workers were in the mill at the time it was captured. All able bodied men had been called to fight for the Confederacy in the battle raging around Atlanta. The women mill workers were charged with treason and spent a week in holding at Georgia Military Institute. While in captivity, it is alleged that several Union soldiers committed acts of assault against their prisoners.
After signing a paper pledging allegiance to the Union, the women and children were sent North by trains, mostly to Indiana. They were then left to fend for themselves in towns already overcrowded by refugees. Many would die from starvation or exposure until a mill opened in 1865, that provided employment. The majority of the women that survived, settled in the North. Very few of the workers ever returned to New Manchester.
After the Civil War, the New Manchester mill was left abandoned. The crumbling brick walls were left to fall apart and be overtaken by the dense Georgia forest. When the area around Sweetwater Creek was turned into a state park in 1972, trails were made that led hikers to the factory ruins. The mill ruins still exist today and are protected by the Sweetwater Creek State Park. All that remains are the brick walls and the millrace that led to the factory’s water wheel.