The ruins of a forgotten factory sit in the woods just a short drive from downtown Atlanta. Initially known as the Sweetwater Village mill, the factory was operated by former Georgia Governor, Charles J. McDonald, and Col. James Rogers. The land was purchased in 1845 with construction beginning the following year. The factory opened on December 21, 1849, and produced thread, yarn, and cloth. In 1857, the mill was renamed the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, after the city of Manchester, England. It is considered an engineering feat. Built mostly by slave labor using the natural resources in the area, it involved the construction of a large millrace to channel the rushing waters from Sweetwater Creek through a 45,000 pound, 16-foot-long wheel that powered the cotton mill’s operations. Each of the five floors specialized in part of the process of making yarn or osnaburg cloth. In its heyday, the cotton mill supported an entire town. About 100 workers lived on-site in a small town centered around the textile operations and shopped at the company store. In 1860, Arnoldus V. Brumby became president of the company. 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. The troops had 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. A total of 600 women and children were detained and sent to Marietta. No adult male workers were in the mill when 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, 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, some to Marietta others were sent to Kentucky or 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 abandoned. The crumbling brick walls were left to fall apart and be overtaken by the dense Georgia forest. The area around Sweetwater Creek was made a state park in 1972 and trails were added for hikers to visit 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.