Sunday, September 2, 2012

Rollin' on the River - Living and Writing in Woodstock, GA

The tranquil Little River slides through the southern end of our county. The seasons make the river fluctuate. February and March cause surging water and wide banks. The length of a hot, dry summer can temporarily turn the course into an ebbing stream in certain places. According to the map, the origin is near the western county line. In my car as I pass over the river at Trickum Road, Arnold Mill Road or by the SCRA ball fields, my sight makes a quick detour from the road so I can check the flow. I like the thought of the river quietly moving through the land. For many years, though, I was somewhat oblivious to this waterway. Then one day, our city historian, Juanita Hughes, shared information about the 1843 Saye family farm covering 80 acres along and near Little River. The rich floodplain made their endeavor a success. Just a few years ago, River Ridge High School took its place at this choice bend in the course. My interest was stirred.

Moving northward and then turning west, Little River is joined by Mill Creek and Rubes Creek, a short distance before Main Street crosses overhead, north of town. The water is zipping along now. Before the river empties into Allatoona Lake near Bells Ferry Road, it passes a section called Rope Mill, famous in our town as a small settlement of grist mills and cotton mills that can be documented as early as 1842. There is speculation of prior mills. The Cherokee Indians may have taken advantage of the location earlier. In 1900, when Woodstock city population was 276, Rope Mill had about 15 employees.  These workers and their families lived in mill housing. The enterprise was certainly the largest employer in town. Hardscrabble times. The people are gone, but the foundation footprint of Rope Mill remains.

Maybe seventeen years ago, my son, a teenager on his mountain-bike, traveled the rickety remains of the old bridge at the site. He told me about the uncommon area, but I did not have a clue about the place. Since then, I've learned a lot. Eventually, Olde Rope Mill Park sprang up and, lately, a new bridge was built, taking you to walking trails. Preservation Woodstock has been busy gathering research and preparing informative signage. For a rewarding outing, put on a pair of hiking shoes and come read the signs for yourself. You will then know the true significance of Little River, and you'll be richer for it--like Jennifer and Tracy Snyder, local residents, who on one occasion gathered their adventurous kids and tubed down the lazy length of Little River. . . . Fun!

(The photos, below, show the river site and mill foundation ruins at Rope Mill Park.)



 To the left is the new bridge going to the mill site, seen from park side.
Viewed from the banks at Olde Rope Mill Park, the beautiful Little River at high level in the spring.



 A view of the mill site. No evidence is visible of former grist or cotton mills, employee homes or other structures that once dominated the landscape from the 1830s until 1949. In preparation for the building of Allatoona Lake, land along the flood plain was purchased and any buildings were destroyed or removed. The Rope Mill closed its doors on Sept.30, 1949 in accordance.

Rope Mill management, employees and their families on closing day in 1949. The official name of the company was Cherokee Cotton Mill operated by Joe and Smith Johnston, Sr. As the years passed, Woodstock natives referred to the business as the Rope Mill.



Remains of the brick foundation and the cotton chute. Cotton bales from the warehouse back on the hill were dropped into the building to begin processing into plow line and well rope.



 If you look closely, the man in a royal blue shirt at the end of the path designates the other end of the building, which was 191' in length. During 60 years time, trees and vegetation have grown over the foundation, hiding evidence of the Rope Mill.



The long raceway funneled water toward the powerhouse and turbine of Rope Mill. This water power gave the enterprise an economic advantage during WWII when they had a contract to produce tent rope for the government.



The dam constructed by John Dorn in 1925 to increase water power coming into the mill.



 Preservation Woodstock signage explaining Rope Mill history, from the park side.



Visitors have crossed the bridge to read additional signage installed by Preservation Woodstock, on the former mill side. Remains of the mill entrance (concrete steps) are nearby. Taking a right, the visitors will immediately traverse the hidden mill foundation footprint. As they continue down the path, they will see the cotton chute, powerhouse, raceway and dam.


A metal sign designates the former entrance to the Rope Mill. The concrete steps and platform, enveloped by greenery, are next to the sign.

(Patti Brady is a member of Preservation Woodstock and the author of the Woodstock series.)