The history of Mountain Mills…
By Lewis C. Gibbs, Jr.
Around 1835, after the Indians were moving to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, the whites began to buy the land west of Caney Creek, the boundary line.
Armstead Barton was the oldest son of Dr. Hugh Barton, one of ten children. He was also Governor of the Mississippi Territory. In this position he became friend to the Colberts, who were leaders of the Chickasaw Indians. Through this friendship, he came into possession of most of the land in the western part of what is now Colbert County.
His brother, Arthur C. Barton, came into possession of most of the land around Barton, Alabama, or range 13 and township 4. The rest of the land in this area was bought by the Prides, the Thompsons, the Rutlands, W. W. Bayless, Hextor Atkisson, the Gibbs brothers (Alexander and Jack or J. E. Sr.) and the Greenhills.
The Hextor Atkinson family lived near the site of the future Mountain Mill Industry Village. The Bayless family lived about a mile east; the Thompson and Rutland families a mile east and south; the Prides about two miles east and A. C. Barton two miles north.
The Hexton Atkisson family consisted of nine children, eight girls and one boy. Bob Garner married one of the girls. Another girl married three times, Mr. Moore, Mr. Donley, and Mr. Whitley. The son married twice, Susan Danley and Lucy Sherrod. His name was Arthur Atkisson. Two of the sisters never married and they out-lived all of them. They later lived at the James S. Barton home which was owned by John Whitley, a nephew. Not only a landowner, Hextor Atkisson was a Justice of the peace for many years. His wife was named Sally Franklin and was said to be from the same family as Ben Franklin. W. W. Bayless was also a Justice of the peace and a large land owner.
Capt. J. S. Stickels was from the North and connected with steam boating on the Tennessee River before the War between the States, but fought for the South in the war. He was married to Elizabeth Olds, a niece of Mrs. Hextor Atkisson. It is said that he was a brave and courageous soldier and was a gallant defender of the South. He was born April 19, 1827, and died April 5, 1883. His grave was marked in the fall of 1995 in the Atkisson Cemetery.
After the war was over, J. H. Stickels and James Johnston put in a sawmill near the Mountain Mill Village. This mill was powered by steam. Later they put in a grist mill. It was a practice then to use this machinery on Saturday to grind meal. There were two different engines, run by the same boiler.
At a later date, a foundry and machine shop were installed. James Wright was brought in as a pattern maker and machine shop man. He had been in this business all through the war at Florence, Alabama, near where Mars Hill Bible School is today. All of these operations were successful.
Asa Messenger, publisher of the North Alabamian and other publications was encouraging Southerners to start manufacturing their own goods. This would save the high tariff on raw material shipped to the north and the shipping cost to ship the finished product back.
In 1872 the group of men mentioned above, along with N. F. Cherry and others, organized the Mountain Mill Company. Their purpose was to build a cotton mill to make thread from cotton and maybe cloth and other items also.
N. F. Cherry was born in Hardin County, Tennessee, near Savannah. The ten years before coming to Mountain Mills had been spent in merchandising and steam milling.
The Mountain Mill Company started with seventy-five thousand dollars ($75,000) in stock. A corporation was formed under the laws of Alabama. Shares were sold to local people. It is said that every rich person in the county bought stock in the company.
The factory was built and machinery from New Jersey was bought and installed. It is said that the machinery was used. The building was a three-story brick and we think it was about 100 feet by 200 feet, with boiler room and engine room attached, with about a 100-foot smoke stack. After the machinery was installed they began to hire people to operate the mill.
Some of these families are still in this area, the Blankenships, Burrows, Hargetts, Inmans, Keetons and others. These families consisted mostly of girls. Women and children were used a lot in operating the mill. They also built a company store or commissary. Mr. Houston Ramsey was brought in to operate this business. He is referred to in the East Florence story. Homes for the people and a church and school were built. They built one building and used it for church and school. This building is still in use today in the Barton area by a black congregation.
Some of the preachers that preached at Mountain Mill were E. C. Fuqua, J. D. Tant and others. A professor Blaylock was brought in to run the school. Another teacher was E. C. Hamilton.
|Edward C. Fuqua
Preacher at Mt Mills Church
A small town of about three hundred people came together around the mill. It was written that there was no need for law enforcement or courts.
In 1874, more money was needed. Twenty-five thousand dollars in bonds was floated with the German National Bank of Memphis, Tennessee, at 10% interest, payable every six months.
The company operated for twelve years, but seemed to be in financial trouble all the time. Miss Nina Leftwich stated in her book “Two Hundred Years in Muscle Shoals” that this was due to the used machinery that was installed when the operation started.
In 1883, the German National Bank foreclosed on the Mountain Mill Company. We have no record of their closing. We assume that W. N. Cherry bought their stock or debt. On April 7, 1883, W. N. Cherry bought out Arthur C. Barton and W. W. Bayless for $9,100.00. Miss Nina Leftwich said it sold for 5% of the original investment.
After this W. N. Cherry formed a partnership with N. F. Cherry and C. N. Brandon. Mr. Brandon was an experienced cotton mill operator. He came out of Cypress mill, a mill near Florence, which had closed. They invested $100,000.00 in capital stock, brought $35,000.00 worth of new machinery, and began operating in a big way. They loaned money to every farmer in the county. We have a copy of many of the loans on crops and stock and equipment. I believe the mill contracted fro the cotton they raised. However, this is not stated on the loans.
Some of the chief clerks who signed some of the loans are E. C. Hamilton, who is our great uncle; John Whitley, who was a grandson of Hextor Atkisson; Mr. Charles Womble, who was the first Probate Judge of Colbert county; and James H. Simpson. Simpson was connected with the mill in its early stages, but was later in business for himself in Tuscumbia, Alabama. He was our great-uncle twice. He married two of our grandfather’s sisters.
The operation continued for about ten years. In 1892, it was decided to move the mill to Florence, Alabama. We have heard several stories about the reason for moving. One states that the company wanted the county to donate 2,000 acres of land. Another says the roads were barely passable in the winter; therefore, they wanted a railroad spur built to the mill.
We know that this route was considered at one time for a railroad through to Russellville, Alabama, by way of Frankfort.
This is the story of Mountain Mill as I see it from my research and word of mouth all my life.
After 1893, the foundry and machine shops were left in place, and perhaps the sawmill and gristmill. Mr. R. E. Blankenship said he helped move the boiler and machinery to the railroad as a young boy. He was born in 1901.
The picture of the school was made about 1895 or later. Some of the people went to Florence while others stayed and did other things. There is nothing at the site now but briars and bushes.
My mother’s family lived in the store house about 1910. We think the Blankenship family lived in it at one time. About 1915, a sawmill company came into the area and used this for headquarters. Mr. Sam Williams ran a store for them. Some of his family are still in this area. Around 1920, this building was moved to Barton, Alabama by Mr. Sam Williams we think. Some time in the 1950’s this building burned. That was the last of Mountain Mills.
Source: ancestry.com, accessed 2011