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Ask McGehee

Did Mobile ever have a cotton mill?

A 1921 postcard view of the Hamilton Carhartt Mill in Prichard. A fire leveled it in 1943.

A 1921 postcard view of the Hamilton Carhartt Mill in Prichard. A fire leveled it in 1943.

Actually, there were two cotton mills in Mobile at one time. In 1899, Alabama ranked ninth among cotton manufacturing states. Anniston had nine mills, Huntsville had seven and Mobile had two nearing completion. In the 1880s, the South had been home to only a few cotton mills. By the 1920s, the region would eclipse New England in terms of cloth and yarn output.

According to a September 1899 account in the Mobile Register, Mobile Cotton Mills was under construction on property once known as Camp Coppinger, which had operated as a training camp for soldiers during the Spanish-American War. The site was chosen for its proximity to a railway line operated by the Mobile and Bay Shore Railroad, less than a mile north of Spring Hill Avenue.

The article reported that equipment for the manufacture of yarns arrived from Lowell, Massachusetts, and carpenters were busily constructing “20 small tenement houses, each with 3 to 5 rooms to be occupied by mill employees. A store will sell general merchandise and kitchen and household necessities.” A school for the children of millworkers was soon added to the property, which would be known as Cotton Mill Village.

ABOVE Two young workers at the Barker Cotton Mill, 1914.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress

The Second Mill

In March of 1900, the Barker Cotton Mill was incorporated and began operations in an area which would later become Prichard. Named for George G. Barker of Massachusetts, the mill produced cotton fabrics rather than yarns. Like the mill in Mobile, the owners provided worker housing as well as a school for their children.

In the early 1920s, the Prichard mill briefly operated as part of Hamilton Carhartt & Co., which had sewing operations stretching from Dallas, Texas, to Liverpool, England, and is still in existence today with headquarters in Michigan. The arrangement did not last long. By 1924, city directories list the firm as Cotton Mills Products Company, which survived until a disastrous fire in 1943.

In September of 1944, the 63 mill workers’ houses were advertised for sale at $125 each. The new owner purchased them all for rental property, installing water lines and sidewalks while city streets were cut through the village. The Mobile County School Board reportedly obtained the rest of the property.

Mobile Cotton Mills in Crichton last appears in the 1950 city directory. The Mobile and Bay Shore Railroad had disappeared more than a decade earlier, and the property now adjoined Bay Shore Avenue. A portion of the mill survives today and adjoins Teague Brothers Carpet Cleaning and Sales. Nearby Mill Street is a reminder of the history of this section of Mobile. 

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