Sweetwater Creek State Conservation Park - Lithia Springs, Georgia
According to legend,
Sweetwater Creek is the namesake of Cherokee Indian Chief Ama-Kanasta. While we may never know for sure, there is
abundant evidence that Native Americans lived in this area for centuries, certainly since
the woodland period (1000 BC to 1000 AD).
The hills on the south side of the park are known locally as Jacks Hill,
named after Chief Jack, reputed to be buried in the area.
In 1832, after the Cherokee
Tribes were forced from the state, this part of Georgia was divided into 40-acre
land lots and offered to the public in a lottery. The land that is now the park was won by Phillip
J. Crask. Mr. Crask must not have had much
success as the property was sold on the courthouse steps just five years later to John
Boyle for $12.50. In 1845, for, $500 Boyle
sold his property to Colonel James Rogers of Milledgeville and former Georgia Governor
Charles J. McDonald of Cobb County.
The two entrepreneurs
incorporated the Sweetwater Manufacturing Company, completing a textile mill on this site
in 1849. The topography along Sweetwater
Creek provided an ideal location for a water-powered factory. In 1857 Charles McDonald reorganized the company
into the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, outfitted the factory with new machinery
and tripled the output. Assets of the company
were listed at $50,000.
In 1861, with the outbreak of the Civil War, production at the factory was
contracted to the Confederate government. Unfortunately, by
aligning with the Souths war effort, the New Manchester operation became a
legitimate military target. During the battle
for Atlanta, Union General William T. Sherman ordered the destruction of mills in Roswell,
Georgia and New Manchester. Indiana and
Kentucky troops under the command of General Stoneman occupied New Manchester, Georgia on
July 2, 1864. The factory buildings were put
to the torch on July 9th.
The factory workers and
their families referred to as operatives in dispatches and newspaper articles
of the day were gathered and transported to Marietta, Georgia where they were combined
with the operatives from the Roswell factories. Train
through Chattanooga and Nashville Tennessee to Louisville, Kentucky carried the entire
group. After a period of confinement, the
workers were dispersed throughout Ohio and Indiana for the wars duration. When the fighting ended, a number of the
operatives found their way back to New Manchester, but finding their homes and livelihood
destroyed, moved on. No real attempt was ever
made to rebuild the factory.
The following numbered
paragraphs correspond to the numbered locations on the map and along the trail. Follow the tour at your own pace.
ROAD This roadbed, while not a primary route in use by the New Manchester
community, may well have been a lane leading to nearby private properties or home
STREET The New Manchester communitys main street, this roadway
paralleled Sweetwater Creek. Approximately ½
mile to the north, or upstream, Fergusons Crossing was also the last bridge across
Sweetwater Creek before the stream emptied into the Chattahoochee River several miles
downstream. Important during the operation of
the New Manchester factory, this bridge lay along the route to the railhead in Atlanta and
played a critical tactical role in the advance of Union troops toward New Manchester in
July of 1864. From the crossing south to the
New Manchester factory, this route was called Sweetwater Factory Road. Immediately upstream from this marker, a century
of water fluctuations have washed out an entire section of the roadbed.
MILL TOWN The land on either side of the creek throughout this area was owned by
the New Manchester Manufacturing Company (originally the Sweetwater Manufacturing
Manchester, Georgia was a typical mill town of the 19th century with the
company providing housing for many of the workers and their families. Houses were built on the ridges along the creek
and the workers paid rent, which was taken out of their wages. Sixty to seventy people worked at the mill, with
approximately 200 people living within one mile of the factory.
COMPANY STORE The excavated depression to the right of the trail was the site of
the store owned by the New Manchester Manufacturing Company. Operated in classic mill town fashion,
this store was the source of the basic needs of the community: food, clothing, even hardware items. Liberal use of credit ensured that valuable labor
would not leave town while in debt to the company. Three
stories tall, retail space and storage shared the two first floors. As was customary in mill towns such as New
Manchester, space at the company store was allocated to the town post office. The storekeeper was
allowed to live on the third floor with his family. When
Union troops burned the mill on July 9, 1864, the people of the New Manchester community
were invited to take what they would need for their journey before it was set on
DAN AND THE MILLRACE To the left of the trail is the beginning of the millrace. A millrace is a channel into which water is sent
to the factory, supplying power for operation. This
millrace is a man-made ditch built with manual labor and lined with stones from the area. A dam was constructed across Sweetwater Creek at
the entrance to the millrace, backing water upstream as far as Fergusons Mill. A series of gates were located along the millrace
to control the flow of water.
COMMUNITY SPRING Even in years of drought this spring was a reliable source of coo,
clean drinking water. Locations
such as this also served as handy gathering places where personal news and gossip were
exchanged, serving much the same function as the village and courthouse squares in larger
POWER OF WATER Stand on the bridge and look immediately downstream in the millrace. Only a few short years ago the large flat rock to
the right side of the millrace was almost under the bridge.
The force of the creek water keeps moving it downstream a bit at a time.
STONE WALL The stonewall to the left of the trail marks the outer edge of this
section of the millrace.
The natural slope of Sweetwater Creek began to get steeper than desired by the
designers of the millrace system. To keep the millrace
water at the lesser rate of fall on its approach to the factory, this hand laid stonewalls
was built on the side of the hill. This
section of millrace has been dry since the loss of the control gates (located where the
millrace changes from wet to dry).
FACTORY At five stories, this factory building was taller than any building in
Atlanta in 1860. The lumber was cut and saw
milled locally. The
bricks were made on the property and the foundation stones were quarried downstream from
this site. Looking at the building, notice
that the windows flare outward toward the inside of the wall. Since open flame light sources were not allowed in
the mill for fear of fire, this window design allowed natural light from outside to
disperse into the interior, maximizing the lighting inside the factory. Bales of cotton, brought from the railhead in
Atlanta, were converted at the New Manchester mill to cotton yarns and a material known as
osnaburg (a loose weave material lighter than canvas but heavier than linen). The machinery required for cleaning raw cotton,
spinning and coloring yarns, and waving the fabric was powered by the water of Sweetwater
Creek. The millrace funneled creek water into
the arch on the west face of the building, flowing through the factory and out the arch on
the creek side. The water turned a huge water
wheel resembling a large barrel placed on its side. Weighting
50,000 pounds (25 tons), this wheel provided a tremendous amount of energy. A series of shafts, gears, and leather belts
distributed this energy to the machines throughout the building.
by: Park Staff and Dan Emsweller, Park Volunteer
Some information has been provided by GA State Parks Dept.