An Old Southern Mill

Decaying boiler.

Decaying boiler.

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101 Tate Drive Newton, Alabama 36352

I will never forget the first time I saw the mill. At the time I was an impressionable teenager with a love for all types of old machinery. Fresh out of basic training, I had just been picked up at the local airport by a military taxi and was being driven to my next duty station where I was to attend flight school.

Riding through the Alabama countryside on a misty dark night, I was immediately impressed by how impoverished the various communities appeared. Most of the buildings along the roadside were either boarded up or had collapsed. Then I saw it. A large brick building off to the left which was slowly disintegrating. Long out of use and overgrown with trees, it was a powerful image that was etched in my memory.

During my stay in flight school, I had neither the time or the freedom to go out searching for old iron. I often thought about the old building and what it might hold in store. I imagined a treasure trove full of rusting machinery just waiting for me to rediscover.

Many years later I returned to the same base. This time I was to perform duties as a flight instructor and I had much more free time than I had when I was a student. Many times I set out to find the old mill but I was always diverted by other finds.

Returning from a trip to a nearby town to see a friend's recently acquired Fairbanks Morse diesel, I spotted the mill again. The image locked in with the picture I had in my mind for all those years.

The building was in bad shape. All of the roof had caved in and all of the windows were gone. Large trees were now growing where once a thriving factory had stood. My hopes of finding any remaining machinery were dashed by the disheveled appearance of the old building.

As long as I was almost there, I figured I would take a look. I walked through a door that was almost impassable because of trees that had grown up in just the wrong places. I stared into the dark room and was surprised by what I saw.

It was really big! The single flywheel was nine feet in diameter with a twelve inch face. The nameplate said, 'HARDIE TYNES BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA SERIAL NUMBER 1195.' It was a single cylinder double acting Corliss style steam engine which was as big as a house. I was so excited that I could hardly contain myself.

I wandered through the remains of that factory in a daze. In a room just to the left of the steam engine was a huge boiler. It was thoroughly rusted out. The doors over the flues were hanging by the threads that remained of the hinges. In another room was a three horse power IHC ignitor model M which, dated by the serial number, was manufactured in 1917. Running the length of the building was a line-shaft which had apparently been powered by the steam engine. I wondered what had gone on in this building so many years ago.

Other pieces of machinery were scattered around the area with no apparent clue as to what their original purpose was. In the largest portion of the building I found what I had been looking for. Peeking up through some rotting hay bales were the saws of several large cotton gins arranged in once neat rows with a lineshaft running overhead. These cotton gins finally revealed what had happened here so long ago. It had been a huge cotton mill.

Outside once again, I stared back at the mill. Many years of wondering had been satisfied. It had been a very memorable day and one that I will never forget.