This mill is a monument to the Industrial Revolution, Civil War Reconstruction, the south’s cotton history, small business, city development, child labor laws, workers union rights and the generations of people who worked in this mill from childhood to death.
The Old Opelika Cotton Mill, in Opelika, Alabama, built by businessmen & city leaders in 1900 to provide industry for the city, was a cotton textiles manufacturing facility. The building was added onto in the late 1930’s-early 1940’s. It operated under the name Opelika Manufacturing Company.
The original building is semi-obscured by added constructs.
The 1979 classic movie about cotton textile workers union rights, Norma Rae, starring Sally Field & Beau Bridges, was filmed here. Opelika Manufacturing is a significant site, since a few years prior to the film, it was unionized just as the cotton mill in Norma Rae was. It was a hot, miserable place to work, where humidity was actually added (in Alabama in the summer?!) to keep the lint down, where the temperatures often exceeded 100 degrees F. (particularly if any lighting was done at all), and the floor shook up and down with every throb of the machinery that filled the building. Sally won the 1980 Oscar for Best Actress for her role.
The mill was abandoned in 2004. Plans to renovate it into apartments & condos was put on hold due to the recession. It continues to deteriorate. As a side note, the “new” mill that was built further down the road to replace this facility – Pepperell Manufacturing Company (later WestPoint Home)- was established and flourished until its recent closing in 2006. It is currently being demolished. It is truly and end of an era.