End of an Era

Arial view of the Opelika Cotton Mill - 1955 courtesy of

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.

Whistle Blows Noon - Lewis Wickes Hine, 1914 - Courtesy of the Library of Congress

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.

Personnel Office (across from mill)

Mill Water Facility front door - mills use mass quantities of water so frequently they had their own tower to ensure they had enough to operate.

Front of mill

Inside front door - I didn't venture too far as the floors were questionable.

Textile mills were always in danger from fire- This is one of several hydrants on the property.

This entry was added later on in years - it's my understanding before unionization.

looking down the street

This entry was published on April 8, 2012 at 2:51 pm. It’s filed under Alabama, child labor laws, cotton mill, Opelika, southern living, Uncategorized, workers union rights and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

19 thoughts on “End of an Era

  1. It is so sad to see these once vital pieces of our existance fade away. My family grew cotton for years and there are several abandoned gins around. Wonder what will eventually become of us?

    • It makes me sad also. It’s amazing how many people (young and old) do not understand what it takes to manufacture anything. One of my passions is textiles. I spin and weave as a hobby (it’s also cheap therapy LOL). I have volunteered as museums and most people will say, I didn’t know how fabric, yarn etc. was made. I am grateful that I do this as a hobby and don’t have to grow, process, spin and weave or knit etc what I and my family wear. As slow as I knit we would be barefooted. Making fabric by hand is a slow, tedious process.
      I have seen it in factory setting. It is simply amazing. But also it wrecks havoc on the environment and on the workers. The BBC movie, North and South shows how horrible working conditions were – here’s a link In modern times working conditions have gotten better but there have been many mill workers that have “brown lung” due to the poor ventilation in most mills. Sorry for the yammering on, it’s a subject near and dear to me…

  2. Thanks for the visit to an old factory. I will come back and look at it again this evening. Old factories have a history of humanity in them. I may follow your lead and do an old shoe factory where both my parents worked, and my brother and I also. I have the scars to prove it. But it was a learning experience that I would not trade for the world. THanks for a great post that can be looked at and thought about several times over. Wally

    • Wally, I look forward to a post about the shoe factory. It will be made more interesting as there is a familial connection. Thank you for your kind words.

  3. Pingback: The Old Opelika Cotton Mill | The Short Stories of Waldo

  4. Stephanie, I told you that your post of this old mill had somehow imbeded itself in my mind. Please forgive what I am about to tell you.
    I wrote a poem about the old mill and posted it on one of my blogs. I credited you with the original idea and also posted a link to your “End of an Era” so that people could see what i was attempted to write about.
    I hope that this does not offend you. If you wish to peruse what I wrote it is at

    Thank you in advance for any understanding that you may offer me. AND ESPECIALLY FOR YOUR INSPIRATIONAL POST.

    • Thank you so much Wally, I am most deeply and humbly moved that my post could inspire you to write. Thank you 🙂 You have put into words what I can not. Thank you for expressing what I was feeling.

  5. Stephanie, I was not happy with the meter of what I wrote so I re-wrote it. I hope it is better. Also, I posted another one of my TOO LONG posts but the first half has to do with the shoe factories and their workers that you showed interest in.

  6. Hello Stephanie, another piece of southern history beautifully encapsulated. I really enjoy reading your posts about the south and seeing the photographs. I hope the mill does get restored and remain as a monument to all the workers.

    What has happenend to the Alabama cotton industry, is cotton still grown and manufacured in the south?

    • Hi Finn,
      Thank you, I really do love these old buildings. I’m glad that I can share what I see and experience. Unfortunately for the mill, it probably will continue to deteriorate. It’s in a run-down part of town and right on the railroad track – good for industry, but not for turning into loft apartments.

      Cotton is still grown here. It is the primary row crop grown in Alabama, exceeding the individual acreages for corn, soybeans, peanuts, and wheat. Although known as “The Cotton State”, Alabama ranks between eighth and tenth in national cotton production, according to various reports,with Texas, Georgia and Mississippi comprising the top three. It is my understanding that the United States is the largest exporter of raw cotton with sales of $4.9 billion (in 2009).

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  8. Reminds of Walt Whitman’s poem “I Hear America Singing”. As a retired history teacher I really appreciate this kind of photo essay. Thanks visit my blog.

  9. Amazing journalistic history of this historic place. One day it won’t exist. Thanks to your photo journal it will live on and not be forgotten. 😉

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