Column #118

Clarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History


Today the old Clarkdale Thread Mill serves as the site of government offices for the City of Austell. Photo courtesy of William Johnson.

If you're a hand quilter, chances are you have used quilting thread made by Coats & Clark at some point, but you may not have given much thought to where and how that thread was produced.

The Coats & Clark company, which celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2012, is, according to its website, "Part of the world's largest textile/thread manufacturing company. The company's products sell in over 150 countries for industrial and home use."

An interesting chapter in the Coats & Clark history as it relates to quilting thread occurred in a special community in Georgia known as Clarkdale.

Located near Austell, Georgia, and now considered part of metro Atlanta, Clarkdale was built in 1932 as a self-contained mill village by the Clark Thread Company.

Bales of cotton arrived by rail at the Clarkdale Thread Mill, where the cotton was carded, spun, and then twisted onto large spools. These spools would then be sent to a number of finishing mills located throughout Georgia, where the thread would be dyed, converted into different sizes according to its intended use, put onto smaller spools, and packaged for sale.  

The finishing mill in Albany, Georgia was where most of the quilting thread was produced, but everything originated in Clarkdale. 

Raymond Meadows has fond memories of life in Clarkdale. He grew up there—his father was the overseer of the village—and he met and married his wife there. His whole family worked at the mill, and he spent his entire career with the Clark Thread Company, working his way up to be Supervisor of the testing lab at Clarkdale and having responsibility for quality assurance for all the mills in Georgia. 

"In Clarkdale we had everything we needed and wanted right there," the 86-year-old Meadows recalls. "There were 98 houses, some single-family and some duplexes, and they rented for 50 cents a room per week. They had all the modern conveniences of that time, including electricity and indoor plumbing.

“We had our own school, post office, credit union, swimming pool, churches, movie theatre, basketball court, and a baseball field as good as the Atlanta Crackers [an early professional baseball team]. The company was good to its employees and we did a lot of things as a community like dances and picnics. Nobody ever locked their doors--it was a fine place to live and work."

The Clarkdale Thread Mill closed in 1985, a victim of a changing market and competition from cheaper cotton and labor abroad, and the village ceased to function as a separate community.

Today, the mill itself serves as the site of government offices for the City of Austell. The unique three-story building, which once served as the starting point for thread used by quilters, now includes not only offices and the city library, but also a museum dedicated to the historic Clarkdale mill. 

These days, all the mills in the United States have closed and all Coats & Clark thread is produced abroad. In the state of Georgia, however, the memory lives on of the time when an entire community was built around thread.

 

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