"The women will howl"

Katy did the Junior Ranger book for Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA) a few months ago and wanted to learn more about the mills in Roswell. We were supposed to take a ranger-led tour of the mills Memorial Day weekend but it was canceled. So we signed up again and woke up bright and early this morning and headed out to Roswell.

The whole story is very interesting with a sad ending. Roswell King was from Connecticut and moved to Georgia at age 15. He lived in South Georgia near the coast, where he got married. He wanted to get his wife away from malaria, which at the time was attributed to the humidity. He saw all the water in Vickry Creek (also called Big Creek) and decided to put it to use operating textile mills. He built several mills, hired about 400 workers and convinced some of his rich friends to move to the area so he’d have someone to socialize with. He planned to send for his wife after he got the mills up and running. Before he could do that, she contracted malaria and died.

Then the Civil War happened.

Plaque with history

One of the mill buildings. I can’t imagine how hot and stuffy it must have been.

We also saw the wheel that powered the mills. I didn’t even realize it was still there.

Water wheel

Our ranger explaining about the wheel and mill race.

The water that powered Roswell

So what happened to the mills during the Civil War? With all the able-bodied men off to fight the war, the mills were kept going by women (nearly half of them under 18), older children and a few men not able to fight in the war. They put a French person in charge of the mill and he ran up a French flag hoping that the Union Army wouldn’t want to get into it with a foreign country. That worked until General Gerrard, serving under General Sherman, was sent to the area to secure a bridge and fort and realized what was really happening. The mills were producing cloth for the for Confederate Army. It was called Roswell Cloth or Roswell Gray and used to make uniforms and tents. Gerrard burned the mills down and notified Sherman who sent back this response:

“I had no idea that the factories at Roswell remained in operation, but supposed the machinery had all been removed. Their utter destruction is right and meets my entire approval, and to make the matter complete you will arrest the owners and employees and send them, under guard, charged with treason to Marietta …I repeat my orders that you arrest all people, male and female, connected with those factories, no matter what the clamor, and let them foot it, under guard, to Marietta, whence I will send them by cars to the North…the poor women will make a howl. Let them take along their children and clothing, providing they have the means of hauling, or you can spare them.”

They were supposed to walk the 13 miles, but Gerrard loaded them in some empty supply wagons and let them ride.

The 400 women and children (and a handful of men) were eventually sent to Kentucky and Ohio. Many were held as POWs until the end of the war. Many were just dumped in towns where they knew no one, had no money and no means. They were released when the war was over. A few made it back to Roswell, but most stayed in Kentucky and Ohio. Getting back was expensive and still dangerous and they knew there wasn’t much to come back to, anyway. Many were young women who married men further north. No one really knows what happened to most of them, it’s just a lost part of history. One woman did make it back only to find her husband had remarried. He came home from the war, she was missing and he just assumed she had died and he moved on with his life.

That wasn’t the end of mill work in Roswell, though. More mills were built after the Civil War and were in production until sometime in the 1970s. Today the mill area is a lot of little shops and restaurants. 

Katy and me with the ranger, whose name I just can’t remember

After learning all about the mills we crossed the covered bridge to the CRNRA land. The whole area is about 35-38 miles long and organized into units. This unit has seven miles of hiking trails. It’s nice way for people to get away from the city without having to actually go anywhere. We saw several hikers out with their dogs. The area was made part of the National Park Service in 1978. Some developers really wanted to get their hands on it but Jimmy Carter was president at the time and knew it was a valuable natural resource and others had been lobbying the federal government to protect it as well. Our ranger said it’s the largest natural area of its type in a metropolitan area. About 3 million people come through it each year. Besides lots of hiking, the river is popular for boating, tubing, swimming and fishing and there are lots of programs offered.

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