Fri, 10/06/2017 - 12:05am NortheastG1
…memories of village life
Habersham County’s storied history includes zip code 30544, better known as Habersham Mills. Life in the mill’s village was captured by local author Edna Holcomb and is recalled fondly by former residents.
The mill opened in 1906 and was founded by S.Y. Stribling.
Speaking to members of the Rotary Club of Habersham County Aug. 3, Edna Holcomb said she did not grow up at Habersham Mills, didn’t live there and never worked there. But she did write a book about the mill and its village, “A Time that was: The Habersham Mills Story.”
“Life in the mill village was very similar to life in any of the scores of textile mills across the South,” Holcomb said. “Mill employees worked their shifts, they operated the machinery … and when the whistle sounded at the end of the shift, they went home to houses owned by the mill that they rented at a very nominal rate. They bought their food and supplies at the company store. They played baseball on one of those great baseball teams that Habersham Mills sponsored. Their children attended school at a mill-owned school …They developed friendships and ties that run deep enough to last a lifetime. They helped each other in times of sickness or crisis. They married people from other mill families. They were brought up in a time that was safe and secure.”
“When Habersham Mills closed in 1999,” Holcomb said, “a long and lustrous chapter in Habersham County history ended. When that last shift whistle blew on Feb. 28, 1999, the mill’s doors closed on a place and time that almost existed for a century.”
Holcomb said that was a sad day, not only for the mill but for Habersham County and Northeast Georgia.
“There were scores of people who never lived or worked at the mills who felt a sense of loss,” she said.
Many Habersham residents have fond recollections of living and growing up at Habersham Mill.
The dogwood trees were all in bloom, as newlywed Katheryn Stribling made her way into the village in the spring of 1947. “This was the prettiest time of year,” Stribling, now 92, recalled.
Unlike many who were raised in the Habersham Mills Village, Stribling was a newcomer. “I went from being a hotel kid to living in the Habersham Mills Village,” she said.
Katheryn Stribling had married World War II veteran Marion Stribling, who later became the president of the mills, and she moved to Habersham County. The mill was well established at that time. “Everybody knew everybody,” she said.
As a young newlywed, Katheryn Stribling didn’t even know how to cook. “I didn’t know how to boil water, but I soon learned,” she said. During the first few years of marriage, the couple had four children, all of whom attended Habersham Mills School.
Advancing to president of the mill, the Striblings soon traveled to Germany to upgrade the machinery in the spinning room.
“I traveled overseas with him [Marion] to Germany, where he purchased machinery to upgrade the spinning room,” she said. “They were very anxious to show these new types of spinning machinery to an American. They wanted Marion to come to Germany to see them in operation. So he was impressed, and I enjoyed the travel. It was the first time I had been overseas. After that, I was real interested in overseas travel. I guess that was my hobby. And every year I would make a trip overseas. I’ve been on every continent except for Antarctica.”
Stanley Terrell of Clarkesville recently sat down with The Northeast Georgian regarding the personal touch that Habersham Mills had on his upbringing.
“I was born in a mill house in 1938. Back then there were no hospitals,” said Terrell. “The doctors would come to the houses. We lived on what was called No. 2. It was called that because at one time there were two mills. There were houses all over them hills or hollers. You wouldn’t believe how many houses were there, and some of them are still standing. They built those houses in the early 1900s; ours was built after that in the 1920s.”
Terrell recalled a time before the houses were painted. “When our house got painted, I thought that was the most amazing thing; it transformed the looks of it,” he said.
Most of the houses were five room homes, “one side had three rooms, and the other side had two rooms. You had to go out the door to go to the other side, because those houses were originally meant for two families.”
Terrell discussed the first time his grandmother reprimanded him. “My daddy’s mother (Ona Terrell) came and lived with us, and my dad fixed her up a room in the back, and so she helped when my momma and daddy were at work in the mill. She’d keep me and my sister (Barbara Jean). There for a while she kept a really rowdy boy in the summer (Charles McEntire). She did give me a bad whipping one time, and I needed it. I loved her, but I was all boy back then. But the time I did get the whipping, was the only time she ever whipped me,” he said.
When his father came home in the evenings after working in the mill, he’d ask his mother, “What was the report?” “… she would try her hardest to give him a good report to keep me from getting in trouble,” Terrell said. “But she didn’t wait to give a report that day.”
Terrell said he and McEntire, who lived in front of him and was a year older, would play together. As there were no TVs at that time, there wasn’t much to do, he said.
“Anyhow, we started picking up rocks and throwing them at the house, and she’d (Ona Terrell) come to the door and tell us ‘y’all stop that,’ and we’d laugh and keep throwing them, and she’d call us down about three or four times,” Terrell said.
After McEntire got tired and went home, Terrell said his grandmother called him and said she had something good for him. “… she was always baking tea cakes or apple tarts, and boy that was something, but I thought she had made me something nice,” he recalled. “So I started to run up to the house, but I didn’t even get the opportunity to open the screen door. That door opened and a hand reached out and she jerked me in, in the kitchen area, and she had already had her a big hickory cut.
“And she whipped me good. She was mad! I ain’t never seen her mad before. And once she got done with me she marched out there to Charles’ house and told his mom what we had done. And he got a whipping, too.”
According to Terrell, there wasn’t much for kids in the mill village to do when it came to playing. He and McEntire would roll rocks down a hill, throw rocks or look for cars.
“Yellow mill houses setting side by side with gray porches – perfect targets for a rolled up Anderson Independent newspaper I slung from the window of a ‘55 Ford,” recalled Hugh Burke of Clarkesville.
Burke, like many, grew up in the Habersham Mills village. According to Burke’s recollections, the atmosphere of the mill village offered great pride and a strong sense of community.
“Yellow pay envelopes stuffed with cash and change were passed out on Tuesday to workers, some of whom emerged from the mill bearing a coat of the cotton fiber that hung in the air,” he said. “How that stuff would tickle your nose.”
Burke recalled Otto Fricks, the butcher, slicing bologna from a foot-long roll. He said that was one of many items available at the general store, where everyone shopped.
“Out back, Jay Hill would cut your hair in the tiny barber shop. For 25 cents, Margie would make you the world’s greatest hot dog in the cafe just below the store,” he said.
Burke’s father, Robert Burke, owned a sawmill. “He worked there during the day and ran the upper power plant from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.,” Hugh Burke recalled. “Mama ran a winder in the mill from 3 p.m. to 11. Obviously, I didn’t have a lot of supervision, but you didn’t need it then.”
Burke said neighbors like Ed and Connice McEntire, and many others in the village, kept an eye on him. “… They didn’t hesitate to correct me if I got out of line,” he said.
Growing up, Burke attended Habersham Mills School, played ball around the village and fished.
The village had a swimming pool, which the residents enjoyed. “[It was an] Olympic size pool with the most amazing aluminum board,” Burke said. “It would allow Alfred Stroud, all 280 pounds of him, to do his signature front flip.”
The baseball field in the village also saw a lot of use. “Marion Stribling [brought] our new balls and bats, bought with mill funds, to the school, and, of course to ensure their quality, would spend 30 minutes or so winding his slim 6-foot-3-inch frame up to belt balls out the park and across the road.”
Burke said he would be remiss not to mention Habersham and Bethel Temple churches, which he called the “very anchor, the bedrock of our village.”
“How many great men gave of themselves to impart spiritual life, real life to us,” he said. “Not just preachers like Chauncey Jones, Johnny Slocum and Bill Smith, but Sunday School teachers like V.V. Philyaw, Boots Hill, Everett Terrell and Nathalee Terrell and Connice McEntire.”
Burke said while the mill was the lifeblood of hundreds, “providing a safe and stable livelihood and contributing greatly to the economy of our area,” it was the people of the village who made it special.
“… Habersham Mills will always be the people that made up that place I love,” Burke added.