Location:Original Address: 794 West Marietta Street
Today: Approx. 841 Ashby Street NW

Original Builders: City of Atlanta

Years of original construction: pre-1881 for the International Cotton Exposition.

Demolished: In 1971 Sears Roebuck and Company purchased the 35 acres of land that the mills sat upon, demolished the mills and mill housing and built a freight handling facility and carpet warehouse to serve the Southeast United States.

ABOVE: Rendering of Cotton Exposition Mill in 1957; Courtesy of the Atlanta History Center.

Atlanta's nascent marketing skills were invigorated with three large-scale international expositions to attract outside money and business enterprise. These expositions were held in 1881, 1887 and 1895, the last two held at what was to eventually become Piedmont Park. Many old buildings in existence today are an indirect result of these expositions attracting businesses to the area.

The first exposition was the International Cotton Exposition of 1881 held in the upper ARTery where the Exposition Cotton Mills were built along the Atlantic and Western Railway, just south of present day King Plow Art Center and Ashby Street Trolley Barn. This exposition drew 350,000 people to it from 33 states and 7 countries. At the end of the exposition these buildings were converted into a textile mill that began operation in 1882.

Under the instigation of Atlanta Constitution editor Henry Grady (also responsible for the founding of Georgia Tech - his statue appropriately straddles the median on the southern end of Marietta Street in downtown Atlanta), a second wave of commercial boosterism and Atlantan spirit seized her citizens in 1887 and the Piedmont Exposition was hosted in Piedmont Park . The high point of this fair was President Grover Cleveland's visit. The invitation he received was a box carved of 68 Georgia woods, embedded in Georgia granite with gold leaves and a picture of the President and his wife. This exposition served to keep Atlanta in the limelight and counter the impression that prohibition had curtailed business initiatives.

In 1895, Atlanta hosted the most grandiose of her expositions The Cotton States and International Exposition also held in Piedmont Park. This exposition, even more than to advertise Atlanta, was to benefit the southern economy and help reinstate the south as a full partner in the national marketplace. In this Atlanta took the lead, grabbed the spotlight and promoted her centrality to the region as the heart of the New South. This advertising was highly successful : 13,000 visitors a day came to the fair; 1,000,000 visitors in all from all over the globe.

ABOVE: Birdseye view of Atlanta 1892 showing Van Winkles Cotton Gin and Machine Company (upper) and the Exposition Cotton Mill; Map from American Memory Project

ABOVE: Rendering of International Cotton Exposition of 1881; Courtesy of the Atlanta History Center.

ABOVE: Map of Cotton Exposition Mill in 1957; Courtesy of the Atlanta History Center.

The shrewd businessmen of Atlanta's roots designed the facility of the Exposition Cotton Mills with 2 goals in mind :

1. To enthuse and convince outsiders to locate major business's and industries in Atlanta and must have been quite impressive in its day. The Exposition Cotton Mills had a trolley car route right up to it's front door for the convenience of the mill workers.

2. To turn into a high production manufacturing plant after the Exposition. (The building materials and detailed design of this no-longer-in-existence complex of buildings have not been researched.)

ABOVE: 1 mile rings radiate from "Terminus"--Underground Atlanta today--marking the trolley car routes of 1882-1891. The Olympic Planning Committee also used this measuring system, ringing true to Atlanta's railroad roots.
This image of Exposition Mills workers housing is from the1957 75th Anniversary Commemorative Publication by the mill. According to a 5/1/1969 article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution there were 700 of these houses renting for 6.00 a week. Mills frequently provided inexpensive and convenient housing for the workers as present day Cabbage Town once did for the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills. Retail on Marietta Street had a steady stream of customers from this neighborhood, now demolished, built around the Exposition Mill.
ABOVE: Commemorative Publication : "A house in the mill village before modernization is shown at left. At right is an example of the improved version, complete with brick foundation and asbestos shingles."
Franklin M. Garrett has kept track of people in Atlanta's history and here is what he says about the origins of the Exposition Cotton Mills from page 41 Vol. II of ATLANTA AND ENVIRONS :

Three of Atlanta's best-known present-day business firms, the Exposition Cotton Mills, King Hardware Company and Miller's Book Store, had their inception in 1882.

It will be remembered that the main building for the International Cotton Exposition of 1881 had been built with a view to its ultimate use as a cotton mill. Within a few months after the exposition closed, the view became a reality.

On January 10, 1882, a meeting was held in the office of Mayor English for the purpose of negotiating the sale of the exposition buildings and property. Present were the Mayor, Walker P. Inman, Hugh T. Inman, George W. Parrott, Frank P. Rice, Robert H. Richards, William W. Austell, William B. Cox, Evan P. Howell, James H. Porter, Thomas L. Langston, John L. Hopkins, Richard Peters and J. W. Murphy.

That the meeting bore fruit is attested by a news story of the following day :

"There are few cities of 40,000 people," said a gentleman yesterday "in which twenty-five men casually brought together will put up $10,000 each to invest in a manufacturing enterprise. Yet this is exactly what the corporation of the exposition factory has done. And more than this, they could, in an hour, add twenty-five more men to their list who would put up another $10,000 each, or in an hour's session the same stockholders would agree to double what they have put up. There is plenty of money in Atlanta whenever it is called for legitimately."

"The exposition mills will be pushed ahead, will they?"

"Certainly-there is nothing in the way. The start will be made with ten thousand spindles and looms to match. The boilers and engines are already in place. The mill will be started this year, although much of the machinery will have to be made especially for it."

"What will you do with your operatives?"

"We will lodge them in the Exposition Hotel [across the W. & A. tracks from the exposition grounds proper]. This will be changed somewhat and will do capitally for operatives. It will accommodate a great many.""What will be done with the numerous other buildings ?"

"They will be put to some good use. You see we have a considerable little village out there, and we shall utilize every bit of it. The general plan is to build up a system of small industries about the great central factory. We may utilize the small buildings and annexes for cotton seed mills, on plants or anything else we think profitable. The company can raise all the capital it needs. Each man has confidence in his colleagues, and there will be no lack of money. The exposition mills will prove to be the most important manufacturing enterprise in or around Atlanta."

On March 4, 1882, upon petition of Hugh T. Inman, Walker P. Inman, Richard Peters, Robert H. Richards, James Swann, Thomas L. Langston, William B. Cox, William W. Austell, William J. Garrett, James H. Porter, Robert D. Spalding, J. W. Harle, George W. Parrott, Daniel N. Speer, Robert M. Clark, Lodowick J. Hill, Evan P. Howell, Edward C. Peters, and John D. Turner, the Superior Court of Fulton County issued articles of incorporation to the "Exposition Cotton Mills." Capital stock was fixed at $250,000.

A month later, on April 5th, the buildings, to stand as a "permanent living monument of the exposition," and erected at a cost of about 50 cents a square foot, opened as the Exposition Cotton Mills Company, with Hugh T. Inman as first president.

The success of the enterprise was immediate, has been continuous, and has had much to do with the growth of the cotton milling industry in the South.

The present magnitude of Exposition's operation may be seen in the fact that the mills turn out more than 12,000,000 miles of yarn a month. In addition, more than 1,000 miles of cloth is woven, weighing more than a million pounds. This production is sold exclusively by J. P. Stevens & Company, New York .

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