James L. Coleman first developed the Enterprise Mill in 1848 as a flour milling operation. Coleman, an Augusta farmer, had a great interest in industrialization and had plans to build a mill on his plantation as early as 1845.
In keeping with Coleman's ideas, the City Council of Augusta created a general fund for the planning and construction of a power canal. Coleman petitioned the City Council to change the route of the proposed canal to supply his land with waterpower, based on his plans for the flour mill. On May 22, 1845, the Canal Commissioners resolved that:
"The engineer be instructed to run the line of the canal through Coleman's land as to give him the desired space for his Mill House."
On June 14, 1847, Coleman received his water right, and throughout the next year, boatmen barged stone quarried near Stallings Island to the construction site. Coleman began construction of the four-story granite mill and completed it in 1848. He built the mill with two overshot waterwheels that drove burrstones, a sawmill in an adjacent wood frame building, and various other machinery, for a cost of $40,000.
In this c.1881 rendering (above), you see the granite mill as it originally appeared. The roofline has since been altered, and the granite portion is now three stories.
The photo to your right is the original granite flour mill structure. Interestingly, of the four manufactories built along the Augusta Canal before 1850, only the granite mill remains. In 1853, Benjamin Warren, Coleman's brother in law, purchased the mill through a sheriff's foreclosure sale. Warren operated the mill until 1863 when he sold out to three Augusta merchants including George T. Jackson. In 1873, a brick structure was added to the granite mill, although its function is uncertain.
The canal was enlarged between 1872 and 1875, prompting several industrialists to venture into the manufacturing of textiles. In fact, city officials offered financial incentives to those who would bring such facilities to Augusta. George Jackson, whose brother William was then president of the nearby Augusta Factory, followed suit. In 1876, he met with Jones S. Davis, a builder and superintendent of mills in Massachusetts, who had just completed a textile mill in Atlanta. Davis proposed to Jackson that he hire him to design and construct a mill and procure second-hand British mill machinery. The Jacksons convened a public meeting and gained the support of several key investors.
They formed the Enterprise Manufacturing Company on March 10, 1877, with $150,000 in capital and shares at $100 each.
Davis designed a three-story brick structure with a central stair tower. In anticipation of future expansion, he planned for twice the necessary power needs by placing two turbines near the north end of the mill. The first brick was laid on March 22, 1877, and the mill was completed by fall of that year. Machinery came from Holyoke and Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as from England. They placed 242 looms on the first floor, 14 British carding machines on the second, and 13,822 spindles on the third. The project cost nearly $200,000.00. Davis received great acclaim for his work and went on to design and build the larger and more ornate Sibley Mill located just up the Augusta Canal.(Pictured right)
While the mill was quite prosperous for the first few years, a surprising turn of events forced it to be shut down in 1884. President George Jackson was caught embezzling funds that he used to speculate on the cotton market and he was jailed. Rather than declare bankruptcy, the directors issued and successfully sold $250,000 worth of preferred stock. Local lawyer and cotton broker James P. Verdery became president and carried Enterprise through the 1884 market collapse and a major strike in 1886.
In 1888, Verdery had a 120 by 120-foot weaving room (See picture, right) added onto the mill on the Greene Street side for a cost of $140,000. The mill superintendent ordered more and improved spindles, looms, and carding machines in the constant quest for higher quality. In fact, in 1890, historian Charles C. Jones called the Enterprise's product "the finest cloth made in the South." The yarn was more refined and the cloth produced was lighter by a yard per pound than other locally produced cloth. Jones noted that 520 operatives annually produced 9,000 bales of cotton into 14 million yards of Brown Sheetings, Shirting, and Drills.
Little documentation remains to substantiate events at Enterprise between in 1888 and 1920 when the company purchased a new hydroelectric plant. They bought two #45 Type N turbines, draft tubes and wheel shaft extensions from S. Morgan Smith and Company, along with two .750 KW A.C. generators from General Electric. In order to drive the new equipment, Enterprise had to slowly increase its waterpower contract to four times its original contract.
Around this time the large Graniteville Company was expanding rapidly. It acquired Sibley Mill, and in 1923, purchased a controlling interest in Enterprise. In 1936, Graniteville combined the Enterprise and Sibley operations, and in 1940, both mills became divisions of the Graniteville Company. The Graniteville Company-Enterprise Division stayed in operation until it officially closed its doors on March 23, 1983.
History of Renovation