- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) - The old Dwight Mill was the heart of Alabama City back in the day. The cotton mill was one of the area’s largest employers for more than 60 years.

The big mill, as it often was called, took up several city blocks near the current Canterbury Station. Life was centered around it.

“It started with a bale of cotton on one end and came out on the other end as a bolt of cloth,” Alabama City resident Hank Green said.

Green is 80 years old and still lives in the community he has called home most of his life (which was annexed into Gadsden in 1932).

His parents worked in the spinning room at the cotton mill. Green worked in the supply section for the cloth room for six years, until the mill closed in 1959. He worked third shift and got 5 cents an hour extra.

“That was an extra $2 a week on your paycheck, and that was enough for gas in your car for a week,” he said.

Most of the jobs in the cotton mill were hard work, but Green said he was lucky. He didn’t work in the weave shop.

“We supplied parts to the weave shop where the humidity was 99 percent,” he said. “It had to be that high, or the thread would break.”

All that remains of the mill are markers and some historic pieces preserved at museums.

The textile industry once thrived in the South and was integral part of Alabama’s history.

A piece of that history is on display in the Alabama Voices exhibit that opened in February 2014 at the Museum of Alabama in Montgomery.

It’s a permanent, Smithsonian-quality exhibition that is the culmination of nearly a decade’s worth of research, planning, and fundraising, according to Georgia Ann Conner, communications officer for the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

The exhibit occupies about 11,000 square feet on the museum’s second floor, and covers the unfolding of Alabama history from the dawn of the 1700s to the present.

More than 800 artifacts and hundreds of images tell the story of struggles over the land, the rise of a cotton economy, industrialization, world wars, civil rights, the race to the moon and more, Conner said.

Artifacts from around the state are included, several of them from the Gadsden area, such as a weaving loom from Dwight Mill.

Many of those pieces were acquired by the museum’s curator of education, Gadsden native Sherrie Hamil.

Hamil was director of the Gadsden Museum of Art before she went to work for the Department of Archives and History.

A piece of her family history is included in the exhibit. The museum needed an old wash pot for the exhibit, and Hamil said she knew just where to find one.

“This is my grandmother’s wash pot,” she said.

The home of her grandmother, Annie Lou Latimer, was on Henry Street, near where Grissom Honda sits.

“She had a big, two-story house,” Hamil said.

A propeller for a B-29 bomber is displayed in a World War II section of the museum, and it arrived still in the box. The museum found it at Warbirds in Jacksonville.

“… The parts were still in the box and it had to be put together,” Conner said. “It was from 1943 and it had not been touched.”

A pillow cover from Camp Sibert in Attalla is displayed in the same exhibit.

Etowah County Probate Judge Bobby Junkins serves on the board of directors for the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

Junkins said he first visited the museum as a ninth-grade student at Hokes Bluff High School, and fell in love with it and all it entailed.

As a state legislator, he said he always supported the Archives through any legislation that he could, and often has visited to garner information of his own.

“I’ve found things from my family history that I never dreamed I would find,” Junkins said.

As a board member, he said he was involved and watched as the Alabama Voices exhibit was born and materialized.

“It is great to be a part of that and see it through,” Junkins said.

He said the exhibit is outstanding and has attracted visitors from all over the world.

“I would recommend it to everyone,” Junkins said. “It’s a fantastic display of our state’s history.”

The Museum of Alabama is located in the Department of Archives and History at 624 Washington Ave. in downtown Montgomery. The building was constructed in 1901 and is the oldest archive facility in the country, Conner said, even predating the National Archives.

There are about 500,000 artifacts throughout the museum, including the Alabama Voices exhibit.

Just about any weekday during the school year, Conner said, it’s not uncommon for more than 100 students to be at the museum for tours. It’s less crowded during the summer and days when school isn’t in session.

The museum is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. There is no admission fee.


Information from: The Gadsden Times, https://www.gadsdentimes.com

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