Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day, the Mill, and Memories

One of the hardest things I have ever done…and there have been many hard things… was walking away from the hospital room where my mother lay dying.  I’d been at her bedside alone with her all day.  I had been grateful for the time I could spend with her just she and I, but once my sister arrived I felt she needed her time alone with mom….so I made ready to leave. 

Still when I told Mother I would see her later our eyes met and she smiled in that little knowing way she had.  We knew we would not see each other for a long, long time….but we didn’t acknowledge it….being strong for each other.  What I really wanted to do was jump up on the bed next to her tiny, frail frame, wrap my arms around her and demand that she stay, but I didn’t…..and it wouldn’t have mattered at all. 

My selfish demand wouldn’t have changed anything.   Mother had a date to keep with my memories.

I told her I loved her and she told me she loved me, and I walked out.
Mother died early the next morning as my sister brushed her hair.

Things change.

People pass.

Buildings burn….

But the memories remain.

Sometimes we don’t want that exchange.   It doesn’t seem fair exchanging memories for the real thing or for the real experience, but it happens whether we want it to or not.

So, our mill is gone, but if we are really honest with ourselves it was gone when the mill ceased to operate and the doors were padlocked… ceased to exist when the first awning sagged….it ceased to exist when the fence surrounding the property developed a patina of rust.

Our mill ceased to exist when Inman Park Properties purchased it and wound it up in their little scheme to allow dozens of properties across the Atlanta area to be demolished by neglect as I wrote in August over at Douglasville Patch.

As I’ve discussed before the property was doomed once Inman Park Properties purchased it, and once the city failed to hold their feet to the fire regarding code violations as well.  The property was doomed when the Douglasville Historic Preservation Commission was pressed  to remove the mill from a list regarding historic designation.    As I mentioned in my article in August…..sources indicated to me the City Council pressed the commission to remove the [historic designation] a couple of years ago after being convinced by a developer that the designation limited development options…and because no one held the property owner‘s feet to the fire regarding code violations the minute the property began to slide down into despair we ended up with a derelict eyesore.

However…..while those who control historic properties ultimately have the final say memories don’t fade.   Memories don’t die.  Memories don’t rust away or cave in, and they certainly don’t perish in a fiery stroke that wiped the mill away Saturday night. 

In fact, if you stop and think about it fire is often used to refine things… make things stronger…..even our memories.
I was heartened Saturday morning to see so many Douglas County citizens being interviewed on television regarding the mill….as well as comments I saw on Facebook regarding the building’s significance to their lives.   Our people built the mill, our people worked at the mill…..they met and married because of the mill and they supported their families as well as Douglas County’s economy.

Most citizens in Douglas County had a connection to that building in some way or another.

 You can neglect a property into despair….you can formally decide a property has no historical value, but you can’t erase the memory or the connections citizens have to the property.  Many spoke of grandparents and parents who worked at the mill.  Some mentioned the traveling ball team.  I’ve heard they were considered to be the best traveling ball team in the state.   I’ve heard stories of young adults who walked Fairburn Road daily to deliver a dinner pail to their parent working away in the mill.   All great memories to hold onto….even though the building itself was in dire need of a meeting with a wrecking ball. 

I was up early Saturday morning around 1 a.m. when the Douglasville Police posted a picture of the fire on their Twitter account which also posts to Facebook.   I immediately posted something about it on my wall and immediately assumed a group of kids had probably gotten inside the fence and a fire had either gotten out of control or….it had been set deliberately in some macabre pretense of having fun.  

A young man….a neighbor of mine named Tyler Rowan instantly commented on my post and his words regarding the mill gave me instant pause.   Now, I’m not that naive.  I know that over the years photographers have gotten in the mill and kids had gotten in as well….and not necessarily to take pictures, but Tyler gave me a different perspective regarding the fence jumpers when he told me, “I can’t tell you how many nights we spent just exploring and enjoying that place.   So much history.  The place was stuck in time.   There were fire extinguishers on the ground still in place from where they were left when the place caught fire in the 80s.   Dated papers scattered around.   Not to mention the top of the water tower had to be one of the best views in Douglas County.  You could see Atlanta, Downtown Douglasville, Hiram, and a little of Villa Rica.”

I expressed to Tyler my own desire to have explored the mill, but I knew that after the last round of tornados through the middle of town the building was just too unstable.   I had only explored on the correct side of the fence with my camera’s zoom lens.
Tyler continued……and his point really hit home with me.    He said, “I will legitimately miss the mill...  They wouldn’t preserve it, so we had to admire it and enjoy it for ourselves risking a slap on the wrist. The mill was something to be proud of.  It was such a unique and vast structure.

I’d been there many a night with either myself or just a couple of others, and it was pretty creepy.  The office section had a long dark hallway with about 40 rooms to the end, so shining a flashlight down to the end was almost nerve racking.  And yes, just because the City of Douglasville wouldn’t cowboy up years ago and recognize it as a historical building, it didn’t mean the building didn’t have historical value to us.  I feel lucky enough that we had something like that so close to us…and so did many others my age.  I just wish I had taken more pictures.  I never really thought that it would be totally gone one day.

We love and admire people in our lives. We love and admire various things. Those people...those things...all have deep rooted meaning for us in so many various ways. Yet, we are so busy loving and admiring that when the time comes to exchange those people and those things for can be a very defining moment.

The old mill burning to the ground is one such moment for the City of Douglasville and for the citizens of Douglas County as a whole.

Now comes the job of gathering the memories...and learning from the mistake of taking things for granted.


  1. Well said, Lisa. Well said, indeed.

  2. I didn't think it was possible to view any part of the mill's "Demolition by Neglect" (such an apt description) or its ultimate destruction by fire with any perspective other than a negative one. I was wrong.

    It's hard to let go of people or places that matter to us, or even acknowledge aloud the need to do so while you're struggling with it. Part of being human, I guess.

    Well said indeed. Thank you.

  3. I have lived in Douglas County since 1972 and driven by the mill without realizing that I had a connection to it. I recently discovered that In the 50's the mill was bought by Glendale mills of Glendale, SC. Glendale is a mill village a few miles from Spartanburg. I've never lived in SC, but my Great Grandparents, Grandparents and other relatives worked at the mill in Glendale. The mill in Glendale burned about 2004. Wish I had know about my connection to and paid more attention to the one is Douglasville. Fred


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