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Bulloch History by Roger Allen

The industrial age in Bulloch

    On Nov. 14, 1902, it was announced that Bulloch County’s very first industrial enterprise would be, literally, a community undertaking. A Mr. Preston asked the citizens to subscribe to his plan to build a seed mill in Statesboro, estimating it would take $30,000 to build the plant.
    John W. Olliff formed the Olliff Investment Co. and immediately promised to invest $10,000 of his own money on the plant. J.L. and Lester Olliff each promised $5,000, as did B.E. Turner. Other major investor citizens were the Foys, Hollands, Cones, Brannens, Donaldsons, Grimes, Groovers, Elliss, Parkers, Smiths, Colemans, Rogers, Johnsons and Caruthers.
    Preston announced that he would also build a ginnery on-site, with a guano plant to be constructed within a year. The cotton seed, he said, would now constitute one-third of the value of the entire cotton crop. They would extract the oil, the cotton seed meal, and the cotton seed hulls at the plant.
    The construction firm of Tompkins and Co. of Charlotte, N.C., was hired to build the plant. On May 3, 1903, the board of directors of the plant was announced: N. Olliff would be the president, and J.W. Wilson would be the general manager, with J.L. Donaldson, S.C. Groove and B.E. Turner acting as directors.
    Set on the Savannah and Statesboro Railroad tracks on the southeast side of town, the area would be surrounded by a large group of company houses on the 15 acres. The Oil Mill’s own electric plant generated all of the electricity for the tenant houses. The plant itself consisted of 3 large buildings, surrounded by a number of smaller ones.
    On Jan. 1, 1904, assistant plant manager S. Landrum George announced that the plant was running night and day, using an estimated one ton of seed per hour. At first a machine stripped the lint from the seed, which was made into rolls which were sold for padding.
    Then, the black seed was separated from the green seed, both of which were then ground up and formed into cakes. These cakes were squeezed, with the escaping oil being caught into large vats. The seed cakes, minus their oil, were then ground up into seed meal for animals.
    In May 1904, a decision was made to enlarge the plant, essentially doubling its size. The guano fertilizer plant was now in operation, and the mill began using the ground-up cotton meal as an extender
    On Oct. 11, 1904, a large fire at the mill destroyed the ginnery and the cotton house. The equipment lost included six sea island gins, two upland gins, two presses, 21 bales of seed cotton and one mule. The plant had actually been closed for several days because of water problems.
    Nearly a decade later, on July 31, 1913, locals W.H. Elliss, F.E. Fields, J.G. Blitch and M.E. Grimes bought the Oil Mill. Shortly thereafter, Blitch and Elliss became the sole proprietors of the plant, now known as the Blitch Ellis Manufacturing Co.
    By July 1, 1915, another owner had taken the reigns: the Statesboro Oil Co., financed by R.L. and H.E. McMath, L.W. Brown and L.L. McLesky of Sumter County, Ga. Once again the plant changed hands on March 15, 1917, when F.S. Perry of Camilla, Ga., and Alfred Montsalvage of Statesboro, Ga., bought the Statesboro Oil Co.
    Perry was a big-time oil mill operator, owning mills in Camilla, Boston, Doerun and partial interests in mills in Sylvester and Dothan. On Feb. 4, 1918, Montsalvage announced plans to move the Oil Mill’s equipment to Gainesville, Fla., to be used at a peanut oil mill there, after another fire largely destroyed the mill complex. He did, however, promise to rebuild the ginnery in Statesboro to handle Bulloch’s large cotton crop.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at roger dodger53@hotmail.com

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