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Saw mills, cotton factories thrive in Scull Shoals
Bulloch History
roger allen
Roger Allen

Note: The following is one of a series of articles looking at events in the history of Bulloch County.

Part II

R.W. Griffin's article, "The Textile Industry in Greene County, Georgia before 1860," was published in the Georgia Historical Quarterly issue of March 1964.

Griffin revealed that by 1847 a new four-story brick manufacturing building had been erected on a granite foundation in Scull Shoals, which had a water-powered cotton mill, running 2,000 spindles and looms.

This mill processed 4,000 bales of cotton every year, from which it produced $100,000 of Georgia cotton. Dr. Thomas N. Poullain cotton plantation, which he had also bought from Ligon, had 145 field slaves working on it.

A dam was built across the Oconee River, which had a 400-foot-long raceway, that directed the water to a turbine-wheel, which Poullain had constructed in order that the mills could switch to steam-power.

At its height, the booming town of Scull Shoals had a population of around 600 people. Eventually, the Scull Shoals Manufacturing Company underwent a reorganization, emerging as the Fontenoy Mills.

The Augusta Daily Chronicle & Sentinel issue of Dec. 31, 1868, and the Nov. 25, 1869 both contained ads for Dr. Poullain's oldest son, Antoine's, "famous Fontenoy Yarns."

The Greensboro Herald of Aug. 12, 1875 revealed the Scull Shoals enterprise had become the "Fontenoy Cotton Mills," which would engage "in manufacturing Cotton or Woolen fabrics, grist, flour and lumber."

They had their own a "Cotton Factory" which contained "3,300 spindles (and) 116 looms; (and a) "Grist Mill" (with) "two runs of corn stones and two of wheat stones."

Fontenoy Mills also had a "Saw Mill," a "Water Gin," a "Blacksmith's Shop," a "Toll Covered-Bridge (set) upon Stone Piers," a "Brick Warehouse," a "2-story Store House," and a number of other operations.

The Athens Weekly Banner-Watchman issue of Aug. 10, 1886 reported that a new dam was built (1860) which was "300-feet-long, 10-feet-high, made of wood and stone, (that) and backed the water (up) about 2 miles."

Oconee County Deed Record A, in Watkinsville's Superior Court Records, revealed that Fontenoy Cotton Mills had acquired the 3,800 acres of the "Fontenoy tract."

What the company didn’t use for the business they sold in lots that ranged from 10 acres to 100-acre tracts.

Elizabeth Taylor's article, "The Origin and Development of the Convict Lease System," in the Georgia Historical Society (1942), disclosed Fontenoy Cotton Mills created the "Penitentiary Company #3" to hire state convicts.

The Greensboro Herald issues of April 3 and May 8, 1879 advertised the sale of the "mill tract of more than 300 acres and everything on it" to satisfy a Tax fi-fa in favor of the State of Georgia."

The Greene County Superior Court of 1879, and the Greensboro Herald issue of Aug. 7, 1879, listed the purchasers (Isaac Powell, Ferdinand Phinzy, Rufus K. Reaves, and John W. Nicholson).

They established "Powell's Mills." Very shortly thereafter, J.L. Davenport and T.W. Powell purchased Fontenoy's Penitentiary Company #3, and contracted for 36 county convicts instead.

The Athens Weekly Banner-Watchman issues of March 29, and June 17, 1884 listed the crops grown on their lands: 1,400 acres of cotton, 700 acres of "small grains," corn, and 200 acres was planted in "Bermuda Grass."

The Greene County Mortgage Record G, listed the equipment the Powell Mills included: 14 wagons, 10 two-horse plows, eight Dixie plows, 50 plow-stocks, two horse-drawn engines w/boilers, two cotton gins, and one cotton and hay press.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history who provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email him at

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