By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Bulloch oil mill becomes factor in cotton production
roger allen color
Roger Allen - photo by Special

    (Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)

    In Bulloch County, the industrial revolution in cotton production eventually arrived with the signing of the agreement to build the “Bulloch Oil Mill” Nov. 14, 1902.
    The mill became Bulloch County’s first industrial plant and first real industry and was, literally, a community undertaking. A Mr. Preston asked the citizens to subscribe, 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 in the plant. J.L. and Lester Olliff each promised $5,000, as did B.E. Turner.
    Other major investing citizens were the Foys, Hollands, Cones, Brannens, Donaldsons, Grimes, Groovers, Ellises, 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 as well within the next year. From the cotton seed, he said, the plant would extract and process the oil, the meal and the hulls.
    The construction firm of Tompkins and Co. of Charlotte, North Carolina, 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 three 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, processing an estimated one ton of seed per hour.
    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.
    It turns out that the plant had actually been closed for several days before the fire because of problems with pumping and delivering water throughout the plant.
    It wasn’t until nearly a decade later, on July 31, 1913, that locals W.H. Elliss, F.E. Fields, J.G. Blitch and M.E. Grimes bought the oil mill. Blitch and Elliss took over operation of what became known as the Blitch Ellis Manufacturing Co.
    By July 1, 1915, another owner had taken the reins: the Statesboro Oil Co., financed by R.L. and H.E. McMath, L.W. Brown and L.L. McLesky of Sumter County, Georgia.
    Two years later the plant changed hands again. On March 15, 1917, F.S. Perry of Camilla, Georgia, and Alfred Montsalvage of Statesboro bought the Statesboro Oil Co.
    Perry was a big-time oil mill operator, owning mills in Camilla, Boston and Doerun and had partial interests in mills in Sylvester and Dothan.
    On Feb. 4, 1918, after another fire had largely destroyed the Statesboro mill complex, Montsalvage announced plans to move the oil mill’s equipment to his Gainesville, Florida, peanut plant.
    He did, however, promise to rebuild the ginnery in Statesboro to handle Bulloch’s large cotton crop. Until its demise, the old oil mill played a vital part in the harvesting of the Bulloch County cotton crops.

    Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at rwasr1953@gmail.com.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter