Old Cotton Gin Factory in Alabama
Continental Gin Company, Birmingham Alabama
The Continental Gin Complex was the corporate headquarters (1926-1963) and production facility (1925-1955) for the world's largest manufacturer of cotton gins. Technological improvements by the company substantially improved the profitability and marketability of the cotton farmer's crop in national and world markets from 1886-1980 in the face of rising labor costs and increasing competition from the production of foreign cotton markets.
The history of Continental Gin and its six parent companies is representative of the dynamic growth obtainable by corporate entities in the late 19th and early 20th century and is linked with some of the South's most prominent industrial leaders. The location of the main plant and the corporate headquarters of this major firm reflects the attractiveness of Birmingham as an industrial site. Additionally, the company was ranked in the top ten industries in Benet and as such was a major employer of a highly skilled workforce.
The Continental Gin Complex constitutes an outstanding example of site planning, plant engineering and industrial architecture for the southeast during the period 1915-1940.
It was the most comprehensively planned complex of the period completed by H. K. Ferguson Company, the first U. S. firm to provide complete design-build-equip services using standard-designed factory buildings. The design of the complex was a direct result of an engineering and industrial process study conducted by H. K. Ferguson Company in 1920.
The Continental Gin Complex is located 2.8 miles east of 20th Street, adjacent to the Railroad Reservation that delineates the North and South sectors of the City of Birmingham. The 25-acre industrial site is a part of the Avondale section of the city. The Continental Gin site now owned by Hill Realty Company, Inc. is bounded on the north by the Railroad Reservation and the main trunk line of the Seaboard Coastline Railroad; on the east by a residential district along 47th Street; on the west by a residential district along 44th Street; and on the south by 5th Avenue and Crestwood Boulevard. The original property boundaries formed a parallelogram 1,300 feet deep north to south by 950 feet east to west. The site slopes gently down from its southern boundary along Crestwood.
The long axis of the factory buildings are aligned on the site parallel to the east and west property lines. The site plan was engineered and designed to provide for rail spur access to each of the four primary groups of industrial buildings from the Seaboard Coastline rail siding entering the northeast corner of the property. Four spur tracks originally branched off of this main siding, paralleling the Seaboard Coastline main track. The spurs off the siding curved in a southerly direction to serve long loading docks adjacent to each of the four primary building groups. Only one of the rail spurs remains in use today, the other three have been removed at various times from 1961 to the present.
The removal of the two western-most sidings have allowed the development of the northern and western extremes of the property for further warehouse and industrial use. Prior to the removal of the spurs, the northern yard was occupied by curving railroad sidings and spoil areas for industrial waste.
1. The Continental Gin Office Building (c. 1926), (noted as proposed on the plan) now named the Hill Building. The central block of this building was completed a year after the industrial buildings were in operation. The east and west wings were added to the original building in 1947 and 1957 respectively. The office building is a three-story reinforced concrete structure with walls of load-bearing clay tile and brick veneer. The "H" shaped floor plan divides the 20,000 sq. ft. of the office space into two wings and a central block.
2. The Foundry Building (c. 1925), "A" on early plan, is 130' x 400'. The building historically housed the pattern shop, the core room, the cupola chamber, and the heavy, medium and light foundry areas. This building is the Ferguson Standard Factory Building No. 3 alongside a special crane way bay adopted from the Railroad Divisions' selection of engine repair shops.
3. The Old Machine Shop (c. 1925) "B" on early plan, is 150' x 400'. This building historically housed the heavy and light machine shops, blacksmith shop, tool room and crude oil engine test stands. This building is also the Ferguson Standard Factory Building No. 3 alongside a special crane way designed for railroad engine repair.
4. The Old Assembly Building (c. 1925), "D" on the early plan, is 150' x 400'. This building housed the Assembly Shop and Paint Shop on grade level and a Sheet Metal Shop in the basement adjacent to the covered rail platform between the Assembly Building and the Warehouse. This is a modification of the Ferguson Standard Factory Building No. 3 incorporating a double line of roof monitors with a structure of three 50' wide bays.
5. The Old Wood Working Shop (c. 1925) "E" on plan is 150' x 200'. Prior to 1930 substantial portions of the housings for cotton ginning stands were manufactured of wood. After 1930, wood was no longer used in the manufacture of machinery but was used extensively for crating the finished ginning equipment for shipment. The Wood Working Shop is the Ferguson Standard Factory Building No. 7 with a single clerestory and single crane bay.
6. The Old Warehouse (1925) "H", is a three story structure 112' x 200'. In 1929 , the original warehouse was expanded by the construction of a three story addition 80' x 200'. The Warehouse is the Ferguson Standard Factory Building No. 8 termed "Mill Construction".
7. The Old Boiler House (c. 1925 and 1944) Building "K" is 45' x 90'. This building housed the steam boilers, turbines and generators which supplied heat and electricity to the industrial complex. The boilers and heavy equipment were sold at the time the complex was closed by Fulton Industries in 1961.
Old Paint Storage Shop, Building C. (c. 1925) was a small building to the north of the machine shop. The date of demolition is unknown.
The Wood Drying Kiln, Building J (c. 1925). Demolished.
The Dry Lumber Storage Shed, Building L (c. 1925) was a simple wooden post and beam shed 150' x 180' with a tin roof as indicated on the original building sections and plans. Demolished c. 1941-1942 to make way for the existing Metal Fabrication Shop.
The Demonstration Ginning Buildings, noted as future construction on the 1925 site plan of the complex were built in 1926. One was relocated and still exists in the northeast corner of the site adjacent to the entrance of the rail siding into the property.
There have been several additions and alterations to the site and the original office, industrial and warehouse buildings from 1930 to the present. These are enumerated below:
8. Infill warehouse building (c. 1962) was constructed by connecting the eaveline of the west side of the old Machine Shop and the east side of the Old Foundary Building with a steel bar joist roof structure. The additional interior space enclosed was 65' x 340' x 30' high. The creation of this warehouse space necessitated the removal of the factory window walls in the adjoining Machine Shop and Foundry to meet fire code requirements for tenant separation.
- The Metal Plate Fabrication Shop. This shop, craneway and plate storage yard replaced the Dry Wood Storage Shed. The Fabrication Shop was built during the early war period (1941-1942) adjacent to the Old Woodworking Shop.
- The northern end of the boiler house was extended in 1944 to encompass the base of the smokestack.
- The East and West wing additions to the original office building were built in 1947 and 1957 respectively. These additions increased the size of the office building from 20,000 square feet to nearly 60,000 square feet.
- The remodeling of the north wall of the Old Machine Shop building was commenced in 1961 to provide truck loading bays when the buildings were converted to warehouse space by Hill Grocery Company.
- A continuous shed roof was constructed over the rail loading platform on the west side of the old Foundary Building in 1961.
- The Factory window walls on the south elevation of the old Machine shop and the west elevation of the old Foundary Building were removed and the openings filled with brick and concrete block in 1961. The clerestory windows in the old foundry were also removed and replaced with corrugated aluminum panels and translucent panels.