Prattville Manufacturing Company - Cotton Mill, Prattville Alabama
Prattville, founded as an industrial village by Daniel Pratt in the 1830s, rests on Autauga Creek, a tributary of the Alabama River, about twelve miles northwest of Montgomery. Pratt's industrial establishments dominated the landscape and included, most notably, his cotton mill and his gin manufactory.
Pratt's gin company, a sash, door, and blind factory, and a grist mill originally operated on the 17-foot fall. In 1846, Pratt opened his cotton factory on the east side of Autauga Creek, utilizing the same fall.
In 1859 the original mill was razed and a three-story brick mill and a two-story brick picker house were erected in its place.
In 1870 Prattville Manufacturing Company is purchased by Daniel Pratt, Lewis M. Whetstone, Mills Rogers and Arthur Brown.
In 1880 The mill is purchased by H.E. and Jacob Faber.
In 1886 Flood undermines the south end of the mill, causing part of the structure to collapse. Mill is sold at the auction block in 1887 and purchased by W.T. Northington, Merrill E. Pratt, W.L. Ellis, C.S.G. Doster, Daniel Pratt, D.M. Snow and B.L. Holt who incorporate under the name Prattville Cotton Mills and Banking Company. The collapsed portion of mill is rebuilt and mill reopens. Mill Number 2 was built in 1892.
In 1916 Prattville Cotton Mills and Banking Company is purchased by J.C.F. Clark and is renamed Clark-Pratt Cotton Mills.
In 1919 Clark-Pratt Cotton Mills is purchased by A.E. Ledyard and is renamed Autauga Cotton Mills. In 1923 the company adds the dye department to the mill.
In 1930 Autauga Cotton Mills is purchased by J.K. Whitaker of New York and becomes the Bradford Mill of Hesslein and Company.
The mill changed hands yet again in 1940 when it is purchased by Safie Brothers (New York) and is renamed Prattville Cotton Mill, Inc.
In 1946 Company is purchased by R.J. Gurney, Sr. of Gastonia, NC and is renamed Gurney Manufacturing Company. Gurney expands dyeing and begins knitting operations. In 1982 ownership of the mill is passed to R.J. Gurney, Jr. and R.J. Gurney, Sr.'s grandchildren at the death of R.J. Gurney, Sr. In 1997 Gurney Manufacturing Company's Prattville facility closes and the property is put up for sale.
Prattville's reputation for industry belied Autauga County's agricultural economy. However, local residents and boosters did not dichotomize agricultural and industrial experiences, but embraced both. Boosters pressed for industry and diversified agriculture, town farmers markets and modern machines. For Prattville residents, industry and agriculture rose and fell together, since both centered on cotton. With cotton as the major cash crop and the nexus of both of the town's major industries, the economic effects of cotton market shifts reverberated through the community.
Prattville, like other southern towns, served an important function as a market for farm goods and the like. Pratt's cotton mill, though, like the gin company, became a focal point in the minds and memories of locals. While a part of its importance rested in its local employment rolls, to many it grew to be a symbol of the town's progress. The mill matured during America's industrial revolution and the dawn of Progressivism, eras of national development accompanied by and intimately tied to the rhetoric of "modernization" and "progress." Prattville's citizens did not eschew this technological enthusiasm in favor of traditional values and livelihoods, they embraced it. The factories, their machines, and their operations became symbols of modernity. Indeed, if Prattvillians read their newspapers regularly, they received a regular dose of the goings-on at the mill, be it news about workers themselves, superintendents leaving for other mills, new management, or about changing cloth patterns and yarn sizes. Or perhaps they might have read of "the hum" of some grand new machine that promised to increase employment and lead the town further down the road toward progress.
Industrial and technological change at the Prattville cotton mills occurred in three distinct periods that reflect the large-scale changes taking place within the southern textile industry but that also include items specific to the Prattville mill. From the mill's inception in 1846 to about 1880, the development of the Prattville Manufacturing Company resonates with experiences of the Piedmont cotton mills. In this era of cotton mill development, mills concentrated on spinning and weaving, owners purchased most machinery from northern manufacturers, unskilled labor drifted in from the surrounding countryside, mostly families and including children, and skilled labor often was northern in origin. Machinists were in the early stages of developing labor-saving textile machinery, and supporting technologies such as heating, air cleaning, and the like, were inefficient and underdeveloped.
In the 1880s engineers began concentrating on advancing supporting technologies, including quality-control-related machinery. Newly developed air humidifiers spread rapidly through the industry, as did more efficient heating systems. Additionally, other technologies advanced in most industries during this period, and these improvements also supported and enhanced textile production. The Prattvilie mills, like other mills through the South, embraced new modes of motive power and new fire protection technologies as they became available. Taken together, these developments made for an era of dynamic change within the textile mill.
In the 1920s textile manufacturing entered a new stage of expansion. The southern textile industry reached maturity at World War I and by 1920 the South claimed more textile establishments than its northern rivals. War related textile demands sparked even greater growth and, with the general prosperity of the 1920s, many companies hoped for immediate success. Regional and national textile corporations bought and sold mills often: to move into new product lines; to procure materials needed for processes at other plants; or sometimes, simply for the plant's equipment. The changeovers affected product and process development in different ways. Some new proprietors changed little in product line or production technology from previous operations. Others sought to expand production, change operations, or to move into newly-opened markets within the burgeoning textile industry. After 1920, for example, the Prattvilie mills expanded into dyeing operations (which included experimenting with yarn dyeing in addition to cloth dyeing), abandoned weaving, added knitting, decreased yarn making, and experimented with sewing finished products.
In 1851 a visitor from DeBow's Review described Daniel Pratt's first textile mill, erected in 1846, as "about 150 feet long, 80 feet of which is 36 feet wide, with a brick basement and two stories of wood. On either end of this is attached two other buildings, one of brick showing four stories, and the other a brick basement with three stories of wood." Pratt and his partners purchased the equipment, 500 spindles and 100 looms, all at once, though a portion of the machinery stood idle for three or four years for want of orders. All were dissatisfied with the mill's slow progress, though, and Pratt implored his partner Shadrack Mims in an 1848 letter, "you must try and make the weavers satisfied. Tell them they shall have work enough after a while." Success came quickly, and when writers for DeBow 's Review visited again in 1857 they updated their readers that Pratt's mill now utilized 1200 bales of cotton, 2800 spindles, and 100 looms. Here Pratt specialized in making coarse fabrics for plantation use, including osnaburgs, sheeting, and linseys (a cloth made up of both wool and cotton). Pratt advertised the 9-ounce linsey (consisting of five ounces of wool and the balance of cotton) as designed for "Negro women and children." The 12-ounce linsey (eight ounces of wool and the balance cotton) was advertised for "Negro men."
In order to increase the number of spindles and looms, Pratt hired builder David McCord to erect a new picker house and a new three-story brick mill in 1859. In later years the Prattville Progress editor reminisced that William Wallace Fay sailed for England to purchase machinery for the new mill. Fay encountered difficulties on the return voyage, however, as southern ports had been blockaded during the Civil War. During the time that the ship captain attempted to run the blockade, Fay was taken with yellow fever and died at sea. The machinery, local lore continues, arrived later to be installed in the new mill.
Nineteenth-century mill design focused on carrying heavy machinery loads, withstanding vibration, efficient power transmission, lighting needs, and fire prevention (or at least designing to minimize damage from fires as much as possible). Indeed, fire was of particular concern, given the large amount of dust and lint generated in the processing of cotton. Additionally, trash caught in machinery, particularly in the openers and pickers, often sparked a fire. Pratt's new mill was being installed as New England mill engineers advanced new slow-burning mill building techniques. For the most part, these late-nineteenth century mill designs conformed to the standards established by the New England factory insurance mutuals, which incorporated fire protection technologies with other mill needs, such as adequate lighting. So thoroughly had these building techniques permeated the textile industry that newspapers and textile industry journals alike pointed out new mills of the slow-burning construction type.
The term "slow-burning" described the design's fire-resistant properties; thick floors and beams charred rather than burned rapidly. Techniques comprising the "slow-burning" classification varied at first. Engineer G. Underwood, for example, in his compilation Standard Construction Methods, described slow-burning construction very generally as "designed with timber columns and girders of large cross-section and with floors made of heavy plank laid directly upon girders." But the National Board of Fire Underwriters eventually set down the following specific guidelines: 8" columns with rounded or chamfered corners; 6" x 6" beams and girders; 3" thick floors with 1" finish flooring; 2-1/2" thick roofs.
While these building techniques were northern in origin, southern textile mill builders kept pace with the latest in modern mill engineering and construction standards, and McCord adopted or exceeded these standards when he erected Pratt's new mill. First floor beams measured 12" x 14" and second and third floor beams measured 11-3/4" x 13", with chamfered corners. Flooring measured 3-3/4" thick. Finish flooring varied through the building, likely because of continual reflooring. Columns measure 8" diameter in the upper, rounded portion and 9" square in the lower, squared portion. Mill builders incorporated other fire-retarding building techniques, such as external stairwells separated from the main interior spaces by fire doors.
Additionally, as it was the initial textile processes that were particularly prone to the outbreak of fire, openers and pickers resided in a separate picker house building so as to prevent the spread of fire through the entire mill. The picker house associated with Mill No. 1 sat to the south of the building, with only the second floor walkway traversing the 40' separation between the two buildings. In the unfortunate cases when fires did break out, a 5,600-gallon water tank located atop the mill tower provided water to taps and hoses on each floor. Barrels and buckets of water distributed through the mill added to fire protection. By the mid-1880s, the cotton mill had hired a watchman for the purpose of fire prevention, who made regular rounds of the mill at night and on Sundays, when the mill was not in production.
However, as historian Lindy Biggs points out, "power transmission technology proved to be the most restrictive component of nineteenth century mill construction." Power belting and shafting combined with lighting needs to necessitate long, narrow, multi-storied structures and weight and vibration characteristics of belt-driven machinery often dictated process arrangement. Within Prattville's mills, weaving machines, which were the heaviest machines and vibrated most, operated on the first floor, where the building could better carry the load and stress. Spinning operations, which had the least severe impact on the building, operated on the top floor and carding operations operated on the second. While common, this arrangement of machinery was not strictly adhered to, and other mill owners and superintendents experimented with process arrangement throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Waltham (Massachusetts) mills, in the early nineteenth century, for example, housed carding on the first floor, spinning on the second, and weaving on the third and fourth floors, i.e., in the order of processing, from the bottom floor toward the top. The Merrimack Manufacturing Company, in the 1870s, housed weaving on the bottom floors, spinning on the middle floors, and carding on the top stories, i.e., in the order of processing, from the top floor toward the bottom.
The company stored cotton in its brick warehouse located across Factory Street (now Court Street) from the mill. When needed, workers moved cotton across Factory Street and into the first floor of the two-story brick picker house. Here, they removed ties and bagging from the bales and the opening machine tore apart the compressed cotton and removed dirt and short fibers from the raw product. Workers (and later cotton vacuums) moved cotton through to the second floor where picking or lapping machines continued the cleaning processing and produced continuous sheets of cotton. Dust and lint waste from these processes emptied into the creek on the west side of the building.
Workers moved cotton from the picker room to the carding room through a covered walkway connecting the second floors of the two buildings. In the carding room, machines with metal teeth further pulled and straightened the fiber, producing a thick, loose strand of combed cotton known as a "sliver." Drawing and roving machines combined slivers and further stretched and twisted the fibers. After the roving process, workers moved material to the third floor via an elevator located at the south end of the mill. Ring spinning machines on the third floor finished the cotton into thread by twisting the strands more tightly. Spoolers then combined ten or more threads to produce yarn. Winding machines finished the yarns onto various product shapes, depending on the intended use. Afterwards, workers moved the yarn back to the first floor for slashing and weaving. Slasher room workers prepared warp yarn with hot starch and oil to add strength and lubricity for weaving. From there, workers placed threads into the loom harness and loaded the loom beam onto the machine for weaving, the final stage of turning yarn into cloth.
Like many other companies, the Prattville mills expanded operations by simply increasing the numbers of spindles and looms. Cotton agent Shadrack Mims, reminiscing on his days as cotton agent for the mills, noted that Pratt reassessed his business in 1865 in an effort to decide between selling off his holdings and closing the mill, or purchasing all new machinery so as to bring the mill up to current standards. Pratt chose the latter and purchased new machinery. Loom stock increased only slightly, from 100 to 125, but his spindle inventory increased significantly, from 2700 to 4600. Mims further notes that Pratt purchased machinery from Higaur and Sons of England, and Jenks and Sons (loom and carding machine manufacturers) near Philadelphia.
As spinning and weaving were the primary functions of early textile mills, it is not surprising that ring spindle and automatic loom development were the primary focus of machine developers. The earlier mule spindles consisted of a "side" that skilled laborers pushed in and out, one direction stretching the sliver and the other spinning it onto spindles. Ring spindles improved on this process by stretching and spinning simultaneously, but this caused more thread breakage. The Draper automatic loom utilized a rotating battery of bobbins. A new bobbin of yarn fed into the shuttle as one ran out. This modification reduced the number of machine stops and cut labor costs drastically.
Thus the advances in spindles and looms permitted a substitution of unskilled for skilled labor, which encouraged the adoption of these new machines by the nascent southern industry. And, too, the adoption of Draper looms meant less labor was necessary, weavers could tend twenty automatic looms, for example, while they could attend only about six non-automatic looms. With the introduction of ring spindles, the primary task became twisting thread ends together once they broke, a job that could be filled by unskilled workers and children. Additionally, at low yarn counts (coarse goods), rings were more labor intensive than mules, making them suitable for a region where labor was more abundant than capital. Indeed, part of the reason rings proliferated in the South was the opening of new mills, capital not having already been sunk into the older mule spinning and nonautomatic loom machinery. Not surprisingly, Pratt embraced the newer technology. Account books for 1864 list 5000 ring frame parts purchased by the Prattville Manufacturing Company. Likely, Pratt purchased the ring spindles as he was buying equipment for the new mill.
Mill operators in Prattville recognized the role of humidity in the prevention of thread and yarn breakage, and they developed a variety of simple, though not always effective, methods to counter the effects of dry air. The air on the Autauga Creek side of the building contained more moisture than that on the building's east side. If more humid conditions were necessary, fans directed air into the mill through the west windows and out the east windows. If less moisture was necessary, fan placement was reversed. Sometimes, workers simply threw water on the floors of the mill to raise humidity.
Steam boilers were housed to the west of the mill and were used for mill heating as well as slashing. The mill's heating system utilized steam and, likely, steam pipes ran the length of the mill ceiling, providing heat by direct radiation, as this was typical of mill heating arrangements at the time. Some types of factories, including the gin manufactory across the creek, placed the heating pipes low on the walls. The threat of igniting cloth, thread, lint, and other fiber scraps so prevalent in cotton mills was too great for wall placement, however. Heating by these methods proved inefficient in general, though, and temperatures varied significantly throughout each floor.
Pratt designed his industrial complex for water power, and erected a dam with his original gin manufactory in 1839. About 1850, though, Pratt and his colleagues considered replacing the original structure with a new brick dam. Likely it was this new structure that the surveyor for the federal water-power report described in the early 1880s: "The dam was built at least 30 years ago, and is brick laid in cement. It rests on a bed of marl, is 150 feet long, 12 or 15 feet high, 18 feet wide at the base and 3 feet wide at the top. A plank apron protects the stream bed, and the dam is surmounted for its whole length by a stout timber bulkhead containing waste gates. The pondage above the dam was estimated at 30 acres."
No visible evidence remains of the wheel type or the design of the original headrace, however. Pratt notes that he modified the mill race to run though the old gin shop lot in 1856, but this is the only reference found indicating the original water power construction. It is clear from indications in extant structures, fire insurance maps, and contemporary photographs, however, that since the construction of the 1859 structures, the wheels always operated from the northwest end of the mill, almost immediately west of the stair tower. As Pratt operated a sizable breast wheel in his gin company across the creek, it is likely that he equipped the cotton mill similarly.
The power shaft from the water wheel entered the basement on the north end of the mill and shafts, belts, and pulleys distributed power through the floor. This system drove two larger belts that ran through belt holes located on the north end of the building. These larger belts distributed power to shafts running the length of the basement, first floor, and second floor ceilings. Smaller belts from pulleys on the shafts ran through holes in the ceiling to drive individual machines on the floor above. Additionally, a shaft ran between Mill No. 1 and the picker house, extending power to that building. Another series of shafts, belts, and pulleys distributed power throughout both floors of the picker house.
Southern textile production recovered from the ravages of the Civil War and grew to threaten the northern textile manufacturers by 1880. Southern merchants, a strengthened class since the introduction of the crop lien after the war, invested their capital in the textile industry. With the support of local professionals like bankers and lawyers, these new entrepreneurs introduced a cotton mill campaign that, as Jacquelyn Dowd Hall appropriately observed, "took on a fervor of a social movement."
The cotton mill movement and the nation's dawning machine age were close kin. Industrialists throughout the country invested in new machinery and engineers developed new products and processes. Technological change at Prattville's cotton mill, then, was not restricted to advances in textile machinery, but encompassed many elements that worked in concert with each other and affected mill operation in its entirety. Indeed, change came so frequently within the mill that local newsmen made it a habit to update towns people as to the latest process improvement, machinery installment, or product variation.
Unfortunately for Prattville, this new era was marked by the devastating flood of 1886, which collapsed the southern portion of the main mill building and forced the purchase of new equipment. The local Sheriff auctioned the failed mill and its surviving machinery in early 1887 and the previous mill owners covered some of their debt through the sale of 128 looms, one folder, one calendar, twenty-six flat cards, sixteen English cards, three English drawing frames, two American drawing frames, two slubbers, two speeders, twenty-one spinning frames, one opener, one kitson lapper, one English breaker tapper, one English finishing lapper, and one batting press. On the courthouse steps that day, W.T. Northington, Merrill E. Pratt, W.L. Ellis, C.S.G. Doster, and Daniel Pratt of Prattville, and D.M. Snow and B.L. Holt of Montgomery purchased the mill and equipment for just over $24,000, and soon after formed the Prattville Cotton Mills and Banking Company.
Once mill reconstruction began, the company quickly recovered production. Local newsmen reported that "the large lappers were started the 24th of December " and the event was deemed important enough that the mill owners invited Dr. Samuel P. Smith, "one of our oldest and most highly esteemed citizens" to throw in the first cotton, in honor of the occasion. Soon after this local affair, mill spokespersons pronounced the steam heaters running and 119 looms back in operation.
After increasing production to the extent possible in the original structures, the company decided to expand the mill site. Owners erected a second mill building in the mid-1890s that duplicated the first mill, a 60' x 160' three-story brick building with basement. In the mid-1890s, the Textile Manufacturers' Journal informed its readership that W.T. Northington, then president of the cotton mill, was traveling through the North seeking the latest in equipment for his new factory. Indeed, the South's machinery industry lagged behind the North's and most southern manufacturers traveled to northern cities when looking to restock their mills. E.N. Clemence of the Eagle and Phoenix Mills (Columbus, GA) shared his buying experiences with the Prattville industrialists upon his return from Worcester, MA, Hokedale, ME, and Philadelphia. Clemence told the Prattvillians that "the story printed some time ago about southern manufacturers being unable to obtain machinery because the manufacturers favored the north is incorrect." Rather, the machinists were backed up with orders and "a person was fortunate to have an order filled with any promptness."
Expanding operations allowed mill owners unburdened by previous capital investments to buy the latest textile equipment available. Progress reporters noted that the mills "have put in a steam calendar and an automatic stamping machine in the cloth room which improves the appearance of the cloth very much and saves a great deal of labor. The stamper works as if it possessed reason and intelligence and does its part nicely and well." After final equipment purchases, the Prattville Cotton Mills and Banking Company operated with 290 narrow looms and 10,000 ring spindles through the turn of the century.
The operations of the new mill mimicked that of Mill No. 1, but processing moved in the opposite direction. While cotton processing in Mill No. 1 began in the picker room at the far south of the site, cotton processing in Mill No. 2 began in the picker room at the far north of the site. Operations remained the same on the mill floors; carding operated on the second floor, spinning on the third, and weaving on the first. The machine shop for the entire mill remained in the basement of Mill No. 1.
As the southern textile industry matured, factory owners and engineers took greater interest in quality control. Dust and lint affected processing and the final product, as well as created a poor working atmosphere. Concern over clean mills and clean air began spreading in the early 1900s, but it was not until 1925 that the self-propelled traveling air cleaner was first conceived and introduced at the Roxboro Cotton Mills in North Carolina. There, a ceiling- mounted track system suspended a traveling down-blowing fan to control the lint generated by yarn and cloth-making processes. Up to that point, workers simply swept up or wiped lint and dust from machinery. Cleaning units similar to Roxboro's spread quickly through the industry. Prattville's superintendents installed two Monotractor air cleaner units which traveled on ceiling track over the lines of machinery through the spinning rooms.
Humidity was another air quality issue that drew greater attention at the turn of the century. Operators experimented with various methods of humidifying textile mills, but adopted the Garland-type system widely. In this design, pumps moved water and air through the mill which, at various points, combined to atomize the water and spray it through the area. Prattville installed an American Moistening Company system that worked similarly. Originally, a small Knowles pump (made for the American Moistening System), working from the basement of Mill No. 1, moved water to all floors where atomizing units sprayed fine droplets of water through the atmosphere. Owners later replaced the small pump with a more powerful unit, but left the original pump in the basement, where it can be seen today.
Textile mills faced new choices in motive power sources around the turn of the century. Steam engines increasingly replaced water power, allowing new mills and factories to locate to urbanizing areas. But those choosing to remain on water power also had a new technological choice, the water turbine. Indeed, water turbines proliferated among cotton and wool manufacturers such that by the 1870s industrial historian Albert Bolles could assert that "the iron turbine has now almost superseded the great wooden wheel of our forefathers."
Uriah A. Boyden introduced turbine technology in the 1840s when he developed a modified Fourneyron (French) turbine. By trial and error over the next few decades, engineers greatly improved upon this design, transforming it into the acclaimed American mixed-flow turbine wheel. By the late 1870s, engineers at Stilwell & Bierce Company (Dayton, OH) became some of the first to engineer a wheel that combined inward, downward, and outward flow characteristics into a single design, the Victor water turbine. In the Victor turbine, water entered large openings on the periphery and discharged the water downward and outward via the extended runners (or buckets). The mixed-flow water turbines offered significant advantages over traditional wheels, most particularly increased horsepower from low-fall water sources, a particularly attractive feature to local mill owners.
Thus, when Prattville's factory owners faced the decision of how to increase power to their machinery and increase time in operation (as low water often hindered operation), they had the choice of installing either a new water turbine or a new steam engine. Both the cotton mill and the gin factory opted to purchase water turbines from Stilwell & Bierce. The gin company purchased and installed their single Eclipse turbine in 1879. The cotton mill purchased and installed two Victor water turbines sometime between 1894 and 1900.
The power designers arranged the two 35-inch turbines on a horizontal shaft that extended into the basement of Mill No. 1. Victor turbine catalogs suggested such horizontal arrangements so as to eliminate the gear transition otherwise necessary to transmit power to horizontal shafts operating the belt pulleys. A cylindrical iron flume enclosed the two turbines, and water entered the enclosure through a similarly-constructed iron flume. Water drained from the turbine runners down through two iron draft tubes, one under each set of runners, and into the tail race. This design matches some of those suggested in the Stilwell & Bierce literature, and it is likely that a Stilwell & Bierce engineer or representative reviewed the mill site and the company's needs and suggested such an installation. The two turbines, in such an arrangement, generated about 260 horsepower to the mill's machinery, a significant increase over the 100 horsepower generated by the previous wheel.
When owners of Prattville's cotton mills decided to open a second mill, they again had a choice between installing a water turbine or a steam engine. While steam did not initially offer more horsepower than a new water turbine system might have, it did deliver a steady supply. Often, a low Autauga Creek prevented the continuous operation of water-powered machinery in Mill No. 1, a problem steam power would eliminate. Further, owners likely reasoned, Mill No. 1 could continue to run with water as its primary power and, if necessary, shafting could be coupled between the mills so that steam could drive the machinery in both buildings. With this in mind, company leaders designed Mill No. 2 to operate by steam power.
The steam engine provided 100 horsepower and was housed, with the single boiler, in auxiliary buildings just to the west of the mill. Again, locals were kept apprised of new arrivals and in June 1896 the Progress announced that "the big double engine for the cotton mill is being placed in position." The principal power belt entered the basement, and shafts, belts, and pulleys distributed power through the floor. This system drove two larger belts that ran through belt holes located on the south end of the building. These larger belts distributed power to shafts running the length of the basement, first floor, and second floor ceilings. Smaller belts from pulleys on the shafts ran through holes in the ceiling to drive individual machines on the floor above.
Both the cotton mill and the gin manufactory installed water turbines to replace older water power units as well as erected new buildings operated by steam power late in the nineteenth century. It is likely that the owners carefully considered this combination of motive powers. Water power still proved the most economical choice for driving mill machinery. As such, factory owners probably opted to run some of their operations by the cheapest method, as long as possible. When water power was not feasible, as when the creek fell too low to power the wheels, shafting could be coupled to the steam powered shafting to ensure continued operation.
The gin company and the cotton company continued to struggle with obtaining enough power, however, and eventually drew up an agreement whereby the cotton mills could use the full water power. This agreement stated that when Clark-Pratt Cotton Mills needed to use the full water power, the mill would furnish the gin company coal enough to supply coal steam power (including the shipping) for half of each day the mill used the full water power. The cotton mill was to give the gin company 12 hours notice in advance of the time the mill managers wished to use all of the water power.
While workers installed the new engine and boilers, others hailed the advent of electric power. Electricity was normally introduced to southern towns via a factory selling its excess water or steam-generated electric power. Downtown merchants usually were the first to enjoy electric power, and town residents only gradually installed wiring in their homes and connected to the power system, if they were even accessible to lines. Electric lights replaced the kerosene system in the Prattville mills between 1894 and 1897, though the new lights were not used during the long summer days when enough natural light reached interior spaces. It is likely the mill produced its own electric power for these early lights, for in 1899 city boosters were still imploring local leaders to issue bonds for the installation of electric lights within the town. The Progress editor demanded action on the matter and harped, "our town needs waterworks and electric lights and we are just as able to have them as many other towns that are not as large as Prattville which have been enjoying them for many years. Let's elect a mayor and council next year that will give us these necessities. We can get lower insurance rates when we get in shape for extinguishing fires." Other sources of electricity soon formed, however, and the cotton mills and other factories purchased electricity from an independent power company.
With the 1920s came the transition of Prattville's industries to electric power. Surveyors for the Alabama Power Company began extending lines into Autauga County in late 1919 and the company eventually purchased power from the Autauga Oil and Fertilizer Company. Not long after, Alabama Power bought the oil company entirely. Town boosters waxed enthusiastic about the power expansion, noting its importance for the town's industry, and Prattville Progress writers apprised their readers, "the day is not distant when all the manufacturing plants will be run by electricity."
It was after Alabama Power established a dependable system with industrial rates that the Prattville gin company and cotton mill began driving shafting with electricity. This changeover occurred piecemeal, however. Initially, electric power was substituted for the water power or steam power driving the belts, pulleys, and shafts. This system continued large friction losses and the necessity of turning all the shafting in the plant regardless of the number of machines operating. Group drive, the installation of motors to drive small groups of machines, followed and allowed engineers to stop sections of machinery when not in use, thus cutting energy usage in factories that, due to the structure of belting and shafting, previously had to operate entire buildings of machinery at once. Over time, individual electric motors were installed on each machine. This process was delayed somewhat by the lag in motor and machine engineering; motors did not always exist that would electrically power certain machines. As noted by mill architect J.E. Serrine in 1912, engineers had not yet designed individual motors appropriate for card machines. Not surprisingly, then, Prattville's carding machinery was the last group to be changed over to individual electric motors.
Like the gin company, the cotton mills operated from water, steam, and electricity for about fifteen years. Water power continued in use until 1943 when owners sold the rights to the dam and water power to the gin company across the creek. At that time, the cotton mill flume was filled with cement. Eventually, owners ordered the water turbine area filled in.
With the rapid expansion of textiles, and growing investment in mills, it is not surprising that owners demanded better fire protection to protect their capital. In addition to continued advances in mill building techniques, advances in fire sprinkler technology and city service availability combined with the previously discussed dust and lint control to better protect mills against fires. Indeed, mill owners were inclined to protect their investments by adopting the latest technologies available, but they also were driven to keep their insurance rates low, which they could do by adopting insurance company-suggested equipment. Like the rest of the textile industry, beginning in the 1890s Prattville's cotton mill expanded or modified its fire prevention equipment quickly and often.
In 1900, as in earlier years, in addition to barrels and buckets of water, and fire hose, Grinnell automatic water sprinklers had also been installed. Automatic sprinklers heads spaced 10' apart were supplied by a 20,000 gallon water tank atop Mill No. 2 tower and by the original 5,600 gallon tank on the Mill No. 1 tower. An F & J force pump (which operated from the basement of Mill No. 1) served as secondary support to the water supplied by the smaller water tank. Mill owners soon replaced this force pump, which had been deemed insufficient by fire insurance agents, with an American Fire Engine Company 1000 gallon-per-minute rotary force pump. In the first decade of the twentieth century, six double fire hydrants were also added to the site.
Mill owners (and fire insurance companies) now required night watchmen to check in at stations throughout the mill. Clock devices installed at different check points registered a time stamp on a piece of paper when the watchman keyed or opened the clock. Thus, mill owners could check to ensure watchman were on their post throughout the night. Prattville's mill owners adopted a Newman clock for this purpose in the early 1890s, and watchmen checked in at six stations. After the addition of Mill No. 2, the night watchman used a Fuller Electric clock and made rounds to ten stations.
Despite these improvements, fires continued to plague mills, and automatic sprinklers did not entirely control conflagrations once they started: When fire broke out in the picker house in September, 1905, Progress reporters noted, "several streams of water were turned on the blaze through the windows of the building, and this, in connection with the spraying apparatus on the inside, soon placed the fire under control." To further aid in fire protection, in March 1909, the mill superintendent had two hose houses erected over the fire pumps near both mill picker houses. Two hundred feet of fire hose remained attached to the plugs to save time in case of fire breakout. The plan proved valuable, as trash in the lint cotton sparked a blaze as it passed through the opener in one of the picker houses the next month. Newsmen proudly reported that, "owing to the splendid system of water pipes and sprinklers with which the mills are equipped, the fire was extinguished in a few minutes, with very little loss."
Fire protection also improved through the expansion of city and county services. The cotton mill and gin company used force pumps to move water from the dam pond to their water tanks, but in 1906, cotton mill owners requested the town's Mayor and Council members to allow them to make a six-inch connection to the city water main. The mill superintendent's letter to the council explained that "this connection is for fire protection and is to be used as an auxiliary in case our pump should fail or a fire should be located so we could not reach the pump." To make the request palpable to city, the mill leaders offered, "it would also serve as an auxiliary to the city water works should the water fail at any time during a fire we could on short notice turn the water from the mill pump into the city mains and take care of a fire in any part of the city where the water pipes are lain." Further, they offered, the mill would take care of all expenses for labor and material.
Some council members and the mayor opposed the connection, however. Engineers in charge of the water works expressed concern over the contamination of the city's water with pond water. Mayor Burns argued that the city would derive no benefit from the connection and suggested that the mill simply install more hydrants near its property. Whether council members acquiesced at this time, it is unclear. By 1911, though, the mill's sprinkler system connected to the city's, "in case of emergency."
Gurney Manufacturing Company, the name by which the Prattville mills were last known, closed its operation in 1997. The site's 150-year history well reflects mill site development and textile industry development in general.