Stonewall: A town in transition
By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
Sunday, Nov. 10, 2002
STONEWALL A brisk fall breeze blew a single leaf harmlessly across a vacant sidewalk before it landed on the front step of a boarded-up grocery store on Erwin Road.
The only sign of life left in the old store was a faded Mountain Dew can perched on the window sill facing the street. It was 3 p.m. in downtown Stonewall, time for the shift change at the old cotton mill across the street.
But on this November day, the town, the street and the buildings were eerily quiet with the only sound from cars speeding past. The cotton mill is closed. It's been that way since last spring.
Burlington Industries closed the old cotton mill, and its sister denim plant about a mile up the road, this summer a move that left more than 800 workers without a job and Stonewall without its only industry.
The cotton mill had been in operation since it was built in 1867.
Burlington owned and operated the mill for the last 40 years. But the company struggled financially in recent years before filing Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in November 2001.
Then Burlington dropped a bombshell in January: the company announced it would close its Stonewall plant, blaming foreign competition and a weak economy.
More than being Clarke County's largest employer, the cotton mill and denim plant were the backbone of the town of Stonewall. When it closed, residents say a piece of Stonewall went with it.
After all, Stonewall was originally created more than 100 years ago by the mill and its first workers.
In 1867, three settlers from Noxubee County ventured south searching for land to build a cotton mill.
They first eyed Enterprise, a growing town in northwest Clarke County. But no one there wanted the mill.
An Enterprise settler eventually sold the Noxubee County group about 3,000 acres of land south of Enterprise in exchange for stock in the cotton mill.
It was on those 3,000 acres that the group built their village of Stonewall in 1868 naming it after legendary Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson. Two years later, they opened The Stonewall Manufacturing Co.
Over the years, the mill slowly expanded until it employed about 800 people in the early 1900s.
Likewise, Stonewall also prospered. Although not officially a town or city, Stonewall had all the amenities: a bank, a doctor's office, a hotel, company houses, two theaters and a grocery store.
And all were owned and operated by the company that owned the cotton mill.
In 1966, after Burlington bought the cotton mill from then-owners Erwin Mills, Stonewall was incorporated and able to elect its own mayor and five aldermen. The first mayor was president of the Stonewall plant.