Industrial development at Fort Gaines, Georgia

Submitted by Dean Wood (wdeanwood@southres.com)

Southern Research, Historic Preservation Consultants, Inc. has conducted historical research and field survey of a tract in Fort Gaines along the Chattahoochee River. Our research included a search of Georgia’s Historic Preservation Division’s National Register of Historic Places files, the Georgia Archaeological Site Files, The Georgia Department of Archives and History’s Virtual Archives, and the Digital Library of Georgia. We have also conducted an on-the-ground archaeological survey of the complex.

The area we call the Fort Gaines Historic Industrial Complex is located at the end of Troup Street below the bluff in Fort Gaines. Our best evidence for the history of industrial development in Fort Gaines comes from a series of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps spanning the period 1884 to 1922 and available online from the Digital Library of Georgia (http:// dlg.galileo.usg.edu/sanborn/). The 1895 Sanborn map shows no development in the area; however, by 1900 the Sanborn map shows the presence of the Fort Gaines Oil and Guano Company. This complex included an Oil Mill and a Ginnery, both steam powered, with separate guano, seed and hull warehouses present. A man-made pond furnished water for fire suppression. Although the map is not specific, we presume that cottonseed oil was the primary product based upon the presence of two seed houses. The complex was served by a Central of Georgia Railroad spur from Cuthbert to Fort Gaines.

By 1905, the two smaller hull houses were replaced by one larger structure with the same function but now including an office. The oil mill had been modified with two steam boilers in place and a new black smith shop on site.

By the 1911 Sanborn map, the complex was listed as the Southern Cotton Oil Company. Significant additions appeared on the map including the Paullin and Vincent Fertilizer Plant, the Central of Georgia’s Railroad Depot and the Fort Gaines Pumping Station.

By 1922, the Paullin and Vincent Fertilizer Plant was no longer in operation. The hull warehouse is now called the finished product warehouse and it appears to have been modified with a cupola being added to the roof. Additions to the industrial complex include a reservoir to the Fort Gaines Pumping Station (which now is also referenced as the City Water Works), the Fort Gaines Ice Company and the Standard Oil Company’s Oil Depot. Many of these changes probably came about due to the change from processing cotton and cottonseed to peanut processing. The Sanborn map referenced a peanut shelling room, confirming that the primary product had become peanuts, which were being processed into oil. The Southern Cotton Oil Company still ran the complex, which stretched for nearly a quarter of a mile below the bluff at Fort Gaines. The Central of Georgia Railroad had at least three sidings off the main spur by 1922. Our preliminary research indicates that nearly all of Fort Gaines’ industry was located here, the exceptions being the Columbian Peanut Company, a later development north of town, and the brick kilns located between Cemochechobee Creek and the Chattahoochee River.

In 1984, the Fort Gaines Historic Industrial Complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the greater Fort Gaines Historic District. The Historic District includes over 50 structures and buildings that include most of the present city.

Our work documented that the standing structures that remain today were part of the Southern Cotton Oil Company, the City Water Works and the Paullin and Vincent Fertilizer Plant. Also presently standing is a peanut ginnery built after 1922 over an older and smaller ginnery shown on the 1922 Sanborn map. The Southern Cotton Oil Company’s mill lies in ruins, but with most of the brick piers present. The peanut warehouse and the Paullin and Vincent Plant and warehouse have been reduced to archaeological ruins with brick and concrete foundations remaining. There is clear evidence of the locations of the City Ice Company the Central of Georgia Railroad Depot and the various rail spurs and sidings on the ground. We did not locate the Standard Oil Company’s Oil Depot as it was outside of our survey area. Overall, the archaeological ruins are well preserved.

The remains of Fort Gaines’s Historic Industrial Complex are very significant. The Southern Cotton Oil Company stood in the forefront with the development of the commercial cottonseed oil and soap industries, as well as many other industries. Wesson Oil, Snowdrift and Ivory Soap are familiar products that were developed by the Southern Cotton Oil Company. From the lowly cottonseed came oils, soaps, fertilizers, varnish and paints, fibers for rope, string, and insulation, movie film, and explosives, to name only a few of the many products developed from the seeds of cotton.

The standing structures of the Fort Gaines industrial complex, while deteriorated, are worthy of rehabilitation and reuse. They are an impressive reminder that Fort Gaines prospered in the past as an important industrial center during the early twentieth century. The archaeological ruins of this once busy and productive place are also worthy of study and interpretation. Southern Research is currently working with the owner to reuse the standing structures and interpret the early industry at Fort Gaines.