While New England is the birthplace of America's textile industry and the Carolinas are known for massive textile production, the small town of Englewood, Tennessee, serves as a reminder of the ties between industry, workers, and the resulting community. Covering more than 140 years of textile production, the history of Englewood Mills reflects ongoing changes in transportation, market, and consumer demands.
In 1857 John J. Dixon founded the Eureka Cotton Mills, laying the cornerstone of an industry which was central to Englewood's economic stability and livelihood. Yarn and warp products made with raw cotton from the surrounding area were sold in neighboring southern states. Elisha Brient shared in the operational responsibilities of the mill, and by 1875 the Brient family exercised sole proprietorship.
The township reflected the changes of mill ownership and improvements in transportation as the settlement relocated twice and changed its name three times. The original site of the mill village, Eureka Mills, was renamed Englewood by the Brients in 1894. Realizing that the railroad provided a more efficient means of shipping than wagons, the family moved the mill complex closer to the Louisville and Nashville railroad line, absorbing the preexisting settlement of Tellico Junction. The communities joined in 1908, adopting the name of Englewood. The original town site is now known as Old Englewood.
As the Eureka Cotton Mills thrived and expanded its product line to include men's union suits, the success of Englewood's textile mill plus its crucial railroad line attracted more business. The Englewood Manufacturing Company, which made hosiery, was established in 1913.
Englewood developed into a typical company town, supporting the needs of its workers with a company store, saw mill, blacksmith shop, gristmill, two churches, and a one-room school house. Living in company-owned rental housing, workers supplemented a subsistence life style by planting small vegetable gardens and raising livestock. By 1914 neighborhoods of mill houses had expanded to accommodate the growing work force of three hundred.
The textile workers were typically white, subsistence farm families searching for a better livelihood. They found that the company town provided modest housing, a sense of community, and the security of a steady income. In the mills, workers experienced an environment filled with loud machinery, heat, humidity, and lint-filled air. Often several generations of families spent their entire lives working in the mills, with every family member contributing to the household income. Men were supervisors and machine operators. Women worked in the spinning room, ensuring that cotton slivers were correctly spun into strands of thread. Young boys removed full bobbins, while girls performed tasks such as operating spinning machines. Many families depended upon their children's incomes for survival.
The Great Depression forced the closure of Eureka Cotton Mills and the Englewood Manufacturing Company. Englewood survived the depression through federal and state government relief programs in 1933-35 that provided temporary jobs in the Civil Works Administration and Tennessee Emergency Relief Administration.
During World War II the Englewood mills depended upon women to fill the vacant positions of men in military service. The abandoned Eureka Cotton Mills building served as a United National Clothing Center, one of eight locations in the U.S. that processed clothing donations for shipment to war-torn countries. In August 1949 a workers' union came to the Englewood Garment Company, although massive unionization failed to materialize as postwar America deemed textile employment a female occupation and not worthy of serious organizing efforts.
In the last half of the twentieth century, the Englewood mills encountered adverse changes in the textile industry, including a shift in consumer preferences to synthetic fabrics, the increased importation of less expensive products, and the competition from newer factories with more extensive mechanization. Although Englewood was home to twenty-four textile mills over its history, by the mid 1990s only Eureka Sportswear and Allied Hosiery mills remained in operation.
Visitors to the old Englewood mills can still see various structural remains including the crumbling brick walls and rusty boilers of the 1907 Eureka Cotton Mills and the vacant 1913 brick building of the Englewood Manufacturing Company. Many workers' cottages survive as private residences located in neighborhoods established during the company town's prosperity. The Englewood Textile Museum offers a past and present perspective of Englewood's mill, tracing the evolution of the industry and documenting the roles of the workers in the context of mill labor and community life.