Located in Marion County, Richard City is significant for its associations with the development of industrial company towns in Tennessee in the early twentieth century. In the early 1900s, representatives of the Dixie Portland Company, including engineer Ellis Soper, cement manufacturer George Nicholson of Kansas, and Lee Hunt of the Hunt Engineering Company, began searching out a suitable location for a southern-based cement plant. After identifying the Chattanooga area as a suitable location, and with the help of Colonel Spencer Aiken of the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway industrial department, these representatives eventually settled on the small town of Deptford (now Richard City) in Marion County. It was ideally situated on a major railroad line and near the Tennessee River. The company soon purchased approximately six hundred acres for the project and began construction of the plant in March 1906.
The investors recruited Richard Hardy, then director of an insurance company in New York, to help organize the town site. Initially named secretary of the organization, Hardy soon became the individual primarily responsible for the development and production of the company town. Tom Mix, who would later rise to western movie star fame, was appointed supervisor of labor.
Richard Hardy was named president of Dixie Portland in 1914 and immediately began an improvement and enlargement program at the plant. By 1917 the company employed more than 650 people. Hardy and other managers within the Penn-Dixie system clearly believed in the paternalistic notion of welfare capitalism, a popular, yet largely unsuccessful, business practice of the industrial era. Richard City featured an identifiable company town complete with company built homes, a hospital, a school, company stores, churches, parks, as well as its own water works and sanitary systems. What makes Richard City unique in Tennessee is that all of these buildings, as well as street fencing and utility poles, were built using the product of the plant, cement.
In 1926 Hardy led Dixie Portland to consolidate its Richard City plant, along with four other Dixie-owned plant sites throughout the country, with other large cement companies in the East to become the Pennsylvania-Dixie Cement Corporation with headquarters in New York. Hardy immediately became Chairman of the Board for the newly formed Penn-Dixie Cement Corporation.
The Richard City plant remained under the control of Penn-Dixie until 1980 when Penn-Dixie Industries filed bankruptcy and eventually shut down the plant. After remaining idle for a year, the Richard City plant, along with a cement plant in Kingsport, Tennessee, was purchased by Moore-McCormack Cement Corporation, who created a subsidiary organization, Dixie Cement, Inc. Under the control of Dixie Cement, problems arose between labor and management. Moore McCormack had agreed to rehire all former employees provided they discontinue their union affiliation with the International Cement, Lime, and Gypsum Workers Union. While many workers agreed to do so, a majority refused, and Moore-McCormack subsequently closed the plant in 1982. The plant site today is used by Vulcan Materials. Multiple properties in Richard City are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
While much of Richard City’s significance lies in that it was a relatively successful example of welfare capitalism in the southern United States as well as a product of New South boosters, its educational traditions also provide it local and national significance. Known today as the Richard Hardy Memorial School, this company-built school building remains the most prominent structure within the community. Construction of the building began in 1925, primarily utilizing the company’s cement product. It opened in 1926 as the Dixie Portland Memorial School, bearing the original name of the company, at a cost of approximately three hundred thousand dollars. Considered a memorial to the community’s soldiers who served in World War I, construction of the school was important to Hardy and the community and the company spared no expense to ensure a modern and progressive building that would serve as a model school promoting the highest standards of education. To meet these high standards, Penn-Dixie employed nationally respected education specialist Fletcher B. Dresslar of the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville in an advisory capacity. Chattanooga architect Charles Bearden designed the building in Classical Revival style. Hardy used personal funds to purchase books for the library and an art collection, as well as other educational tools. By providing progressive education, Hardy hoped that the entire community would benefit and the result would be happier workers and more efficiently run homes. When it opened in 1926 and for many years after, the school was hailed as one of the leading institutions of its kind in the country and was used as a “model school” by teachers, administrators, school builders, and communities.
Upon Hardy’s death in 1927, the name of the school changed to the Richard Hardy Memorial School. Planned to provide the normal functions of a progressive elementary and junior high school for the children of Penn-Dixie’s workers, the building also served as a community center that was crucial in strengthening the loyalty between the workers and plant management. In 1995 the school expanded by adding an additional freestanding building as well as the addition of grades nine through twelve. In 2001, as the school celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary, a renovation program was completed in the original building to update electrical wiring and plumbing and to add a central heat and air system. This distinctive building retains much of its original character and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.