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The Cemetery Project Gazette

August 2006

This months featured cemetery is.....
 
Clapp Factory Cemetery

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This month’s featured cemetery is Clapp’s Factory Cemetery which is located in the northern part of Columbus, Georgia, off River Road. 

 

Clapp’s Factory was a mill village, located at the head of the falls of the Chattahoochee River.  Building of Clapp’s Factory began in 1834.  This factory was the first textile mill in Muscogee County and was probably the first built in the Chattahoochee Valley of Georgia and Alabama.

 

In the beginning, the mill made yarns, mainly for women in rural areas to use in home cotton looms, and also carded wool.  Operations would expand to include—as well as the textile mill and gristmill—a sawmill, cotton gin, leather tannery and shoe factory, woodworking shop, and machine shop, as well as other facilities.

 

The mill village that grew up around the factory included three substantial houses for company officers, rows of tenement houses for the mill workers’ families, gardens, a company-owned commissary, and even a little church. 

 

By 1861, Muscogee County was home to four textile companies with 755 operatives; the textile unit's of Clapp’s Factory employed 110 men and women.  The tannery and shoe factory employed 30 slaves.  Clapp’s Factory became a major supplier of material to the Confederate Quartermaster’s Depot, at Columbus, and tripled its output during the war. On April 17th 1865 the factory, mills, warehouse, and tannery were burned by Federal troops and the nearby bridge been destroyed.

 

Famed African-American bridge builder Horace King rebuilt the mill.  Using second-hand equipment, the owners soon had the mill running again.  In the 1870s, it was one of six large cotton factories in Muscogee County.  Farm workers across the South had been lured to cities by the promise of the steady income available in textile mills.  The hours of work were long, and entire families would have worked as “cotton factory hands” in the mill.  There were no child-labor laws in place o prevent children as young as nine years old from working around the often-dangerous equipment.

 

About 1882, the company had attempted to develop the site, with its promising location at the head of the falls, to generate electricity for sale; this venture failed.  A variety of factors added to the mill’s decline; by the mid-1880s, the doors of Clapp’s Factory had closed forever.  Many workers went to work for other mills in the area.

 

The once-thriving mill village is no longer.  Little appear to remain on the site of what was Clapp’s Factory.  The old four-story frame mill building burned in 1910.  The last mill village buildings were taken down when the J.R> Allen Bypass was built in the 1980s although some ruins of the gristmill remain.

 

Although very much overgrown, the village cemetery still rests on one of the highest points in the county, a bluff overlooking the Chattahoochee River.  The number of visible markers has declined over the years because of vandalism, erosion, and deterioration.  Only a few markers remain.  A recent archaeological survey, however, indicates that 300 to 500 burials are in the area known to be the cemetery.  In 1928, it was said to have occupied about three or four acres—and had, in earlier years, contained up to 20 or 25 areas.  The currant estimate is that the present cemetery area occupies about one or two acres.

 

In a 1928 newspaper article, the oldest of thee 20 remaining marked graves in Clapp’s Cemetery was said to be that of Benjamin Heath who died in 1856 although the first burials are thought to date back to 1835.  Burials continued there after the factory closed, until at least as late as 1904.  It is said that the workers paid for cemetery lots by having money taken out of their wages.  The 1928 article also specified that an area of the cemetery was reserved for the poor (pauper’s section) and that at least a few burials had been made there after Clapp’s factory closed.

 

Because of its remote and scenic location, the site has been subjected to vandalism over decades.  Much damage may have been done by casual visitors who used the bluff as a picnic site as far back as the early 1900s.

 

The Clapp’s Factory Cemetery Preservation League, Inc., is a nonprofit, volunteer group dedicated to achieving the restoration, maintenance, and protection of the Clapp’s Factory Cemetery in Columbus, Georgia; to making on the cemetery property improvements that are respectful of the deceased, pleasant for the visitor, and informative to the curiosity seeker, while also being mindful of security matters; and to fostering public awareness of the importance of Clapp’s Factory and sites like it, through continuing research and educational activities.  Membership is open to all persons interested in pursuing these objectives, irrespective o race or ethnicity, religion or creed, sex, age, or affiliation.

 

Anyone who wants more information on the Clapp Factory Cemetery or to make a donation should contact John Mallory Land at retrofit@flash.net or contact us.

 

This information was taken from the CFCPL pamphlet.

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