Sunday, September 18, 2011
Sweetwater Creek State Park
I finally managed to pull my schedule together to visit Sweetwater Creek State Park and the Manchester Manufacturing Company Mill remains, located in Lithia Springs, Georgia.
I have a passion for old historic structures, plus I love to go on nature hikes when I’ll have lots of photo ops. Sweetwater Creek is ideal for both. I arrived at 9:30 for the guided tour of the Civil War era cotton mill at 10 AM. The only way you can now go inside the walls is through the guided tour, which cost $4. It was well worth the price.
Our guide was George Giddens, a volunteer through "Friends of Sweetwater Creek State Park." His wealth of knowledge was time well spent for those of us that had the opportunity to go. He is 75 years old, and he’s been visiting the park and mill for 70 years. He remembers the days of camping inside the walls, of seeing mounds of metal from the original mill equipment, and he recalls driving down the red trail back in the 1950’s in his car. The trail is actually the original road to the mill for supplies.
The red trail is the most popular of the four.
It runs parallel to Sweetwater Creek and goes to the mill site. Along the way we passed the site of the mill store, a three story structure in its day. The bottom floor housed the store operator and family (over ten in the place,) the middle floor housed the store, which figured out early on the power of the credit card. Generous credit was offered to mill workers, and they were owned by the mill at this point because they owed their paycheck to the store. This helped keep them from moving somewhere for more money. The top floor was for the plant owner. He lived in Marietta, and it took two days for him to travel to the mill. He would stay a few days before returning, and he didn’t visit too often due to the travel time.
Shortly before reaching the mill an artesian well still pumps water. It was on a map of the area dating to the 1850’s, so it has been producing water for at least that long. During the 2007 drought, Sweetwater Creek and the adjoining lake went almost dry, but the well was unaffected by the shortage of water.
A channel was cut to divert water to the mill for producing power. Here are several photos, some showing the rock walls of the channel. The construction was done by slaves.
During the 2009 floods, the park was heavily damaged. The road we walked on was under as much as ten feet of water, and portions of the red trail (the original road) was washed away. The park closed for three weeks for the cleanup and repairs. One item that is still waiting on repairs is the old military bridge that spanned the creek and allowed access to the remainder of the yellow trail, which is on the opposite side of the water. This isn’t a typical creek, it’s more like a wide river. During the floods the bridge collapsed, and portions are still there. A replacement bridge has been funded, and it may be completed by next Spring.
When I was there the water levels allowed rock hopping. In places you can cross the expanse to the other side, and in other places all you see is water. I did go out in the middle for photos, but I didn’t venture all the way to the opposite side.
The mill is the centerpiece of the park. Burned by Union troops during the Civil War, it is in critical need of another round of extensive repairs to stop the deterioration and to make it safe for park visitors. Money has been raised by the Friends of Sweetwater Creek State Park for an engineering study to allow the state determine what should be done. In the meantime, the mill is well worth a visit, and I recommend the guided tour. Check the park’s website for information.
And beyond the history, the beauty of the place is evident. I will let the images speak for themselves.
Kayak rentals, fishing, hiking, picnics. Sweetwater Creek State Park is a great place to spend the day. In addition to the guided mill hikes, they offer a number of other guided events including river kayaking, sunset kayaking in the lake, night time hikes inside the mill by candle lantern, butterfly hikes, GeoCaching, and birding hikes. The visitor center offers many displays as well as a gift shop. Park admission as of September 2011 is $5.
I managed some rock hopping to capture an image of the mill from the creek