Avondale Mills

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Avondale Mills was a consortium of textile mills founded in 1897 in Birmingham by B. B. Comer. The company was granted a 30-acre parcel in a soon-to-be-developed suburb of Avondale by the Avondale Land Company. The first mill was constructed on the north side of what became 1st Avenue North between 37th Street and 39th Street.

Within a year, the mill had more than 400 workers and posted a profit of $15,000. In 1906 Comer was elected Governor of Alabama and turned over management to his son, Donald. In 1907 the company posted a $55,000 profit on production of almost 8 million yards of material.

Avondale Mills in Birmingham in 1908

As a major employer in the largely-undeveloped area, Avondale Mills constructed a mill village to house workers. The company supported local churches and schools, and also sponsored activities such as company bands, Industrial League baseball, and a weekly newspaper, The Avondale Sun, which reported on company projects, as well as on the lives of its workers and their families.

In the early 20th century, the Birmingham mill employed many children. Sociologist Lewis Wickes Hine interviewed and photographed many young workers for the National Child Labor Committee and presented his findings at the 1911 National Child Labor Committee Conference in Birmingham. Comer defended the practice as expected by former farm families accustomed to benefiting from everyone's labors.

Donald Comer began opening new plants in Sylacauga in 1913. By 1947 the company was processing about a fifth of Alabama's total cotton production and employing 7,000 people across the state. Comer turned over the presidency to James Smith Jr in 1951.

The Birmingham mill was shut down in 1971 and the mill buildings were demolished in 1976. The site was redeveloped as the Avondale Commerce Park. The company was sold to Walton Monroe Mills Inc. in 1986 and was merged into its parent to form Avondale Inc. in 1993.

As late as 2005, the combined company employed more than 4,000 workers in 18 plants in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. That year a Norfolk-Southern Railroad accident near Graniteville, South Carolina caused irreparable damage to an Avondale Mills plant there. The company never recovered from the blow and closed shop in 2006.

On February 14, 2008 the former mill buildings in Pell City, which had been added to the National Register of Historic Places, burned in a fire.