Thursday, July 4, 2013

Local Fourth of July History

     In honor of the 114th anniversary of the ground breaking ceremony for Merrimack Mill, I wanted to share this article I put together for our neighborhood newsletter:

     Did you know that on the Fourth of July in 1899 ground breaking ceremonies were held for the Merrimack Manufacturing Company’s first plant here in Huntsville? The exciting event coincided with citywide Independence Day festivities, which also included a ground breaking ceremony for Huntsville’s street car lines. At that time, three textile mills were already in operation in the city: Huntsville Cotton Mills, West Huntsville Cotton Mills, and the Dallas Mills.

     Tracy W. Pratt, head of the West Huntsville Mill in the late 1890s, is credited with bringing the Merrimack Manufacturing Company to Huntsville. A community had developed around the West Huntsville Mill and a nearby furniture factory, and Mr. Pratt saw great potential for growth of the West Huntsville community and the textile industry in Huntsville. The West Huntsville Mill was located on the west side of Triana Boulevard on our modern-day 9th Avenue.
     By 1898, Mr. Pratt had gotten word that the Merrimack Manufacturing Company of Lowell, Massachusetts was considering a plant location in the South. Pratt saw this as the opportunity to make his vision come true and invited Merrimack Manufacturing officials to visit the rural area just south of the West Huntsville Mill. At that time, this property was owned by the McCalley family, who is thought to have farmed the area since before the Civil War. 
     William J. “Bud” McCalley was agreeable to selling a portion of his property, and the Merrimack Manufacturing officials found his price so appealing that they immediately arranged for a site visit. However, the deal was almost over when the Merrimack Manufacturing officials arrived to find horribly flooded conditions at the proposed plant location. The Merrimack representatives returned to Massachusetts to continue their search for a suitable plant location.
     Mr. Pratt was certain of the location’s potential, and he was not discouraged. Following the flood incident, he traveled to Massachusetts to personally deliver letters from Mayor W. T. Hutchens and Rev. J. M. Banister of the Episcopal Church attesting that such flooding had never happened before in the memory of anyone living in Huntsville. Mr. Pratt was successful in convincing the Merrimack officials to return for a second site visit; and this delegation, headed by Mr. John Pete, found the location to be ideal for a textile plant. In addition to land purchased from the McCalley family, Merrimack Manufacturing also acquired property from Milton Humes, Martha Hooper, Nancy J. Watkins, and James E. Penny for a total of 1,385 acres. 
     Alabama Governor Joseph H. Johnston granted Merrimack Manufacturing’s business charter on February 17, 1899, and the company acquired permission to construct a railroad track from West Huntsville to the proposed Merrimack plant location on May 8, 1899. Following the Fourth of July ground breaking festivities, construction of the mill and employee housing began.
     The January 6, 1900, edition of the Republican reported that the people of Huntsville were anxiously awaiting the completion of the Merrimack Mill. Local businesses were making plans to locate in the vicinity and a steam bakery was already under construction.

“All of this shows that our recent prediction that West Huntsville was going to be one of the best suburbs to our city, is getting more prominent every day. We would advise investors to keep in touch with West Huntsville.” (Republican, January 6, 1900)

May we honor those who lived and worked here by once again being one of the best neighborhoods in Huntsville.

Compiled from:
Fisk, Sarah Huff (editor)
  1955 Huntsville Parker 8(1), Historical Edition. Huntsville Manufacturing Company, Huntsville, Alabama.

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