Leila Hebert started working at the Porterdale mill as a spooler when she was 16, but her mother was the true early starter, starting with Bibb Manufacturing at the age of nine.
"She had to stand on a stool to even be able to reach the bench," Hebert said.
After living Louisiana for 32 years, Hebert recently returned to her hometown of Porterdale, and on Saturday she came out to the seventh annual Porterdale Reunion and Festival to reminisce and examine old pictures of the mill town.Friends and family members joined at the mill and talked about the old Porterdale, the bustling little mill town on the Yellow River. James Hodges remembers running around as a youngster and going to the movies, the drug store and the ice cream parlor.
Although Porterdale deteriorated over the years, the city has recently be revitalized by the renovation and restoration of the old mill by Walter Davis, who created the Porterdale Mill Lofts. Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey, who was celebrating his 56th birthday, also remembered growing up in Porterdale and said he was excited about the renovations taking place, and is particularly looking forward to the restoration of the gym, which was damaged by a 2005 fire.
"It used to be a trademark of this town; it was really ahead of it’s time. B.C. Crowell used to open it up at 9 a.m., and we would play all day," said Hailey, who was also on hand to accept a donation for the Newton County Miracle League Field project from the Friends of Porterdale.
In addition, Mayor Bobby Hamby dedicated the Porterdale Yellow River Park. Over the past several months, Porterdale employees have been working hard to clear the underbrush around the Yellow River to allow more access for kayaking, canoeing and fishing. Although the flood set back the process, Hamby decided to dedicate the park today anyway, and he and City Manager Tom Fox said they hoped FEMA might provide some funds to help restore the progress the city had made.
"There’s over 50 acres there, and it has the potential to be become a beautiful park. I can see it, people kayaking and canoeing. It’s a good setting on the river and has a chance to really be a jewel," Fox said.
In addition, residents listened to live music, ate some southern barbecue, examined the various crafts for sale and many bought copies of the "Diary of Cotton Mill Girl", written by Lucy Ivey Shaw, the mother of Kay Coggin, the current president of the Friends of Porterdale. Coggin said the reunion started because she and other long-time residents wanted to celebrate the history of the town and prepare for the future.
"We’re trying to get people interested in the history of Porterdale. This used to the largest textile mill in the world and was a big part of WWII. This mill village represents the industrial revolution in this country," Coggin said. "We want Porterdale to become a destination. We want people to come and learn the town’s history, but also see that we’re building toward the future."