105 A S. Niota Rd., Englewood, Tennessee
The James W. Chesnutt House in Englewood, McMinn County, Tennessee is registered for listing on the National Register of Historic Places for its association with James William Chestnutt. The house is associated with the productive life of Chesnutt from 1905 to 1942, the period in which he achieved local significance as a mill owner.
Chesnutt helped develop two of the early textile mills in Englewood and was president of one of them. Because of his work in industry, the community of Englewood grew from a railroad crossroads to an industrial center. The textile mills were the primary employers in Englewood and were responsible for the prosperity and stability of the Englewood economy.
James W. Chesnutt was born on May 24, 1869 on the Chesnutt farm, near present day
Englewood. The Chesnutt family had owned the farm for more then 50 years at the time of his birth. Chesnutt grew up near Englewood on the farm. He worked for the Ducktown Sulpher, Copper and Iron Company in Ducktown, Tennessee in the early 1890s. Chesnutt ran the commissary for the company. In 1890, he married Anna Porter, a nurse at the company hospital, and together, they moved to Englewood in the late 1890s.
Englewood began to develop around 1857 on a farm beside the Chestuee Creek, south of present-day Englewood. John J. Dixon established the Eureka Cotton Mills on the site near the creek, which provided power for the looms. Goods were taken by wagon to the county seat, Athens, and shipped on the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad. Elisha Brient shared in the operational responsibilities of the mill and by 1875, the Eureka Mills were owned by the Brient family. They established a small mill village with a company store in addition to the mill. They also owned a 250-acre farm. By 1875, the mill had 19 employees and expanded in 1892-93. Reflective of mill ownership, the name of the town that grew up around the factory changed twice between 1857 and 1894. Initially called Eureka Mills by Dixon, the Brient Family renamed the town Englewood in 1894.
In 1887, the Knoxville Southern Railroad built a railroad line through eastern McMinn County that crossed the Tellico Railroad near the community of Englewood. A small agricultural community named Tellico Junction grew around the crossroads. The Knoxville Southern had connections to Knoxville and Atlanta and through there to national markets. The Tellico Railroad connected Tellico Junction in Monroe County to Athens in McMinn County with a stop in Mount Vernon. In Athens, the line connected to the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad (later part of the Southern Railroad). Recognizing that railroads provided a more efficient means of transporting goods than wagons, Brient moved the Eureka Cotton Mills to Tellico Junction in 1908, absorbing
the Tellico community, which adopted the name of Englewood. When the Brient's moved the Eureka Mills closer to the railroad junction, they brought with them the mill, employees, company store and the post office. The previous town site of the Eureka Mills became known as Old Englewood.
In 1901, James Chesnutt in partnership with the Brient brother, created the Englewood Milling Company in Tellico Junction. The company produced “union suits” for men and boys. As partner, Chesnutt was not only involved in the day-to-day operation of the company, but he was the executor of the James Brient estate, a member of city council, manager of the Chesnutt Farms and the director of a local bank. By 1921, the company had between 200 and 300 employees, mostly women and children.
In 1913, James Chesnutt, in a partnership organized by the J. Allen Smith Company of Knoxville, Tennessee, formed the Englewood Manufacturing Company. During this period, Chesnutt remained a partner in the Englewood Milling Company. The Englewood Manufacturing Company produced hosiery for women and girls. They produced 1,200 hose daily that were sold across the United States and to several foreign countries including England, Canada, Greece, Argentina, and the Philippines.
By 1919, the town of Englewood incorporated with over 1,200 residents. James Brient, the head of the Eureka Mills died in 1907, and his holdings in the mill passed on to his brother, Mortimer. Mortimer Brient retained his holdings in the company until the company closed during the Great Depression.
The mills in Englewood built houses for the workers. Each mill built in an area of town near its mill. The Eureka Cotton Mills named their area of houses Yellow Top, the Englewood Milling Company built on Onion Hill, and the Englewood Manufacturing Company built houses in Sock Town. The mills also provided a company store, saw mill, blacksmith shop, gristmill, two churches and a one room school.
The Englewood Manufacturing Company, like most southern mills, preferred to hire employees with large families, since children would often follow their mothers into the mills. Women were allowed to bring their babies to work with them, and children began working in the mills around the age of 12. Chesnutt established a school for his young workers whereby; pupils worked in the morning and attended school in the afternoon. Chesnutt employed a certified teacher for his pupils. Child labor in the mills continued until 1938 when the Fair Labor Act abolished child labor.
The mills grew throughout the 1920s, and the population in Englewood grew to 1,471 by 1930. The town had three mills, company stores, a bank, independent stores, and a new school built in 1926. When the mills were operating at capacity, they employed over 400 people.
Employees at the Englewood Manufacturing Company, University of Tennessee Libraries
Unfortunately, the Depression had a great effect on the mills in Englewood. By 1934, the
Englewood Manufacturing Company employed only 125 people. Although regarded as having an efficient operation, the company failed to survive the Depression. Many of its products were shipped to customers who could not pay for them, it was locked into contracts for raw cotton at a much higher price then the Depression prices, and there was a dramatic reduction in orders. James Chesnutt and his son William Porter Chesnutt did all they could to save the mill, including borrowing much money. When the Englewood Bank failed, however, they lost the mortgage on the mill and the company was forced to close. The Eureka Cotton Mill and the Englewood Milling Company also closed during the Depression and did not re-open until 1940.
In 1940, the Chesnutts formed the Tennessee Hosiery Mill, and rented space in the former Englewood Manufacturing Company building, but they were unable to buy the building. When the plant needed to expand, the company moved to Niota in the northern part of McMinn County, eventually all the production moved there.
The Eureka Mills reopened in 1940; in 1957, it was reorganized as the Eureka Garment Company and in 1984 as the Eureka Sportswear Company, under which name it still operates. Changing technology has rendered the old industrial plants obsolete, which led to the relocation of the company to facilities built in the 1980s.
James W. Chesnutt and the members of the Brient family were the major employers in Englewood from 1901 through the mill closings during the 1930s, as the mills prospered the community did, but when the mills closed the community suffered greatly as most of the jobs disappeared. Chesnutt and the Brient’s played a prominent part in the community, donating funds for religious and civic groups, particularly the Methodist and Baptist Churches, and for town improvements including the school and the town park. Chesnutt took an active role in local politics, serving one term on the town council.
Since the Eureka Mill and the Englewood Manufacturing Company produced different products, they were not in direct competition with each other and both prospered. The workforce in both fluctuated as the need for the products they produced did, but they remained about equal in the number of workers employed. Since Chesnutt retained an interest in the Englewood Milling Company after he established the Englewood Manufacturing Company he benefited from the prosperity of both companies.
None of the mill buildings built in the early 1900s when Englewood was formed are extant. There are, however, ruins of the 1950s Tennessee Hosiery Mill, and the 1920s Eureka Mill. The buildings have been vacant for many years and have deteriorated after being left open to weather. The Eureka Mill building roof is gone, and all that survives are brick walls and the water tower. The Tennessee Hosiery Mill building is deteriorating rapidly.
The houses the mills built for their employees in the early 1900s still survive. The houses were sold in the 1950s to individuals who made changes to the buildings, which did not have indoor plumbing. Most of the housing for the three mills remain, but have been altered. The Brient family’s two story, frame Bungalow still stands in Old Englewood.
The James W. Chesnutt House is the only building directly associated with James W. Chesnutt that is extant in Englewood. The house has not been substantially altered since James W. Chesnutt had the house built circa 1905. Chesnutt lived in this house from circa 1905 until his death in 1942, during which time he was affiliated with the Englewood Milling Company and the Englewood Manufacturing Company. Because of the association with James W. Chesnutt, and his importance to the early industrial development of Englewood, this house is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.