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November 14, 2013 Issue

Old Stapleton plant torn down
Runoff planned in Dist. 127 race
Veterans saluted...
Wadley man suffers multiple knife wounds

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Old Stapleton plant torn down

By Parish Howard
Editor/Publisher

When the lunch bell rang, the streets of Stapleton would be flooded with people.

Hundreds of them would spill out and over downtown, entering thriving grocery stores, hardware stores, visiting the bank or looking in on their children at school.

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It’s hard for those who did not see it then to believe now. Most of those businesses and the school are long gone. The bank has been converted into a city hall.

And as of Friday, even the shell of Stapleton Garment, once the largest employer in Jefferson County on a single shift, is only so much rubble.

“All that rain earlier this year took its toll,” said John Harley, the property’s owner, who has been trying to sell it for some time now. “The roof was falling in and people in town were afraid the more it caved in, that eventually the bricks were going to fall on a vehicle along that side street.”

So Friday, Harley had a demolition crew take down the four-story (including the basement) antique brick and heart-pine building that had stood in town since around 1901, according to some records.

“I really wish it could have been saved,” Harley said. “An awful lot of people have called me about it. I even tried to give it away.”

Harley said that he is recycling about 90 percent of the antique brick that was in the building.

“Everyone hated to see it go,” said Frank Parrish, Stapleton’s mayor. “But it was a safety hazard. The top floor had done fell in on the third floor and the third floor had fallen in the second and it looked like the second was about to start coming into the first. We were scared it was going to come down on the road.”

According to Faye McNair, who has lived less than a block from the building for around 65 years, her records show that the building, dating back to 1901,was built as a general mercantile store by Dave Denton and James Stapleton. That was before the railroad came through, but the store is rumored to have carried clothing, groceries, millinery, clothing and even caskets.

“I understand that sometime between 1940 and 1946 it was renamed Stapleton Garment Company,” McNair said.

During World War II, locals tell, that the factory produced parachutes for the war effort. Parrish said he heard it had also made fatigues during the war.

“We were bustling back then,” McNair said. “I remember people just pouring out of there and cars parked all over.”

Mayor Parrish said that in the ‘60s and ‘70s he worked for one of the three stores that supported the garment company’s employees.

As the building was taken down this week, many of the company’s former employees reminisced.

•••

Terry Redfern started there in 1959, worked his way up, and was plant manager when it closed.

“Back then it was owned by Max Estroff, Leon Hayman and Charlie Cippola, I believe,” Redfern said. “Later it was sold to Knight Industries.”

When he started, it was primarily manufacturing mens’ clothing. But he remembers when they added womens’ lines.

“That’s when it started booming,” Redfern said. “I remember when we had 485 employees and put out 35,000 pairs of pants a week. We supplied stories like Sears and J.C. Penny’s. When black denim came out, it was so popular, we couldn’t make those pants fast enough.”

Redfern said that 90 percent of the employees were women and that they came from surrounding cities and as far away as Thomson and Wadley. They worked from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with many working as late as 7 p.m. when orders had to be met.

“We worked every Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon,” he said.

The plant closed in April 1997 when a lot of textile jobs were moved overseas, he said.

“For a while we cut out parts and sections of clothes and shipped them to Mexico and other places to put them together,” Redfern said. “It was sad when it closed, but they had to do it. We just couldn’t compete with those other countries.”

“It really hurt the town of Stapleton when it closed,” Redfern said. “There were a lot of people raising their families on what they made there. It really hurt the whole county.”

•••

Betty Dowdy worked there for 17 years.

“There was a time when that was one of the only places a woman around here could get a job,” Dowdy said.

She remembers working on the womens sports wear lines and did some inspecting

“Towards the end we had a lot of bats and rats,” Dowdy said with a laugh. “I don’t know where they’ve gotten off to now.”

She said they made Levis jeans and other well-known brands.

•••

Classie Roberts is 70 years old now. She worked for the garment company from April 16, 1965 until November of 1996 and was a supervisor when she left.

“The big department was closed in ’96,” Roberts said. “But I think the little department went right on until 1997.”

Eventually Roberts, Dowdy and the other former employees slide off into their own language of the professional seamstress: machine flies, pressing rooms, side seams, tacking and blind stitches.

“It was a good place to work,” Roberts said. “I was there 31 years. It was hard to leave a place I’d worked so long. It’s heartbreaking that it was torn down. It’s the only place I ever worked in a position like that.”

•••

Gloria Hawkins is 78 now and worked at Stapleton Garment for nearly 44 years.

“It was a booming place,” she said. “I met a lot of people there and made a lot of friends. I was a supervisor and some of my employees called me Mama.”

Hawkins said she left the plant in November of 1998 when it was completely closed down.

She said that after high school, once she was old enough to come out of the cotton patch, she had first gone to work for a canning company in Gibson. By 20, she had gone to work in Stapleton at 75 cents an hour.

“There just weren’t that many places to go to work,” Hawkins said. “There was Thomson and there was Stapleton. At the time, those were the only places around here that had factories that I knew of.”

She remembers there being as many as 500 employees at different times.

“There were 50 in my department and there were a lot of other supervisors,” she said. “I remember when they announced it was closing. A lot of people left there crying.”

While she said it’s sad to see the building go, she knew it was in bad shape.

“I remember towards the end, there were leaks and we had put buckets around,” Hawkins said. “And there were bats. They’d come flying around our heads while we were working and we’d have to chase them with a stickbroom.”

•••

Several other employees have commented on driving by and seeing the building in pieces. Some admit to taking a brick or sign as a memoir of a place where they invested their sweat and years of their lives. For them, the scraps are memoirs of a time when little Stapleton helped provide for so many.




Runoff planned in Dist. 127 race

By Carol McLeod

Jefferson County showed a clear preference in the election last week for state representative for District 127.

The winner in this race will fill the unexpired term of Rep. Quincy Murphy (D-127) who died in August.

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His district covers Augusta-Richmond County and parts of Jefferson County.

Locally, Diane Evans received 827 votes, which is 70.08 percent; Brian Prince received 242 votes or 20.51 percent; and Dianne Murphy received 111 votes, 9.41 percent.

However, overall the results were quite different and will lead to a run-off between Prince and Evans.

Prince garnered 1,468 votes in the district. At 44.61 percent, that is not enough to give him the seat.

Evans and Murphy were more competitive with each other coming in with 973 votes, 29.57 percent, for Evans and 850 votes, 25.83 percent, for Murphy.

These results are based on information provided by the Georgia Secretary of State’s website and were still unofficial as of press time Tuesday.

Further information about the run-off will be announced at a later date.




Veterans saluted...

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Veterans from Jefferson and Glascock counties raised their hands in salute Monday honoring their comrades’ service during local Veterans Day ceremonies.

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Wadley man suffers multiple knife wounds

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Wadley Police Chief Wesley Lewis said a Wadley man was assaulted in his home last week.

Capt. Robert Chalker, an investigator with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, said Jefferson County 911 Center received a call for help from the 56-year-old victim about 3:05 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 7.

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“He stated that he had been robbed and assaulted at his home and needed an ambulance,” Chalker said.

The investigator said the victim had been stabbed and cut with a knife.

Chalker said a Wadley police officer, Jefferson County deputies, Gold Cross EMS personnel and first responders with the Wadley Fire Department responded.

“Upon their arrival, they located him inside his residence suffering from multiple stab wounds and cuts to his face, head, arms and torso,” Chalker said. “Before leaving by ambulance, the victim was able to provide officers with a name, description and vehicle description of his attacker.”

Deputies immediately began searching for the suspect and vehicle described and were able to locate Willie Thomas Jackson Jr., 56, of Wadley leaving his residence on Young Street. He was driving a vehicle fitting the description.

Chalker said Jackson was taken into custody without incident and transported to the Jefferson County Jail. The victim was transported to Jefferson Hospital emergency room where he was later air-lifted to Georgia Regents Medical Center in Augusta.

“He was listed in critical, but stable condition,” Chalker said, adding attempts to interview him by investigators have been unsuccessful because of his condition.

“However, based on evidence recovered from the crime scene, Jackson’s person, Jackson’s vehicle and statements made by Jackson, Investigators with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office were able to charge Jackson with several crimes.

“Willie Thomas Jackson Jr. has been charged with one count of aggravated assault, one count of armed robbery and one count of possessing a knife during the commission of certain crimes,” Chalker said.

Jackson is currently being held at the Jefferson County Jail with no bond.

The motive for the crime and details surrounding the incident are still being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, JCSO and Wadley Police Department.







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