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Chicopee Village

Margaret on March 22nd, 2013 at 5:33PM

Built by Johnson & Johnson in 1926-1927, these buildings are still in use today.  They were among the first structures of their kind in their region to have indoor plumbing, electricity and hot water, and they changed the lives of the families who lived in them.  What were they?  A remarkable collection of homes near Gainesville, Georgia called Chicopee Village.

A street in Chicopee Village, from our archives.

A street in Chicopee Village, from our archives.

In 1916, Johnson & Johnson acquired a 93-year-old company called The Chicopee Manufacturing Company – a famous textile mill that originally grew out of the Industrial Revolution and the need to make United States textile manufacturing independent of Britain.  Johnson & Johnson was the largest manufacturer of sterile surgical dressings during the Nineteen Teens, and was running its manufacturing lines around the clock in order to make enough dressings to treat wounded soldiers during World War I in Europe — while at the same time meeting the demand for sterile dressings from American hospitals.  Johnson & Johnson acquired the Chicopee Manufacturing Company of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts in order to increase capacity to meet that demand.

Employees in the Johnson & Johnson Cotton Mill in 1915 stand in front of surgical dressings.

Employees in the Johnson & Johnson Cotton Mill in 1915 stand in front of surgical dressings. From our archives.

The Chicopee Manufacturing Company was founded in 1823, making it officially the oldest operating company to join the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies.  (Codman & Shurtleff, founded in 1838, was the next oldest.)   In the 1920s, Chicopee was expanding, and land was purchased for the building of a modern, one-story plant near Gainesville, Georgia.  Most textile mills at that time were rather dark, multi-story Victorian era buildings with few amenities.  So of course Johnson & Johnson set out to build the most modern, one-story, light-filled building with all of the latest modern conveniences.  The new Chicopee mill in Georgia attracted a lot of attention, since it looked more like a college campus building than a textile plant.  It was the nation’s first modern, single-story textile mill, and it changed the way textile mills were constructed.

Photo of the brand-new Chicopee mill in Georgia from 1927, from our archives.  The building looked more like a school or a library rather than a cotton mill.

Photo of the brand-new Chicopee Mill in Georgia from 1927, from our archives. The building looked more like a school or a library rather than a cotton mill.

In addition, the Company constructed a village for employees of the new mill – called Chicopee Village.  Chicopee Village had 250 modern houses, a school and a medical facility.

A Chicopee VIllage house, from our archives.

A Chicopee VIllage house, from our archives.

Instead of being designed with identical houses (which would have been easier to build), Chicopee Village contained 31 (yes, 31) variations of modern brick homes.  The houses were among the first in Northeastern Georgia to have indoor plumbing, electricity and hot water.

Interior of one of the Chicopee Village houses, showing the fireplace, from our archives.

Interior of one of the Chicopee Village houses, showing the fireplace, from our archives.

Every house had a modern kitchen and bathroom, screens in the windows (important to keep disease-carrying insects out) and porches.  In most cases, water and electricity were supplied to the residents for free.  For families with cars, there were grouped garages throughout the community.   For those without cars, there were buses into Gainesville.  For many of the families who moved in – perhaps coming from a residence without electricity or indoor plumbing — the houses must have seemed nothing short of miraculous.  One resident wrote to Johnson & Johnson: “ ‘We had a modern five-room brick house with all of the modern conveniences, and went to work in a modern mill where all was light and clean.  A new life was opened for us.”  [Letter from Chicopee employee to Johnson & Johnson, as quoted in Robert Wood Johnson, The Gentleman Rebel by Lawrence G. Foster, Lillian Press, 1999, p. 171]  

Chicopee Village showing hills and landscaping, from our archives.

But there’s more.  Instead of being laid out in a straight grid, Chicopee Village was designed to have rolling hills and winding roads, to make it more attractive for its residents.  And in an era in which many workers’ homes still fronted on unpaved streets, Chicopee Village had paved roads and sidewalks, as well as a sanitary sewer system and storm sewers.  There were modern electric streetlights as well as electricity in the homes and, in a progressive and far-seeing move in 1926, all of the electrical wiring was underground – both to improve the view and prevent power outages caused by wires blowing down in storms.

“All village wiring is underground and 10 carloads of material were required to construct the conduits in which these wires are buried.  When wires are run underground in this way they cannot be short circuited or blown down by storms.  Their concealment, moreover, improves the appearance of all streets and houses while the landscape architects have given every other possible consideration to the symmetry and beauty of this ideal mill community.”  [Chicopee Georgia, Chicopee Manufacturing Corporation of Georgia, prepared and published by Doyle, Kitchen & McCormick, Inc., New York. Undated (1920s) hardcover book in Johnson & Johnson archives, p. 16]

The houses in Chicopee Village were in walking distance to Chicopee Mills – an important consideration in an era before everyone had a car.  There was also another reason:  walking was good exercise, and the Company wanted to promote good health and exercise for the mill employees and their families.

But there’s still more.  Chicopee village had a modern school that was designed to be a model for the state of Georgia, and it had a community center.  The community center was available for social gatherings such as dancing and movie nights, and it had a gymnasium for exercise and team sports.  Behind the community center were a swimming pool, tennis courts and athletic fields for residents.  And behind that was a beautifully landscaped park.  (By now, readers may be asking themselves “When can I move in?”)

There were also public playgrounds in Chicopee Village, as well as a store for residents that sold fresh vegetables and other foods.   (By now, readers would be forgiven for demanding to be able to move in.)

Interior detail of Chicopee Mill in Georgia, showing white enamelled tile on walls.  From our archives.

Interior detail of Chicopee Mill in Georgia, showing white enamelled tile on walls. From our archives.

Health, safety and well-being were primary concerns.  (A book in our archives about Chicopee in Georgia has chapter headings titled Safety, Health and Happiness.)  Not only did the mill have the latest safety standards and equipment (including automatic fire sprinklers), but the village had a telephone relay system for residents to report any kind of emergency.  A water filtration plant was built to provide pure, filtered water to the community.  Chicopee Village also had a trained nurse in residence.

Johnson & Johnson had some precedent for building employee housing.  Just a few decades earlier, the Company bought and renovated houses for employees in New Brunswick, on Morrell Street.  Chicopee Village was of special interest to General Robert Wood Johnson, and he put his beliefs about the social responsibilities of business into its planning and construction. With Chicopee Village, Johnson & Johnson put into practice its emphasis on health, safety, hygiene and quality of life for employees (and by extension, their families), and created a model community that’s still talked about today by the descendents of those who lived there.

By the way, if you’re interested in taking a tour through one of the Chicopee Village houses in the present day, you can do so for a short time on this site.

In the textile industry of the 1920s, Chicopee Mills and Chicopee Village were seen as the greatest advance ever taken to upgrade the status of southern textile employees.  [Robert Wood Johnson, The Gentleman Rebel, by Lawrence G. Foster, Lillian Press, 1999, p. 171]   And although we take things like indoor plumbing, electricity and central heating for granted today, for the employees who were experiencing these necessities for the first time, it was truly life-changing.  Years later, Robert Wood Johnson would codify the ideas that influenced the building of Chicopee Mills and Chicopee Village in Georgia into a one-page document that still guides Johnson & Johnson today: Our Credo.

Open Response to Chicopee Village

  1. Fascinating! I certainly hope some people who lived and worked there will comment and add their memories.

  2. Hiii…Amazing History of Johnson & Johnson

  3. I was born in Chicopee Village to Alice Brownlow Black and Thomas E Black.
    Both my parents worked in the Mill. All my siblings were born in the Village also. (from 1931-1942). The whole Village raised the children. We had the best school and excellent teachers. I remember all the activities in the 30′s and 40′s. We all played tennis, basketball,softball, skated all summer and joined in parades, even had a Rythem Band. Each year there was a Community Picnic. We had Health care with a Nurse 24/7 and a Doctor all week. This Dr. even made house calls.
    I even had my wedding in Our house.
    While in High School, I was allowed to work for Chicopee Mill in the Office on the PBX board. I loved my life there.

  4. Betty Jo,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences growing up in Chicopee Village. It sounds like it was an amazing community with amazing people!

    Margaret

  5. I LIVED IN CHICOPEE, ALL MY LIFE, CHICOPEE MASS. AND WONDERED HOW CHICOPEE GEORGIA GOT ITS NAME. I EVEN WENT TO THE TRADE SCHOOL THAT WAS IN THE CHICOPEE MFG BUILDING ALONG THE BANKS OF THE CHICOPEE RIVER WHERE THEY GOT THEIR POWER. THE BUILDING HERE HAS OF COURSE BEEN PRETTY MUCH DEMOLISHED. IT WAS JUST UPRIVER FROM AMES MFG. CO. WHICH MANUFACTURED, STARTING WITH SHOVELS THEN STARTED MAKING SWORDS AND CANNON AND BELLS FOR CHURCHES, FOR BOTH THE NORTH AND SOUTH UNTIL THE START OF THE CIVIL WAR.

  6. My grandfather, Raymond Swetenburg, was in charge of the Chicopee facility in Gainsville, GA for many years. He was a great man. It is interesting to read about the facility’s history.

  7. My dad worked at Chicopee from the late 1940′s until he retired in the early 1970′s. Though we did not live in the village, I remember attending many community functions, especially the great picnics, when I was a young boy. My dad constantly raved about Chicopee workers, and was proud to be a member of the JNJ family of employees. General Johnson came to Gainesville at least twice a year. Believe me, it was a grand occasion when he came to visit.

  8. My grandparents lived in Chicopee Village from the 40s until the mid 70s, I think. Their names were Fred and Morine Stringer Simpson. My great grandfather, Arthur Stringer, was supervisor of the mill for a time. He passed away before I was born but I heard many stories about him. I have great memories of visiting my grandparents a lot while they lived in the Village.

  9. The Chicopee legacy continues,
    1. Chicopee Woods Golf Course,
    2. Chicopee Ag & Equestrian Center,
    3. The Chicopee Village continues,
    4. The Mill’s transformation into an industrial site, and
    5. The Chicopee Center in Athens is an important support facility for UGA.

    Plus many people over a number of generations have developed very positive lives with the support and vision provided by J&J throughout NE GA.

    The decision to invest in Gainesville & NE GA was a “Game Changer”!

    I appreciate my time in Gainesville and working with Chicopee & J&J.

  10. I lived in the village from 1965 to1975 with my mother and father and 2 brother’s and one sister. It was a great place to grow up. We all went to chicopee schopl and the baptist church where we all all go with our own families to this day

  11. Eventhough we don’t go back as far as some, we bought a house ( for $6,500.00, payments were $53.94 monthly) & moved to The Chicopee Village in 1966 moved in 1995. Two of our four children were born while living in The Village. All four grew up in The Village, attended Chicopee School later to be called Sylvester B. Jones Elementary. We presently attend & are active in the Chicopee Baptist Church My children rode bikes, played ball and had friends all over The Village. Very fond memories!

  12. Thanks for this blog! My Grandfather, Joe Whelchel ran the barber shop that was located in the village. My father grew up in the village and so did I. I still live in Chicopee Village. My grandson is the 5th generation of our family to grow up living in Chicopee, Georgia! We have a tremendous history thanks to Johnson and Johnson.

  13. My grandmother’s cousin Molly Stancil grew up in Chicopee Village. She would eventually move in with us in the 1960′s and took care of me and my brothers and sisters while my mom and dad worked. She moved back to Chicopee in the late 1970′s to take care of her sister who had cancer. She had two sisters and they lived in the brick house that I remember visiting as a child. It was on a corner lot and steps led up to the porch as is described in the archives. It was near the Blackshear place if I’m recalling correctly which may or may not have some link to Chicopee and/or the Mill. I believe the house had two bedrooms but there may have been three. Molly often talked about working at the mill but I never knew it was owned by J&J. This is very interesting historical information, and I’d like to thank you all for publishing this.

  14. There was a Community House in Chicopee Village that was used for group and community meetings….One of my aunts or uncles got permission for our family to use it for a Family Reunion…..That must have been about 1948 give or take a few years….It was the last time that all my great aunts and uncles were together before they began to pass away…..I wonder if there are any records of the groups that used this Community Center and the dates…..I am a member of the Davis Family…….

  15. Charles, it’s great that your family was able to use the Community House in Chicopee Village for a family reunion! Although we do have a number of documents in our archives relating to Chicopee Village, we unfortunately don’t have the records of who would have used the Community House for events. Those records would have been kept by the Community House. Perhaps someone else out there with a connection to Chicopee Village will have information that might be helpful as you look for records of your family. Best of luck in your search!

    Margaret

  16. I was blessed to spend the first 22 years of my life in Chicopee (1941- 1963). To say this was a unique and very special place may be an understatement. All the homes and public areas were meticulously maintained. There were signs posted along the sidewalks reminding you to “Keep Off The Grass”. The elementary school was staffed by the best educators available and summer activities were well planned and made available to all the children who lived in the village. The community shopping complex consisted of a general store, a drug store, barber shop, service station, post office and later, a beauty salon and florist.
    Chicopee’s adult athletic teams (baseball & basketball) were considered to be among the best to compete in the old southern textile leagues of the 1940′s and early 1950′s. Many of those who were stars of that era are remembered today for their outstanding feats on the field and in the gym. Names like Cotton Reaves, John Henry Laws, Skinny Vaughn and Dean Evans are mentioned today with great respect for their accomplishments.
    Those of us who are fortunate enough to call Chicopee our home will never forget how blessed we were to be a part of something so special. I think the best memories for us will always be about the wonderful people who lived in the village. As a boy I had a job delivering ‘The Atlanta Constitution’ and this gave me the opportunity to get to know every family in the village. The friendships that were forged in those days continue today and will never be forgotten.

  17. My mother’s family (Candler and Clara Cagle) lived in the village. I remember visiting there as a child and enjoying the village so much. Everything was so pretty and well kept. I always had so much fun there with the tons of friends I made on these visits. I knew from the start that this was developed by J and J and was the most modern village in it’ s day. I used to walk to the store by myself and was pushed in a wagon down the hill on a street and ended up way down the hill in the out field in the baseball park. Ha! Enjoyed my reunions at what my mom’s family called the club house. What good memories I have of Chicopee Village and I what wonderful family and friends have lived there.

  18. My great grandparents and many other relatives lived in Chicopee Village and I spent a lot of time there as a child/teen when they were alive. I use to visit all of the neighbors. Everyone knew your name and who you belonged to. You could not get away with anything!

    I attended the elementary school in the 70s (which was renamed Jones Elementary, but everyone still called it Chicopee). Both my mother and grandmother worked in the school. The school librarian, Ms. Inez Jones (the school was named after her deceased husband who was principal), lived in the village and I knew her all my life. Mr. Shockley, my fifth grade teacher, lived there for many, many years. A lot of the people I went to school with lived in the village as well. In fact, a lot of them I went to school from 1st grade through graduation.

    Most of my family attended Chicopee Methodist, but a lot also attended or preached at Chicopee Baptist.

    Not a whole has changed from when I was a child with the village itself. It still maintains some of its charm.

  19. My grandfather, BV White, Sr and my dad, BV White, Jr both retired from Chicopee. Ray Swetenberg and Robert Lawson were over the mill then. My grandparents lived in a Chicopee house deep in the woods-a big white house across from the village. They later moved into the Village. All of our birthday parties and family get togethers were in the white frame clubhouse-in what is now called Chicopee Woods.
    Elachee Nature Science Center, where I am on the board, is now part of Chicopee Woods-so a whole new generation of children is playing in the woods. Thank you, General Johnson, for the gift of that land to Gainesville and wanting it to remain protected. Every time I’m at Elachee, I think of all the children who loved those woods before us.

  20. I was born at five C Avenue and lived in the village until I married. It was a wonderful place to live. No one new ever moved in or out, so everyone knew everyone. My parents, Cora and Lester Pinson, worked in the mill from the day it opened until they retired. The company took good care of all of us. We had free health care. The company provided Scout programs for boys and girls. Every summer we Girl Scouts got to spend a week at Vogal State Park paid for by the company. We got to ride in the back of a company truck filled with hay. Could not do that today. I could go on and on but will stop.

  21. My parents started work in Chicopee Mill around 1929. My two brothers and I grew up in the village. When I finished high school, I went to work in Office at the mill. I worked there for about 14 Yrs. I’ve always counted it privilege to have lived there. We had a program every summer for all us kids. Tennis, games, movies,etc. Kept us busy all summer. What a wonderful place! So many memories.

  22. Random Chicopee Memories

    I am the daughter of Lawrence and Estelle Herrin. I was born in 1943. They had two sons older than me, Joe and Doug and one son younger, Wade. We lived in several houses in the village but the one we lived in the longest was 9 C Avenue. It was on the corner of Third Street and C Avenue. Directly across the street lived the Stancils; on the other side of Third by the Stancils lived Barker and Irene Jones and across from them was the Roy Bagby family. I still go to Church with their daughter, Kay.

    Following are just some random memories I have of growing up in Chicopee Village in no particular order; just as they come to my mind.

    Weekly pay coming in small brown envelopes, cash inside with deductions written on outside.
    Big steel, green glider swings in the grass next to the highway. Great on a Sunday afternoon.
    The Guest House. If things started happening around there, you knew the “Big Bosses” were coming. I always wanted to just look inside that house but we never even walked in the yard.
    Army convoys passing by. My oldest brother, Joe was in the Army, on his way to Louisiana for maneuvers and they were passing by the Village. Joe pretended to have engine problems and with his buddies help; they pulled the truck to the side of the road, Joe ran to our house. Mother loaded him up with the cake she had just made, left over biscuits from breakfast, bread and peanut butter. He ran back, jumped into the truck and headed along his way, leaving Mother and the rest of the family with joyful tears.
    Lining up in the hallway at school for vaccinations. Free to us and given in the Library by the company nurse.
    Seeing Dr. Garner, getting a prescription, taking it to the drug store where they put it on the bus to be picked up at the station in town by Whatley’s Pharmacy worker and then sent back on the bus by the end of the same day.
    The Ice Man treating us kids to slivers of ice after he had chopped off the block to be carried into the house. Those ice tongs looked HUGE to me.
    Milk Man delivering milk to our house in glass bottles with cardboard caps.
    Walks to the filter plant in the spring to pick violets and Daddy would put sweet shrubs blooms in his handkerchief for me to smell the rest of the day. Daddy said we could only pick a few violets; we had to save them for others to enjoy. PIGS!! Oh the joy of finding the little heart shaped leaves that meant if Daddy used his pocket knife and dug gently, he could dig up the root that had a bulb at the end that looked like a baby pig.
    Parties at the Club House, dancing to the hits of the day, spin the bottle.
    Girlfriends taking peanut butter sandwiches and Kool-Aid in mason jars into the woods for a picnic. It was safe back then. Then, if in season, we would pick blackberries until we had our fill only to come home covered in “Chiggers”. Mother would put bleach and then clear nail polish on mine.
    First playground equipment at new school. I never went to the old school across the highway, I think my first grade year was the first full year in the new school.
    Clamp on skates that had to have a key to tighten them on your old shoes. Dare not lose your key, we would skate in groups all day. Up and down the streets.
    Few cars, even fewer phones. We could skate or ride our bikes without fear because we didn’t have to watch for cars. If we needed to place a call; we went to the store and used the one there for free. It was in the hallway, close to the bathrooms. You just had to tell the operator the number you wanted her to call for you.
    Ruby South doing the ladies hair at one end of the barber shop with Barber Joe at other end.
    Playing HORSE at the Boy Scout Cabin at the end of 4th Street.
    Target practice at the trash pile with Daddy and brothers.
    Mother doing laundry with old wringer washing machine then hanging clothes on line in backyard. Oh, the sweet smell and feel of those sheets that had hung in the sun all day!
    Walking to and from school, even home for lunch. No lunchroom at school in those days.
    Cold, smooth marble countertop in drug store; coke floats, Mandy Stancil, perfume samples, “Evening in Paris” perfume in small, dark blue bottles.
    Movies outside on big screen at ball park bleachers in summer.
    Houses inspected by company for cleanliness, painted inside and outside on schedule by company and they even furnished our light bulbs!
    Coal houses built onto side of the houses, so cool inside them.
    Men and women walking home from work.
    Families sitting on front porches, sometimes the women stringing beans or shelling peas.
    Houses sold by number of rooms at a cost of $1,000.00 per room. Our house had three bedrooms, kitchen, living room, bath, front & back porch. It was known as a five (5) room house because they didn’t count the bath or porches. What a deal for the families!!
    Christmas play in the gym.
    First branch, second branch, Rocky Ford, catching minnows and crawfish.
    Dungarees, not jeans sold at company store along with overalls, shoes, candy in large glass jars. Even had charge accounts, just tell them to charge it; didn’t have to tell whose name, they already knew.
    Riding bus into town for a nickel.
    Playing “Kitty wants a Corner” and “Kick the Can”; “tug of war” if we could find a rope.
    Leaks in water tank. Some boys even crossed the road to play in the spray of water. News spread fast!
    Let outside from class to watch parachute jumpers practice landing at mill yard.
    Trick or treating on “our own side” of the village out of courtesy.
    Getting very own mailbox at Post Office was something to be happy about.
    Sweethearts walking around the block, maybe two before Dads got angry.
    Clinic visits to see nurse for scrapes, sprains, sore throats, etc. I can still recall the smell of that office.
    Class voting in fourth grade. I voted for Eisenhower because I liked the way it felt to say his name instead of saying Stephenson.
    Mr. Carlin, our policeman riding the streets, though not much crime in our village.
    The Goat Man in his small wagon, pulled by goats with more walking along the side and trailing behind; with pots and pans hanging on the side of the wagon clanging as he went. Camping in the spot next to the highway, near the Baptist Church. People stopping to see the bearded gnome of a man and his wares.
    Hobos sitting in open boxcars as the train rumbled along the tracks.
    Whistle of the steam engine that pulled the train.
    Going to the barn to dig for worms to use for fishing at the filter plant pond.
    Learning to drive on the dirt road from “H” Avenue to the Club House and back, my brother Doug by my side.
    Miss Bessie Bickers, founder of the Hall County Humane Society, coming to school each spring to talk mostly to the boys urging them to please don’t use their BB rifles to shoot birds and small animals.
    Miss Marelle Cronic, the first grade teacher for many years. Only slightly taller than her students but with a giant heart and influence on children.
    Test flights of the new C130 transport plane and getting out of class to watch as it flew over. I was probably 10 or 11 at the time.

    Each memory made even more precious by the loss of so many that contributed to the making of them.

  23. Wonderful Chicopee memories . . . my grandparents and uncle worked for decades at the mill. He shares stories with me, and I just read these memories–he was immensely blessed by hearing them, and that prompted more memories. He remembers Cap Stringer, the police chief, who had formerly been the Warden of the Chicopee Prison. He was a great, big guy with thick rimmed glasses, and his eyes were as big as crocodile eyes! He watched carefully over his flock. He would scare people to death with those eyes because he was so huge and overpowering. He would grab a suspect by the shirt, put his face right up to his face and tell him, “You behave yourself!” The suspect would respond and say, “Thank you, Captain!”

    Everybody who knew his history had reason to respect him. He was so huge that the biggest person would cower under his gaze.

    He members Hazel Harden, riding with some people, including Frank Youngblood, coming down H Avenue from the Bennett Road and trying to decide to turn right on I Avenue or continue straight down H Avenue. Rather than disobey driving instructions from Frank Youngblood and Eugene Harden, she could not decide whether to turn right or continue down H Avenue. Consequently, she compromised and took the middle portion, which led into Mrs. McDonald’s yard, straight into her prized plum tree, whereupon Mrs. McDonald, in her bonnet, pounced upon the offending party and berated them loudly and reprimanded them for destroying her prized plum tree.

  24. I am working right now in a building in the Chicopee Facility area. I remember growing up in Gainesville GA and every time you drove by you would marvel at the care of the lawns and facility it’s self. Does anyone know why it closed down? Sterile gauges are still in wide use today. I don’t understand why Johnson and Johnson left.

  25. I lived at six j avenue with my family, ralph, martha, doug for twelve years. Cant think of a more wonderful place to be from. Loved every day we were there. Wonderful neighbors, the kemps, davises, miss chandler. Right across from the school gym. Loved all my teachers, especially miss ledford. Pat

  26. We lived at six j avenue for twelve years. Ralph martha, doug and pat edge. Best place to live, best neighbors, the kemps, davises, miss chandler. Best friends, some of us still stay in contact. The rock in front of the school seemed so big back then. My son, jason attended school there for two years in the late seventies. I have an aunt who still lives there, nell. As I said it was a great place.

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