A Phoenix Rising
“The location of EARTH matters, because this site has mattered to people for over 100 years. Their families were providing for each other here for generations, it will always be the place that put food on the table.”
Founded in 1897, textile manufacturing from Avondale Mills left its mark on cities throughout Alabama. The mills refined the bountiful cotton from Alabama fields and devoured 20% of the Alabama’s entire cotton production.
In Avondale’s prime, the campus was a collection of community-minded structures. The Mill Village was established to house their workers and their families. The Comer’s started a church and school immediate to the site, along with a drug store, grocery, and filling station.
The Avondale Mills site, however, was more than simply buildings. At its peak, the Eva Jane plant and Catherine Mills plant jointly employed 3,000 people in Sylacauga.
Donald Comer, who took over management of Avondale Mills in 1907 from his father, had a “personal relationship with his employees and interest in their lives.” Comer offered opportunities to African Americans “at a time when racism was pervasive and institutionalized throughout the South” in the early and mid-1900s, with minorities representing 12% of the Avondale Mills workforce.
The mills were expanded into both Georgia and South Carolina. Walton Monroe Mills Inc. purchased Avondale Mills in 1986. In 1995, the owning firm acquired the textile operations of the Graniteville Company. Disaster struck when, on the morning of January 6, 2005, a train accident outside of the Graniteville, South Carolina mill caused a massive chemical explosion that killed 9. In 2006, as a result of the Graniteville disaster and increased competition from overseas, Avondale formally shuttered its operations.
Five years after Avondale's closing, on June 22, 2011, lightning struck the mills leaving the structure beyond repair. Now, all that remains are mounds of brick and cement.
As Earth's narrative grew, so did the need for a site that would create lasting impact across our community, county, East Alabama region, and our state.
The Avondale Mills site -- a place that once defined Sylacauga by providing countless jobs and careers, creating a thriving industry, and supplying the locals with a sense of pride in ones home -- spoke to everything Earth has set out to accomplish.
The re-envisioned site would house the Rural Innovation Center -- the new location for SAFE. Creating the ecosystem of the site, SAFE functions as the central component to keeping the pieces of the campus in play.
The Rural Innovation Center consists of the following:
- interpretive center
- SAFE staff offices
- public and private meeting spaces
- classrooms for adults and children
- incubation offices for local businesses
- coworking space
- flex spaces
- cooking and catering kitchens
- and more.
The campus also features the following:
- early learning center
- education quad with Talladega County Schools
- IT hub
- transportation hub
- retail spaces
- community garden
- and more.