John Shearer: Old Lupton City Mill Going Down, But Parts To Be Reused

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - by John Shearer
At the old Dixie Yarns’ Lupton City mill where hundreds of employees once operated spindles to make yarn materials, no more than about two equipment operators were doing a different kind of pulling and tugging Tuesday morning.

Amid the empty and cavernous brick complex that is now closed, they could be seen through the fences slowly taking apart and tearing down the historic old main mill building with the help of moving machinery.

Despite the roar of one front-loader, the scene still had the feel of a very quiet end for what had once been a grand plant that employed countless Chattanoogans.

It also marks the disappearance of another landmark important in the life of former Coca-Cola bottling tycoon J.T. Lupton, whose mammoth Lyndhurst home in Riverview was razed more than 50 years ago.

Mr. Lupton had invested with some local textile men in the Dixie Mercerizing Co. more than 90 years ago, and the Lupton City plant and surrounding residences and company buildings were built on land the millionaire owned.

Peachtree City, Ga.-based building owner Christian Morton, who bought the closed mill complex in April 2012, said over the telephone that he is having the building taken down and the site completely cleared.

After that, he hopes the land can be marketed through the Raines Group as a possible future apartment or senior living complex, he added.

However, while the landmark will disappear, at least as generations of Chattanoogans have known it, many of the materials will not. Mr. Morton said the historic bricks, antique heart pine materials and other amenities of the building will not just end up in a landfill, but will be reused in construction and other projects.

“We are a deconstruction company,” he said. “We buy buildings to deconstruct. We are taking it down and preserving it piece by piece.”

He said the bricks will be sold for the construction of coastal homes, the heart pine could be used to construct furniture or antique-style barns, and the steel can be recycled.

“We look to yesterday’s history and introduce it to today’s society,” he added.

While the deconstruction has been slow and deliberate to separate carefully the materials, the construction of the building in the 1920s came with much more hastiness.

While Dixie Mercerizing’ processing plant and main offices were on Watkins Street in Ridgedale, the spinning plant in Lupton City was an important part of the operation when it was constructed with much enthusiasm.

As was popular to do at the time, the Lupton City mill also featured a company town around it with stores and residences. Many of the modest residences are still standing, as is the BlueCross and BlueShield of Tennessee-owned golf course property surrounding it.

The unique and small community post office was also an important part of the mill, and it operated until recently.

Also enjoyed by the larger public along with the golf course and post office was the vintage gymnasium, which was still standing as of Tuesday. Numerous recreation and church leagues from areas north of the Tennessee River and perhaps beyond used the facility over the years.

Next to the gym for years was a now-gone outdoor pool.

The Dixie company – which changed its name to Dixie Yarns in 1964 -- used the mercerizing process, an innovation that made yarn and fabric stronger and easier to dye by altering the chemical structure.

The Lupton City mill began operating in 1923 with 12,000 spindles and nearly tripled its production capacity within a couple of years.

For a long time, Dixie Yarns was headed by J. Burton Frierson, whose son, Dan Frierson, is the chairman of Dixie Group, a company that now focuses on the manufacture of floor coverings.

After Dixie Yarns vacated the Lupton City mill in 1998, R.L. Stowe later began operating out of the massive facility before the plant was closed in 2009.

Mr. Morton said it would have been hard to resell the Lupton City property as a light industrial plant, as the large upper floor could not support extra heavy weight.

But as far as the mill’s role in Chattanooga business and industrial history, the Lupton City mill was known as a real heavyweight, a look at its history reveals.

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