What was once an intricate part of the thriving Northwest Georgia community at Rossville as its main anchor, the Peerless Woolen Mills is now just a shadow of past days of full employment and operation as a prosperous business. In 1905 after the city of Rossville had been incorporated, the Peerless Woolen Mills opened and operated until 1980. The plant was owned by John L. Hutcheson, Sr., and his son, John L. Hutcheson, Jr. Other purchasers have tried to operate the facility in various capacities but ownership has now reverted to the Hutcheson family that owns it as the Rossville Development Corporation. The decline of the American textile industry as well as a devastating fire in 1967 hampered efforts to maintain the facility.
The plant was recognized as one of the world’s largest woolen mills located on 27 acres of land that included a full size gymnasium that accommodated the mills' semi-pro basketball team in the Southern Textile League that participated against teams in the various textile plants throughout the South.
Minor league baseball players such as the Chattanooga Lookouts Junior Wooten and others played on the squads to stay in shape during the winter. The league existed from 1921 to 1997. During that period the Woolens in the 1950’s also played the Harlem Globetrotters several times. Walt Lauter, Sr., was a legendary coach and athletic director and oversaw the entire sports program at Peerless.
During this era the Rossville High School Bulldogs benefited substantially from the favorable viewpoint of the Hutchesons towards employees who had sons that were good athletes. It was commonly known that “the more sports that an employee or their son played the better your job at Peerless was.” In reality it became a fact.
Besides Lauter, former Central and Georgia Tech athlete Bob McCoy worked in management and was always looking for athletically talented offspring when employment was being considered.
Lauer also obtained summer employment for many athletes from Rossville High School at the North Georgia amusement park, Lake Winnepesaukah.
This helped Rossville High School have outstanding athletic programs and they won numerous games competing against schools with student enrollments much larger than Rossville.
The little league program in Rossville that played in the all-white Dixie Little Boys League also contributed to the success in sports. In 1961 the World Series was held on Lookout Mountain, Tennessee at Senter Field. Eight teams representing seven Southern states competed for the title.
With a roster of future Southeastern Conference football players, and minor league baseball players, Rossville came out of the losers bracket to claim the championship trophy. Bobby Scott, Ricky Buff, Denny Painter, Ken McGregor, and others participated in various sports past their Dixie Little League careers. Georgia Tech All American Pete Brown was one of the many All State players from Rossville that performed in college. Brown later played in the National Football League with the San Francisco 49ers. Bobby Scott, a Tennessee graduate, spent 11 seasons with the New Orleans Saints.
The plant’s fast pitch softball team competed in the top league in Chattanooga over the years that included Combustion, Chattanooga Gas, DuPont, Toyota, and others. Former All World player Jim Ellis, with the Clearwater Bombers when they won nine world fast pitch softball titles, moved to Rossville to be recreation director under Lauter at Peerless.
It is ironic that the leading public high school in Chattanooga in athletics at that time was Chattanooga Central and, although Rossville and Central won numerous state championships in football, the only contests that the two powerhouses competed in against each other were basketball and baseball.
The crumbling and deteriorating plant in Rossville, which was once the home of the Peerless Woolen Mills, lies silent. Only aging survivors can share the glory days and excitement that brought unity to the closely knit community in Rossville where almost all of its citizens were directly or indirectly involved with the plant throughout the years.
The plant is now closed and only memories of the past victories on the athletic field of both Peerless and Rossville High squads remain vivid and alive in the minds of the players and spectators who had the privilege to be part of the once vibrant Rossville community.
Local Rossville historian Larry Rose expresses his viewpoint that “the whole area was set up around that mill. Just about everyone in Rossville worked there at one time or another.”
At one time the Personality Shop and the La Dean Shop were popular outlets for the women of Northwest Georgia and also served many customers from Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga.
A bowling alley, miniature golf course, and movie theater also provided an additional source of recreation for Rossville’s residents. One of the few remaining original businesses is the iconic Roy’s Diner which has remained open in spite of several turbulent times. Walter Woods Supply is another entity that has survived.
Rossville Boulevard in Tennessee and going into Rossville across the Georgia state line was a thriving commercial area which was known as the original “automotive row.”
Deerings Drive Inn and Big Mike’s Barbecue (sign of the Dancing Pig) and the Teridon Restaurant were all popular dining spots that are now long gone.
Hopefully Rossville will some day enjoy the rejuvenation that Chattanooga is presently undergoing.
* * *