(Featured photo is of Kristian Rolle as Billy in Canal To Cloth – A Day at the Mill. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News)
Mary spied the group gathered at the Augusta Canal Interpretive Center on April 25.
They might not have realized it, but they’d stepped back in time to a hot July day in 1886, and Mary needed to fill job vacancies in at Enterprise Mill.
Pickers, carders, weavers and strong men to move items about the mill were on her list.
Mary, played by Kelli Spearman, told the women to be sure to “wear their hair up” and wear long skirts. They didn’t want to be like the girl in Edgefield, whose hair got caught in the machine.
After she explained the positions to the prospective mill workers, one of the mill’s youngest employees rushed into the room.
Luke proudly told of how he was working in the mill as a doffer to help provide for his family, demonstrating how quickly he could finish his tasks.
Luke said he worked six days a week, 11 hours a day for $1.50 a week.
“Last week, some of my money went to buy sugar for my birthday cake. I just turned 10 years old,” said Luke, played by Luke Romagnoli.
He also got some marbles and asked if anyone wanted to play during his lunch break.
The scenes of Canal To Cloth – A Day at the Mill played out at the Augusta Canal Interpretive Center April 25 as part of the brand new Authentic Augusta Experiences.
“Authentic Augusta is a curated collection of the best sights and experiences our city has to offer. These new immersive experiences were designed over a year-long development process to be highly engaging, offer a new V.I.P. level interaction, and create long lasting memories for visitors and locals alike,” according to a news release from Destination Augusta.
Canal To Cloth – A Day at the Mill included the immersive tour of the interpretive center as well as a short jaunt on a Petersburg boat with Billy, a Petersburg boatman, who gave an in-depth history of the Augusta Canal and its impact on not just Augusta but the region.
The canal was initially 40 feet wide and five feet deep when it was first built.
“Free Blacks and slaves dug it with their hands,” said Billy played by Kristian Rolle.
About three decades later, the canal was expanded to a depth of 15 feet and a width of 150 feet. This time, Chinese immigrants dug the canal using steam machinery.
Those who engineered the canal made use of its geography. From the fall line at the canal headgates in Columbia County to the Augusta Canal, there’s a drop of 52 feet over the course of seven miles.
This natural drop made it easy for goods to make it down stream, but it took a team of horses walking along the tow path and pulling the boat to make it back upstream.
He also told a little about the two additional mills on the canal – the Sibley Mill and the King Mill. The Sibley Mill provided “jobs for the whole city” with its 24,000 spindles and 620 looms, processing two million pounds of cotton, he said.
Along the ride, Billy also provided anecdotal glimpses into the lives of those who worked on the canal transporting goods from the headgates to the mill.
Canal To Cloth – A Day at the Mill is one of 10 different immersive experiences.
“People want unique, one-of-a-kind experiences that engage them in something memorable. Authentic Augusta Experiences are specially designed to engage the five senses: taste, smell, sight, sound, and touch. When each of these senses is engaged, a memory is sure to be made,” said Jennifer Bowen, VP of Destination Development and Community Engagement, in the Destination Augusta news release.
The Authentic Augusta Experiences’ initiative was announced on April 20, and area organizations have been doing dry runs of their programs the week of April 24.
The first public showing of Canal To Cloth will be April 29. It will be presented twice monthly, according to Julianna Shurtleff, Education Program Director for the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area. For more information, visit the canal website here.
The news release detailed the other Authentic Augusta experiences as follows. They will also be offered twice monthly. Click on the links to find out more.
- Bartender for a Day – All Equal Parts – become a bartender for the day in a one-of-a-kind mixology experience.
- Time Detectives – Augusta Museum of History – put on a badge and become a member of the Augusta Museum of History’s Detective Agency and protect the history of Augusta.
- Augusta’s Black Caddies – Men on the Bag – meet the black caddies and hear stories of their days on the greens at The Masters at Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History.
- Heart of Augusta Tour – Cycle the Soul City – ride the streets of downtown with Bike Bike Baby and stop for drinks or samples at the local distillery or select restaurants.
- Bringing up a President – Tea with Mrs. Wilson – be a guest in the Wilson home and have tea and pie with President Woodrow Wilson’s mother at the Boyhood Home of President Wilson.
- Mystery at the Morris – The Rest of the Story – hear the Rest of the Story as a rogue “journalist,” unveils the back story about the art at the Morris Museum of Art.
- Eco Explorers – Become a Citizen Scientist – put on your waders and step into the water as an Eco-Explorer and be a scientist for the day at Phinizy Center and Nature Park.
- Promenade & Paint – Augusta’s Public Art – after your walking tour of Augusta’s Public Art Sculpture Trail you’ll pick up your own paint brush and paint a mural of your own with the Greater Augusta Arts Council.
- The Curated Palette – Inspiring Contemporary Art – you’ll be inspired by Westobou’s contemporary art and curate your own charcuterie board paired with wine.
Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at email@example.com
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