The UGA School of Social Work is located in an antebellum cotton mill.
The building that now houses the UGA School of Social Work at 279 Williams Street in Athens, Georgia, was once the Athens Manufacturing Company—commonly known as the “Athens Factory.” It was first built (almost certainly by enslaved labor) in 1833 to turn slave-produced cotton and wool into thread and cloth. The factory continued operating as a textile mill until the 1920s when it closed permanently. The building later served as a warehouse, a call center, a gymnasium, and a saloon before being renovated in 2008 to house the university’s Medical Partnership. Since 2015, it has been the home of the UGA School of Social Work.
During its years as a cotton mill, the factory was seriously damaged three times by catastrophe—by fire in 1834 and 1857, and by flood in 1840. Each time, the investors rebuilt and the factory recovered. The building the School of Social Work occupies now was built on the foundations of the old factory after the 1857 fire. Many of the bricks that make up our walls now date from this time or before. They were made by hand, almost certainly by enslaved laborers, and if you look closely at the bricks, you will see the marks of their hands and fingers in the clay.
Prior to the Civil War, enslaved and free men, women, and children worked within the School of Social Work building, in the very spaces where professors and students now teach and learn.
The British traveler James Silk Buckingham visited Athens in 1839, and reported on what he saw at one of Athens’ three cotton mills, possibly the Athens Manufacturing Company:
I visited one of these, and ascertained that the other two were very similar to it in size and operations. In each of them there are employed from 80 to 100 persons, and about an equal number of white and black. In one of them, the blacks are the property of the mill-owner, but in the other two they are the slaves of planters, hired out at monthly wages to work in the factory. There is no difficulty among them on account of color, the white girls working in the same room and at the same loom with the black girls; and boys of each color, as well as men and women, working together.
Buckingham condemned the working conditions at mills and criticized the “unavoidable, confinement in a heated temperature,” which he judged to be an environment that brought on “fevers and dysenteries…detrimental to health, morals, and social happiness.”
By 1850, the Athens Factory “boasted the largest investment of any of the county’s three cotton manufactories.” Over time, it expanded its businesses to include flour and lumber milling, and later to support the Confederate war effort.
For the Confederate Army, the factory wove flannel for soldiers’ underwear, wool jeans for their uniforms, cotton duck for tenting, and more. The Athens Factory made huge profits off of their war efforts, and they were able to issue sizable dividends to their investors of at least 25% every 6 months during the war. Finally, in February 1865 they paid a dividend of an astonishing 250 percent. (For more on this see Michael Gagnon’s  Transition to an Industrial South.)