Centennial Celebration: History of the Greater Hall Chamber
Excerpted from Greater Hall Chamber History.
Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, under its various names over 100 years, has been involved in numerous significant accomplishments in the community.
High on that list would be the landing of Johnson & Johnson’s Chicopee Manufacturing plant and model village in the mid-1920s.
Johnson & Johnson, worldwide manufacturer of medical and baby products, was looking at Georgia to build its plant and village. Gainesville wasn’t even on the radar, as the company had narrowed its choices to Rome and Athens.
As it tried to decide on its location in 1926, however, the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce helped get Hall County into the mix. The chamber’s John Blodgett headed a committee that included O.A. McDermed, G.E. Pilgrim, Edgar B. Dunlap and J.W. Jacobs to get the company to look at Hall County.
The chamber contingent became excited when it learned that Johnson & Johnson president R.W. Johnson Sr. wasn’t impressed with either Athens or Rome. Southern Railway wanted the company’s business, and local agent J.H. Reed led Johnson & Johnson officials to a possible Hall County site, the old county farm and convict camp on the Atlanta Highway.
County officials hinted to Johnson that they might donate the property if the village and plant were built on it. Johnson is said to have replied, “We buy our property.”
That was a precursor of the type of corporate citizen Johnson & Johnson would be after it decided on the Hall County location.
The deal wasn’t done, however, and the suspense built. It became the talk of the town, and a prank premature announcement that Hall County had won the village shook up a meeting of the Gainesville Rotary Club.
Charles McCormick, J&J’s treasurer, outlined specific plans in 1926, but it wasn’t until 1927 that Hall County got the official word on the $3 million model mill village, houses for employees and a plant making surgical gauze, cheese cloth and buntings.
The plant would operate 30,000 spindles and 1,200 automatic looms. The original one-story building was 926 feet long and 254 feet wide.
McCormick told a gathering of chamber and other leaders, “In addition to the plant, we will build a modern and model mill village to consist of 400 houses for employees, each of which will be equipped with the latest sanitary improvements and conveniences.”
The Gainesville News in a big welcoming special edition June 15, 1927, contained messages from practically every business concern in the community. Senator Walter F. George spoke during the official opening ceremonies. The News declared, “The official opening for inspection of the Chicopee Mills and cottages at Chicopee on June 23 marks an epoch in the industrial history of this section, the importance of which is recognized by our people in every walk of life. The fact that the manufacturing concern of Johnson & Johnson, builders of Chicopee, selected Gainesville as the site for this $3 million unit of their great organization is the highest evidence that Gainesville and this section really have the requirements needed to induce industries of this character to locate here.”
In a special section two decades after the plant opened, the News wrote, “When operations were begun, an era of pleasant relations between the owners and employees was instituted, which has been of marked accord over a period of the past 20 years, culminating in the recent election when employees voted overwhelmingly against accepting of the union as bargaining agent.”
The company remained in Hall County until 1993, but its former buildings are used by other companies for manufacturing and warehousing. When it left, Johnson & Johnson donated about 3,000 acres of woodlands to local government for park purposes and now includes a golf course, Elachee Nature Center and an agricultural center. It also donated part of its property to what became Johnson High School, named for the company president.
Though Johnson & Johnson no longer operates a plant in Hall County, Chicopee Village, as it became known, continues to be an important community. In addition, the company’s former executives and other employees continue to be valuable contributors to Hall County’s civic, business and religious life.