March 1, 2018 | Dana Hensey
The word “Chicopee” originates from the Algonquin term meaning “violent waters.” If you were to look at a map of Chicopee Village near Gainesville, Georgia, you might notice it is not remotely close to any source of so-called violent waters. So why the misnomer, and a misnomer that has lasted for over 90 years? It is all part of the fascinating history of the quiet little town that was designed for the future.
Chicopee Village was built by Johnson & Johnson in 1926-1927. At the time, Johnson & Johnson was the largest manufacturer of sterile surgical dressings in the world, and overwhelmed with demand for dressings to treat wounded soldiers during World War I, as well as meeting domestic demand from American hospitals. To increase its capacity, the company acquired the Chicopee Manufacturing Company, a famous textile mill based in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts (hence the original and fitting use of the word “Chicopee”). Chicopee Manufacturing Co. was also in the process of expanding when it was acquired, and had already purchased land near Gainesville, Georgia for their new mill.
Rather than follow the established standard of building dark, multi-story Victorian era buildings for mills, Johnson & Johnson set out to build the most modern, light-filled mill facility of its time with cutting edge technology and conveniences. What is now the historic Chicopee Mill debuted in 1927 as the nation’s first modern, single-story textile mill. Its innovative design helped to define the future of textile mills. Chicopee Mill featured the latest safety standards and equipment, including automatic fire sprinklers, and a telephone to report any issues or emergencies, as well as clean, well-lit working spaces with large windows and better ventilation.
For the employees and their families, Johnson & Johnson built an entire progressive village including 217 houses, a school, medical facility, and community center, all within walking distance of the mill. The houses were built in 31 variations of modern brick home designs, all of which had indoor plumbing, electricity, and hot water. They were among the first in the region to be built with these modern conveniences.
Johnson & Johnson installed modern electric streetlights and underground wiring (practically unheard of at the time) to light the picturesque village with paved roads and neighborly sidewalks. To promote healthy living, the town built a gymnasium, swimming pool, tennis courts, athletic fields, and a manicured park. Also within walking distance, to help foster exercise, was a store with fresh foods and produce, and a water filtration plant was constructed to provide clean water to the community.
To the workers of Chicopee Mill, life was wholly changed by this avante-garde plan that was executed to its full potential. With a strong focus on health and safety, Chicopee Village transformed the future of design and development of mills and mill communities throughout the country.
(Stay tuned for our next article, detailing AIA Northeast Georgia’s endeavors to protect and preserve Chicopee Village’s historic character.)