Century-old mill in Chickamauga, Ga., to be razed; upscale homes may be built on land

photo Site Crystal Springs Print Works in Chickamauga, Ga.

Crystal Springs Print Works closed last summer after 106 years in business in Chickamauga, Ga.

Now, the fabric mill's massive, old brick-and-wood buildings will be taken down -- and upscale homes may be built on the land, which borders a spring-fed lake.

"There's some possibility of a gated community there," Crystal Springs President and CEO Steve Tarvin said. "It will be something very nice on the lake."

Tarvin closed Crystal Springs in July 2013. Only about a dozen people were employed then to tie up loose ends -- down from about 1,200 employees at the mill's peak in the 1970s. Chickamauga has about 3,100 residents, and over the years, many worked at the fabric mill that made everything from bolts of fabric sold at Walmart to sheets, blouses, bandannas, boxers and Mickey Mouse patterns.

The business was profitable till the end, Tarvin said -- despite foreign competition that decimated the U.S. textile industry.

"We were profitable -- but not profitable enough to keep the buildings up," he said. "That took a large before-tax profit."

One looming expense was $2 million worth of roof repairs.

"There was all types of problems coming down the road -- the roof was one of them," Tarvin said.

The old structures aren't Tarvin's worry, anymore.

He sold Crystal Springs' buildings and equipment on March 27 to what he described as a group of architects from Atlanta and Florida after they approached him.

"I told them what I'd take for it, and they bought it," said Tarvin, who declined to disclose the sales price.

The business that put the demolition project together, Crystal Springs Recovery Group, was incorporated on March 13 by Richard Zeliff of Buchanan, Ga., according to Georgia Secretary of State records. Zeliff didn't respond to an email seeking comment.

Crews will salvage the maple flooring, heart pine beams and brick from the mill buildings, Tarvin said, and sell the machinery for scrap. Material that can't be sold or salvaged will go to the landfill, he said. It will take about two years to remove everything and clear the land, Tarvin said.

"It's a sad day for me, and it's going to be painful to see it come down," he said.

He worked for 44 years at Crystal Springs. Tarvin bought the business in 1983 with Stanley Cunningham and former Chickamauga Mayor Frank Pierce, saving about 200 jobs.

While Tarvin and his partners sold the mill's buildings, they still own the 74 acres on which it stands and other parcels nearby. They plan to develop the land as a gated community or some other use.

"There's going to be something there that's good for the town," said Tarvin, who's an elected official now. He won a Feb. 4 runoff election for Georgia House District 2 that includes parts of Walker, Catoosa and Whitfield counties. And Tarvin held on to the seat in Tuesday's Republican primary when faced L.E. "Ebeth" Edwards and Rebecca Ann Brown. He has no Democratic opposition.

Bobby Davenport, whose family owns Gordon Lee Farms next to the mill, thinks a residential development on the mill site could be a boon to Chickamauga's downtown businesses.

"The downtown could really benefit by having more people living in it," said Davenport.

Chickamauga already has a charming, walkable downtown, Davenport said, and the right kind of development could enhance that.

"I think it's the best example of a small town in Walker County," Davenport said. "I mean that as no insult to LaFayette, but it is the prettiest."

Living inside city limits guarantees a berth for school-age children in the highly desirable Chickamauga City Schools system, said real estate broker Jean Penland, who has an office in downtown Chickamauga "right at our one traffic light."

"Their schools are so desirable that people want to live in Chickamauga to get their children in the Gordon Lee schools," Penland said.

The city of Chickamauga issued a $50 permit on May 9 to demolish the Crystal Springs Print Works' building to Fayetteville, Ga.-based Steel Stallion Express. Its president, Tabetha Smith, declined to comment last week.

photo The buildings at the Crystal Springs Print Works in downtown Chickamauga, Ga., are being demolished. Owner Steve Tarvin will retain the property, but will salvage materials from the old buildings.

"They're going to take [the buildings] all down," city Zoning and Planning Administrator Jim Powell said.

Powell worked 38 years in the mill, and his wife, Dellaphyne, worked there 45 years.

"My parents and grandparents worked over there over the years. Aunts, uncles and all that," Powell said. "I saw a lot of people come through there over the years."

Powell already asked the demolition crew about buying some bricks as keepsakes.

"I'll probably try to grab a couple of bricks," he said. "I'm big on hanging onto mementos."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com ortwitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

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