Neighborhoods sprouted as rayon mill drew workers to city

10:00 am | April 12, 2013

Like many small towns in the south, Elizabethton became a mill town once Bemberg yarn became the order of the day.

Though the Bemberg and North American Rayon Corp. plants have long been closed, countless homes in Elizabethton remind us that the two German companies produced a lifestyle that was unique at that time.

The rayon mills brought new people to our community – some from as far away as New York, Germany, and even Switzerland.

With the coming of the rayon mills to Elizabethton, families migrated from farms to town. When people left the farm and accepted a mill job, it was often said, “They have gone to public work.”

Photo by Brandon HicksThese stucco cottages located on Burgie Street were built by Bemberg for rent by production employees. The neighborhood was often referred to as Burgie Place.

Photo by Brandon Hicks
These stucco cottages located on Burgie Street were built by Bemberg for rent by production employees. The neighborhood was often referred to as Burgie Place.

Men and women left the farms and sought an hourly job for the first time in their lives. Like other aspects of their lives, they expected the work to provide self-esteem and a feeling of accomplishment. Regardless of the job, it required little education, but initiative and dexterity.

Soon after the initial start-up of the rayon plants, it was not unusual for older school kids to spend their summers working in the mill, returning to school in the fall.

In order to keep workers, Bemberg, in August 1927, announced plans to build 200 homes in close proximity to its Elizabethton plant, with work starting at once on the houses, which would be in the price range of $3,000 to $4,000.

The company announced later it would build quite a number of “more pretentious homes for department heads and plant officials.”

As a result there was a small village built in Elizabethton that for many years was called “Germantown,” since many of the homes were occupied by Germans who helped establish the plant or worked in some supervisory capacity.

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