|MORE THAN JUST HORSE COLLARS!|
THE MANY BUSINESSES OF E.L. McCLAIN
Most folks who ever hung around Greenfield became familiar with the story of Edward Lee McClain. Like myself, they came to know that McClain, as a young man, invented and patented a hinged horse collar and subsequently turned his idea into a sizeable wad of greenbacks. Later in life, McClain gave more than a few dollars back to the community by building and donating a marvelous high school and surrounding campus for the area's residents.
The average local is aware that McClain’s company, The American Pad and Textile Company, or simply “the pad factory”, later entered into the manufacturer of sports clothing for the outdoorsman, camping equipment, caps, life preservers, rubber rafts for the military and even molded plastic Jayne Mansfield hot water bottles in the 1950s.
Additionally, lots of locals either worked at the “pad” or had a relative or friend that worked there. In my family my great aunt, grandfather and mother all worked for McClain at some time. My great grandfather, Daniel Inskeep, worked for McClain as a grounds keeper at both the McClain mansion and at the new high school.
What most folks don’t know is that E.L. McClain had business ventures that went far beyond the corporation boundries of Greenfield. A couple of years ago, while doing research, I came across a reference to McClain having a plant in Wellston, Ohio. This tweaked my curiosity and I put out a call for help. Shirley Shields told me of a three-volume genealogy that McClain had once commissioned which contained lots of information about his business endeavors.
Turns out that the plant in Wellston was in fact a coal mining company called the Wellston Rich Run Coal Company. The company owned and operated a number of mines in Jackson County.
Another Greenfield company that McClain had his hand in was the Sun Novelty Works Company. It began in 1890 as a joint venture with the Waddell family and manufactured a variety of wooden items such as coffee mills and wooden rat traps. Sun was later sold to a group of investors and moved to Columbus.
As his horse collar business grew, McClain outstripped his manufacturing capabilities in Greenfield and in 1911 opened a plant in Chatham, Ontario Canada, followed by a plant in Chillicothe in 1914. This growth continued into the 1920s but as horses gave way to horseless carriages, McClain began to convert production to other items including cushions for the automobile industry.
In 1905 McClain started a company in Louisville, KY for the manufacture of showcases and wooden office interiors. This was the Crescent Manufacturing Company, and it was sold during World War I and used to support the war effort.
Sometime prior to 1910, McClain obtained a patent on a machine for cutting and mixing sand for the foundry business. He, along with other investors, opened a plant in Cleveland to manufacture the machine. McClain sold his shares in 1920. He was also the principle owner of the National Lumber and Manufacturing Company of Detroit, MI but sold out during WWI.
Since I had no knowledge of these other adventures I found all of this to be very interesting. The most fascinating thing, however, was his involvement in the American Textile Company or ATCO.
Fearing that he would not be able to secure enough cotton cloth for his collar business, McClain, in 1903 purchased 600 acres near Cartersville, GA and began construction of a plant to manufacture cotton “drill” cloth. To see that his work force was cared for, McClain built an adjacent collection of about a hundred neat wooden homes and the community of Atco, GA was founded.
In addition to the homes, McClain’s company built a community church, a multipurpose building that was used as a general meeting facility and as a school for the village’s children. Recreational facilities included, parks, ball fields and a swimming pool.
McClain’s son Donald ran the company for most of its years and in 1928 the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company purchased the facility from McClain and his partners. Good Year still owns the factory and uses it to manufacture various cloths that go into the production of modern automobile tires.
I was curious as to whether the people of Atco remember McClain and if he is revered as he is in Greenfield. I made a few phone calls and quickly came across Guy Parmeter whose grandfather was the plant manager following the Good Year purchase. Mr. Parmeter was looking for information about the Greenfield McClain so we had a nice exchange of information.
It turns out that few people in Atco are aware of their town’s connection to E.L. McClain or the company’s history prior to the Good Year ownership. Much of the original village still stands and in June of this year I drove to Georgia to have a look see. The plant looks just like a hundred year old industrial plant ought to look and the narrow tree lined streets still contain most of the original worker homes. I stopped and talked to several folks who were outside their homes and none of them were aware of the community’s history.
Today, Atco is know as Atco Village and is incorporated as part of Cartersville. The future of the plant is uncertain and shaky but the homes, according to the Chamber of Commerce, are increasing in value as younger couples buy them up as starter homes. I took lots of photos of the area and will make them available on the Greenfield website at www.greenfield-ohio.com.
I’m just one of the thousands who never knew Edward Lee McClain but whose lives were very much effected by his success and generosity. Because of this, I’m also somewhat embarrassed that, until recently, I knew so little about him. That I’ve taken the time to learn a little, I feel better. That you’ve taken the time to read this column; I hope you do as well.
©Copyright Lawrence E. Chapman, all rights reserved