History – Farming & Industry

At the turn of the century the people of Williston had risen from the ashes of the War, settled their internal strife, and were looking to the future with great hope. The town relinquished its Charter of 1858, but was re-chartered May 23, 1904.

Agriculture was still the greatest means of livelihood. Cotton was the chief crop. The boll weevil was on the march and the farmers had to look for other profitable crops. The climate and sandy soil, with its natural drainage, proved suitable for growing asparagus.

Mr. H. Jeff Harvey began the cultivation of asparagus in this area. It did not take long for the progressive farmers to follow suit. For more than thirty years, during two months in the spring, Williston was a busy place with the cutting, trimming, packing and shipping of asparagus to all parts of the country. Though asparagus was farmed in neighboring towns and counties, much of the crop was brought to Williston for rail shipment. At one time more asparagus was shipped from Williston than from any other place in the world! One acre produced fifty crates and there were over 2,000 acres under cultivation. Two and three carloads were shipped from the loading platforms at Williston each day.

During this period the Smith Cotton Gin, Kennedy Cotton Gin,the, H.M. Thompson Crate operation,and the Greene Lumber and Crate Company were some of Williston’s assets. Mr. Walter Greene was the owner and manager of Greene Lumber & Crate Co. During asparagus season it was not unusual to see two hundred wagons lined up at one time at the plant waiting for asparagus crates. Mr. Greene employed about fifty people and built houses for them near his plant. He also had a cotton gin at the same location. Water for these homes was provided from Williston’s first Water tower built in 1917. The hand painted Blue Devil was added in more recent times.

This company was eventually sold to Mr. W. E. Anderson who, in turn, sold it to a Mr. Lokey of Washington, Georgia. It was finally closed. The ruins of the plant and Office may still be seen at the end of Bennett Street.

Mr T. Raymond Pender was one of the last of the larger asparagus farmers in this area. He sold asparagus crowns and seed to other farmers through his mail order catalog, published in Williston by the Williston Way. Pender had been labeled a cause of decline of asparagus cropping in this area, due to his “selling out’ of plants and seed to other farmers. The decline was actually due to the more favorable growing conditions and longer crop times of other areas. The great depression of the 1920s was also an economic factor in ending area asparagus farming.

By the early 1930’s Williston farmers had a rude awakening. Southern California began to ship asparagus and get it to market much earlier than they could. Moreover, it could be grown there more economically for the soil was richer and they had a six month’s growing period. The competition grew until Williston farmers realized they were waging a losing battle, and by 1937 the growing of asparagus had all but ceased.

About 1900 Mr. Walter Greene built the Fairmont Hosiery Mill. This plant manufactured men’s hosiery. There were thirty-two houses built near the plant, including a large boarding house and general store. The plant was located on Rosemary Creek which furnished power for operation. A flowing well provided residents with water and a swimming pool was a big attraction.

After about seven years of operation, severe rains came and washed the dam away. The plant was so severely damaged that operations ceased. However, the machinery was moved into Williston and operation was begun once more, this time powered by steam. The plant was located approximately at the intersection of West St and Rosemary St. Later the mill was moved to Blackville.

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