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Archived Story

A salute to town’s industry

Published 4:08pm Wednesday, August 20, 2014

One of my favorite events during Hartselle’s Annual week-long Depot Days celebration is “Down Memory Lane,” a production of the Hartselle Historical Society.

This program is held on the Monday evening preceding Saturday’s all-day celebration, in the old classrooms and auditorium of Hartselle Fine Arts Center. A different theme is used each year. Memorabilia in keeping with the theme is collected from local families and displayed for public viewing. A short program follows, featuring speakers whose families played  prominent roles in the early history of the town.

This year’s program will focus on the town’s early industries.

One of the towns earliest and still active manufacturing plants is United Stage Equipment, which specializes in the manufacture and installation of stage curtains.

Thanks to the ingenuity of its owners, brothers Hubert and Billy Don Mitchell, the business survived the Great Depression and developed a world-wide reputation in it field of expertise.

Several years ago, I interviewed Hubert and learned how he and Billy Don managed to keep the company afloat during the pre-world War II era. Hubert would travel the back roads of the state in search of public schools  that needed front curtains for their stages. He would solicit sponsorships  (advertisements) from rural businesses  – sawmills, cotton gins, general merchandise stores, etc. and return to Hartselle with a curtain order. Workers (artists) would paint a hugh canvas with various outdoor scenes and then transport it to the school that ordered it and installe it.

I remember seeing the name “Mitchell Industries” signed to the curtain at Barfield School where I attended as a child. It’s rushing mountain stream against a backdrop of forests and a snow-capped mountain peaks was a sight to be admired.

Another interesting early manufacturing company was Baker Industries, which was later purchased by Sonoco and continues to operate under that name. Ray Baker and a partner operated the firm during World War II as a manufacturer of wooden ammunition boxes and later converted to wooden reels.

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