Trail Trials: Marietta Paper Mill Ruins
The Georgia Piedmont underwent significant geoeconomic transformations during the mid-19th century. Profound population growth, progressive transportation technologies, and agricultural prosperity stimulated capitalist enterprise. Commercial speculators surveyed the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries (such as Sope Creek) for their potential hydropower, transforming these latent waterways into burgeoning veins of industry.
Constructed between 1853 and 1855, the Marietta Paper Mill epitomized Sope Creek’s robust industrial development. The original manufacturing complex featured a main factory and several specialized outbuildings that recycled old linens into paper material. The conversion process began in the pulp grinding mill, where cotton scraps were washed, sorted, and dissolved in mineral lime. The rotted rags were then transferred to a boiling vat of caustic, alkaline chemicals—removing any residual contaminants and dyes. The refined pulp was rinsed, detangled, and loaded into Fourdrinier machines, which rolled and pressed the material into manufactured paper. The finished products were dried on the upper stories of the mill, although mechanical dryers were eventually installed to expedite the process. By 1860, the Marietta Paper Company was one of the largest producers of fine paper products in the American South.
During the Civil War, the Marietta Paper Mill supplemented printing material for Southern newspaper publishers and manufactured cartridge paper for Confederate guns. Local legend also postulates that the mill produced Confederate currency, though this claim remains unsubstantiated. The paper factory’s productive might made it a target of Federal destruction during General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. On July 5, 1864, Union cavalry under General Kenner Garrad burned the Marietta Paper Mill and other manufactories along Sope Creek, decimating the region’s wartime industrial capacity.
The Marietta Paper Mill was rebuilt in 1866 and resumed production during Reconstruction. Unfortunately, on the morning of November 7, 1870, an accidental fire partially destroyed the main mill. The manufactory resumed operations four months later but struggled to generate profits. During the financial Panic of 1873, the paper company’s stockholders filed for bankruptcy and the facility was sold at public auction. A new corporation—the Marietta Paper Manufacturing Company—purchased the plant and expanded operations in the late 1880s, adding a second pulp mill and twine factory. However, by 1902, production at the Marietta Paper Mill permanently ceased. Today, only a few weather-beaten walls and fieldstone foundations remain of this once-impressive manufacturing complex.
The Marietta Paper Mill ruins are located in Sope Creek Park, a division of the Chattahoochee River National Recreational Area administered by the National Park Service. These historic remnants of industry are easily accessible along the Mill Ruins Trail—a mere fifteen minute trek from the Sope Creek parking lot. The west bank of Sope Creek features the stone vestiges of the pulp mill and its associated outbuildings. Across the bridge, the trail follows a historic roadbed parallel to the east bank, passing over a nineteenth-century retaining wall and several raceway piers. A partially collapsed storage building precedes the main paper mill complex just 0.3 miles from the road. The factory’s foundation and exterior walls reveal a five-room, linear arrangement that facilitated the methodical papermaking process. Additional outbuilding foundations speckle the surrounding area while the dilapidated mill office sits atop the bluff opposite of Caney Branch.
The entire out-and-back excursion to the Marietta Paper Mill covers approximately 1.6 miles; however, there are additional hiking and biking trails that traverse Sope Creek Park. Interested visitors should designate at least an hour to explore these fascinating examples of local history. Trail Rating: 10/10
For more information about the Marietta Paper Mill Ruins and Sope Creek Park, visit the National Park Service, Atlas Obscura, National Park Planner, B&E Roberts Photography, 365 Atlanta Traveler, Only in Your State, and Atlanta Trails
Read the National Park Service's Cultural Landscape Inventory and Cultural Landscape Report (2009) to learn more about the history behind the Marietta Paper Mill ruins