1930s Industrial History in Natchez

If there was much going on in the news this week, I either didn’t catch it or was not interested enough to tag it for a news roundup. One article from last week, however, was newsy enough for me to track down more information and I offer it here today in lieu of a roundup. The article was in the Natchez Democrat and was titled “Future of Titan Tire property still in limbo.” What caught my eye was the description of the property as a tire factory, and the mention of the Balance Agriculture With Industry, or BAWI program that began in the 1930s as a signature initiative of Gov. Hugh White.

The BAWI program is interesting in its own right for those of us who love exploring the ins and outs of Mississippi architecture, but that’s for another day.

1958 Sanborn map, Natchez

The reason the “tire factory” caught my eye was that I remembered an article I copied off a few years back from an old issue of Architectural Concrete about the massive tire factory recently completed at Natchez. So, I scrounged around and finally found the article. I got permission from the publishers of AC, the Portland Cement Association, to reprint the text along with scanned copies of the photographs–a few of the photos are cut off because of my own lack of adeptness with the copier when I originally photocopied the article. Please don’t talk bad about me because of this, MissPres readers.

I have never seen the old Armstrong plant, which was bought by Titan, according to the Democrat in 1998, and has been closed since 2001. I’ve heard from Natchez sources that the factory doesn’t look like these pictures, but maybe someone out there can verify or not.

This article was originally published in Architectural Concrete, vol. 12, no. 3 (1947), pp. 16-19.

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Industrial Plant in Mississippi

by James T. Canizaro, AIA

When officials of the Armstrong Tire and Rubber Co. began preliminary surveys in connection with the construction of their new industrial plant at Natchez, Miss., they were concerned, as most owners are, not only with providing adequate buildings for the production processes involved but also with the cost of such buildings. A choice of reinforced concrete was made after considered all the factors involved since it promised them the most for their construction and maintenance dollar. The plant involved seven structures, all walls of which are architectural concrete with building frames of reinforced concrete. Thin concrete barrel shells roof the main factory building.

Bird's-eye view of Armstrong Tire and Rubber Co. plant at Natchez, Miss., James T. Canizaro, architect-engineer of Jackson. Main factory building has barrel-shell roof. The raw storage building is at extreme left. The small two-story building to the right of this is the rubber cement building. The warehouse is at the extreme right with curing building back of it. The one-story cafeteria and two-story office building are in the center foreground.

Looking now at the completed buildings and having the cost figures per square foot at hand, I can say that the promise was well fulfilled. Built in 1938-39, the main factory cost only $1.03 per sq. ft. The warehouse was slightly more, $1.06. The figure for the press tire factory was $2.60, and that of the other main buildings, such as the cafeteria and office building which have extensive facilities and were built in 1945, was $4.85.

The all-concrete construction and a complete sprinkler system have combined to give the company the lowest fire insurance rate for an industrial plant in the state of Mississippi. Up to the present time maintenance costs have been very low and it is expected that they will remain so.

The roof of the main factory building is a series of concrete barrel shells 3 1/2 in. thick. Each spans 40 ft. with diaphragm stiffeners at 50-ft. intervals longitudinally.

Built with due allowance for light and air, the plant is a closely compacted unit insuring coordination among various operating divisions. Each building is of strictly functional design according to its particular needs. This had produced an individuality of design in each structure, but the use of a single structural material through has helped to tie the different elements into a harmonious whole.

The main factory is a single-story building with a usable floor space of 188,000 sq. ft., plus 10,000 sq. ft. of mezzanine space. For the roof, we used the barrel-shell type of construction with shell 3 1/2 in. thick stiffened by diaphragms. Each of the six shells span 40 ft. Supporting columns are spaced longitudinally at 50-ft centers. A traveling form was used in the construction of this roof.

The warehouse is a four-story structure designed to provide cool, dark storage space. Ventilators are placed on opposite side of the building and there are no windows in the storage space. The clock tower is the focal point for the entire plant.

In designing the warehouse it was necessary to provide cool, dark atmosphere for storage of rubber. To do this, windows were omitted in this space and adjustable ventilators were places in the north and south walls to insure proper and regulated flow of air. Construction joints at the floor levels and vertical control joints at regular intervals divide the walls into uniform rectangles with a ventilator in the upper center of each rectangle.

A large loading platform, with cantilevered concrete canopy, runs half the length of the warehouse. At one end of this, at the corner of the building, a setback tower extends one story above the roof of the warehouse. This houses the elevator hoist and stairway. Vertical window sash extending nearly four stories in height light the tower. Above this a large clock marks the highest point of any of the buildings.

A feature of the company’s main office and cafeteria buildings is the cantilevered canopies over all windows and doors. These concrete “eyebrows” provide shade protection from the hot Mississippi sun in summer but permit the flatter rays of the winter sun to enter and warm the interior. The normal 2-ft. extension over the windows is increased to 5 ft. at the doorways. Triangular fins were added under the canopy at the entrance to the office building and give greater depth to the entry. A separate building is used principally for making rubber cement, a highly volatile and explosive material. Here reinforced concrete provides necessary protection through its structural strength and fire resistance. Windows in this building are do designed that they would readily blow out in case of an explosion and thus relieve any internal pressure against the walls.

Live loads used in the design varied from building to building, depending on occupancy. In the factory and rubber cement buildings, live load of 500 p.s.f was used, while 300 p.s.f was used in the warehouse and 100 p.s.f. in the office and cafeteria buildings. Design specifications provided for concrete having compressive strength of 3,000 p.s.i. in walls, beams and columns. In the floors on the ground, 2,500-lb concrete was used.

Only the raw storage building is on a pile foundation. Here cast-in-place concrete piles were used because it was found when excavation started that the site was the location of an old pond.

In general, floors on the ground are 5-in. thick reinforced concrete slabs on 4-in. gravel fill with waterproof paper over the fill. In the raw storage building, 15-lb. saturated felt was used over the fill. The lobby of the office building has a terrazzo floor in four colors; brass strips divide the surface into an attractive pattern. The roofs of all building are covered with 1 in. of insulation and a 5-year-guarantee builtup roofing which have proved to be all the insulation necessary to keep the buildings cool.

To construct the formwork both plywood and 1×6-in. boards were used for sheathing. Using the latter for the exposed walls of the warehouse and storage buildings resulted in an attractive board mark finish. Company officials are well pleased with this finish and have asked that it be used exclusively in all future plant expansions.

Construction view inside factory building. Traveling forms were used to construct roof barrels. Design gives bays 40x50 ft. between columns.

Column and beam spacing was so planned that form panels could be used as many times as possible. In some cases as high as 11 re-uses were found feasible. Sizes of members were established to permit using stock-size lumber, and this greatly reduced the amount of cutting and allowed more re-uses. Beam depths were kept uniform as much as possible so that shores of the same height could be used throughout a building. This made for considerable economy.

Vertical control joints were used in all buildings at regularly spaced intervals. In some cases, as on the warehouse, they were used deliberately to create a rectangular pattern with the horizontal construction joints, but on other buildings they are very inconspicuous. Contraction has, as of this date, produced no cracking except in the control joints.

The writer has served as architect for the entire project and as an engineer for all except the main factory building, on which Robert and Schaefer Co. of Chicago was engineer, and the warehouse, for which H.N. Howe of Memphis made the engineering design. B.L. Knost, Pass Christian, Miss., was contractor on the main factory building. Harmon Construction Co. of Oklahoma City was the contractor on the press tire factory and Hillyer and Lovan of Jacksonville, Fla., were contractors on all other structures.

reprinted with permission from the Portland Cement Association



Categories: Architectural Research, Industrial, Natchez

12 replies

  1. I don’t seem to recall visiting this building when I lived in Natchez. Then again, I was very young and wouldn’t have had occasion to visit a factory. One building I was wondering about recently was the old Natchez General Hospital. It was located behind the Towers. I think it was demolished, but I can’t recall exactly.

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  2. Jack E. Davis’s Race Against Time: Culture and Separation in Natchez Since 1930 provides an in-depth examination of the Armstrong Tire and Rubber Company’s arrival in Natchez, especially the cultural disruption it caused to the Natchez microcosm. This is best summerized in a paragraph on pages 116-117:

    “Not everyone in Natchez was willing to accept Armstrong as the city’s crowning symbol of progress. The garden club women, for instance, were not sure what to make of the tire plant and all the ‘common’ folk it employed. Many members from the old-family elite had objected to Armstrong’s construction ten years before. Some opposed industry all together. It did not fit, they said, with Natchez’s Old South image. But there sat Armstrong smack within the city limits, not even on the outskirts, an ugly, sprawling, belching factory, three stories high and the length of two and a half football fields. Even worse, local tax dollars had helped put it there.”

    Davis devotes Chapter Four to the Armstrong plant in an amazing look at the complex industrial dynamics in the Jim Crow South.

    One can see why the Armstrong plant might be jarring to the aesthetic sense of the garden club in a place that perceived (perceives) itself in terms of white columned mansions.

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  3. More social history related to Armstrong Tire, from http://www.coldcase.org:

    Wharlest Jackson Case
    Wharlest Jackson, an active NAACP member, was offered a promotion at the Armstrong Tire & Rubber plant in Natchez, Mississippi. Jackson had won it over two white co- workers. His wife begged him not to take it out of fear of retaliation.
    Body
    Exerlena Jackson was proud of the job promotion her husband was offered in early 1967. He’d worked 12 hard years at the Armstrong Tire & Rubber plant in Natchez, and now was being offered a position in the chemical mixing plant.

    Wharlest Jackson, her husband of 13 years, told her he’d be making 17 cents an hour, enough that she could quit her job as a cook at the black school and spend more time with their five children.

    Exerlena felt Wharlest deserved a step up the short, elusive ladder available only occasionally to black employees. But she was not happy about the offer. The position had previously only been held by white men, and Jackson had won it over two white co-workers.

    “I begged him not to take that job,” she would say later.

    She reminded him that two years earlier, their good friend, George Metcalfe, had taken a promotion at Armstrong. It happened about the time Metcalfe had become president of the local NAACP and Jackson had been named treasurer.

    In late August 1965, at about noon, Metcalfe crossed the parking lot at Armstrong Tire, got in his 1955 Chevrolet and turned the ignition switch. Instantly, an explosion shattered the calm.

    He suffered broken limbs, facial lacerations and burns. Pieces of skin were torn from his body and his right eye was damaged. The Jacksons had nursed Metcalfe back to health and he was able to go back to work at Armstrong a year later. No one was ever charged.

    Was Wharlest Jackson next? There was good reason to worry.

    Scores of black men in the post-war civil rights era had been abducted, tortured, maimed and killed by Klansmen, some of them in law enforcement, with near impunity. Investigations, most by the FBI, were piling up, unsolved and unresolved. Many of those were in Southwest Mississippi and eastern Louisiana.

    In Natchez and, across the Mississippi River, in Ferriday and Vidalia, Louisiana, and in many small towns around them, the close-knit black communities knew the victims, or their families or friends, and they knew the stories.

    So Exerlena Jackson knew that Metcalfe had been fortunate. He had survived. She knew that many, like arson-murder victim Frank Morris in nearby Ferriday, had not. And she likely knew that some, such as Joe Edwards, whose parents lived in Natchez, had simply disappeared.

    Edwards was a 25-year-old porter and handyman who had been working at the Shamrock Motel in Ferriday for about two years when the motel’s restaurant became the meeting ground for the Silver Dollar Group in 1964.

    These were Klansmen who—as the 1964 Civil Rights Act was being passed in early July—believed the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and the United Klans of America were not aggressive enough against civil rights. They signaled their oath by carrying silver dollars minted in the year of their birth; several were in law enforcement.

    Near midnight on July 12, 1964, Edwards was stopped by a police car while driving his 1958 Buick. He had spent the day shuttling his mother and siblings to and from a family barbeque, and was headed to the Shamrock. The motel had a reputation for housing prostitutes who worked at a legendary brothel in Natchez; some of Edwards’ relatives said he had been enlisted to transport the women and had crossed the racial barrier in his own sexual liaisons.

    Edwards never made it to the Shamrock that night. His car was found where police had stopped it; a banker who was driving by told the FBI he had seen the law enforcement vehicle and a group of men surrounding Edwards’ car. Where Edwards went, or was taken, and by whom, was never discovered.

    Three years later, the FBI was still gathering evidence that pointed to top brass inside the sheriff’s office—evidence that came from inside the sheriff’s office, from a white pastor, from the white banker. One FBI agent who worked the case recalled last year that his office received a report that Klansmen had taken Edwards to a remote barn, “hung him up and skinned him alive,” before they “disposed of his body.”

    By 1967 when Wharlest Jackson was offered a promotion, the Southwide resistance to civil rights had become less violent. Jackson sought the opinion and NAACP field secretary Charles Evers (who had replaced his brother Medgar, who was murdered in 1963), and received encouragement to take the job.

    A month after taking the promotion, Jackson worked his new dayside shift plus four hours of overtime. Soon after 8 p.m., he got in his pickup truck and headed toward home in a cold rain.

    As he got near home, he put on his turn signal, triggering a massive explosion from a bomb planted below the truck frame beneath the driver’s seat.

    Exerlena heard the explosion and knew instantly. “Oh, Lord,” she cried. “That’s Jackson. They got Jackson.”

    The FBI investigation into Jackson’s murder generated 10,000 pages of documents that pointed to suspects, including the Silver Dollar Group. But more than four decades later, Jackson’s killers—like those who caused Metcalfe’s injuries and Edwards’ disappearance—have escaped prosecution.

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  4. I had never heard about this murder, Kathleen, nor the Civil Rights history related to the Armstrong plant–thanks for digging this out and educating us.

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  5. My grandfather worked there for years van Staggs I would like to know if anyone knew him or hers of him?

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  6. This building was featured in a Portland Cement advertisement in Architectural Forum Jan. 1940 issue.

    http://www.usmodernist.org/AF/AF-1940-01.pdf

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