Hattiesburg Mississippi, Aladdin Homes and Gordon-VanTine Homes Mills

I was at the gym Sunday night when my friend Ken Wheeler texted me a tornado had touched down in Hattiesburg, Mississippi near the University of Southern Mississippi. In February 2008 Ken and I had visited Hattiesburg looking for the Aladdin and Gordon-VanTine mills that had manufactured pre-cut homes. Many have assumed the two companies shared one mill but there were in fact two separate mills.

Hattiesburg was established after the Civil War on a strategic crossing of two railroad tracks in the dense yellow pine forest of west central Mississippi. By 1900 the city had become a lumbering and manufacturing center that supplied the southern United States. With the end of World War One a housing boom caused prices of labor, lumber and shipping to soar, a situation that prompted the pre-cut housing companies to establish new mills in regions where it was believed new homes would be needed. Given the need for industry in the south, which would require homes for workers, Aladdin and Gordon-VanTine announced in 1920 they would build mills at Hattiesburg.

The Aladdin Mill at Hattiesburg was located on the west side of North Street between Columbia and West 4th streets, located on the north side of railroad tracks that were removed some years ago. To oversee construction of the mill Aladdin Homes dispatched Frank Jennison, a construction superintendent at its Bay City mill. To establish the Hattiesburg office Aladdin Homes sent Ms. Blanche Andrews, a senior employee of the company who specialized in efficiency and coordination. Before the mill was in operation Aladdin Homes built a model home at 909 Adeline Street, an Aladdin Plaza, that was available for tours and provided a residence for the Jennison family. Another model home, a Winthrop, was built at 711 Adeline Street and served as a residence for Ms. Andrews.

The Gordon-VanTine mill was located on West Pine between Florence and Scooba streets, on the north side of what are now the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks. Gordon-VanTine sent Grant Melville from their Davenport Iowa plant to oversee construction and manage operations of the mill. Following the lead of its competitor, Gordon-VanTine built two model homes. A Model #535 was built at 414 Mamie Street for the Melville family, while a Model #706 was built down the street at 102 Mamie Street.

Both mills were ready for the spring 1921 construction season but overly optimistic forecasts for the building industry had pushed inflation and interest rates up. Pre-cut housing orders dropped as the year progressed and the economy wobbled into a recession, a situation made worse by a drop in prices for agricultural products that bankrupted many rural farmers and banks. Several pre-cut housing companies went bankrupt but Aladdin and Gordon-VanTine kept their mills in Hattiesburg in operation despite a shortage of orders. Always striving for efficiency and cost cutting, Aladdin Homes improved output at its Bay City, Michigan facility and subcontracted work to bankrupt mills. In 1925 Aladdin Homes consolidated operations for the Southeastern United States at its Wilmington, North Carolina mill and closed up operations at Hattiesburg. The mill was destroyed many years ago but the property is now the site of new single family residence.

Gordon-Vantine kept their Hattiesburg mill open through the 1922 Recession, the Great Depression, and World War Two. At its peak the mill was busy manufacturing pre-cut houses for Gordon-VanTine and Montgomery-Ward, but was also known for its retail lumber and millwork. The mill was preparing for a busy post-war building season when the Gordon-VanTine Company was sold to the Cleveland Wrecking Company and liquidated in the summer of 1947. Hattiesburg Lumber and Supply acquired the mill and property.

Reports are the tornado damaged the University of Southern Mississippi campus and the adjacent neighborhoods that include the houses above. Pre-cut homes are well known for standing up to adverse weather, so I’ll be interested to know if the collection of Aladdin and Gordon-VanTine Homes in Hattiesburg sustains any damage. Hattiesburg also has a collection of homes designed by the Knoxville Tennessee architect George Barber. If you like architecture and are in the area Hattiesburg is definitely worth a visit.