Columbus State Project to Tell Bibb City Story

COLUMBUS, Ga. - Bibb City once flourished as a mill town in the shadow of Columbus along the Chattahoochee River. But the mill died in 1998, and so did the city charter two years later as the community became part of Columbus.

Now, thanks to a collection of Columbus State University researchers and actors, the Bibb City story comes to the forefront in a collaborative CSU-Chattahoochee Shakespeare Company project.

Two-plus weeks of field study from a pair of CSU May session “selected topics” courses in theatre arts and history-geography will culminate in “Bibb City: Collected Lives from a Mill Town” — an exhibition of landscape imagery and information scripted from historical documents complementing a stage dramatization of oral histories.

A pair of 7 p.m. shows will open in the former Bibb City — Friday, June 5 in the RiverMill Event Centre, 3715 First Ave., and Saturday, June 6 in the historic Comer Auditorium, 107 41st St.

Subsequent 7 p.m. weekend shows are slated for June 12-13 and 19-20 in the CSU Theatre on the Park Studio on the RiverPark campus.

Students tour Bibb City park designed by Earle Draper, led by Assistant Professor Amanda Rees.“This remarkable interdisciplinary, collaborative project combines the efforts of more than 40 students, two professors and Columbus State alumnus Troy Heard (creative director of the Chattahoochee Shakespeare Company) to tell the story of the Bibb City community,” said CSU theatre professor Becky Becker, whose students have been gathering oral histories and will portray their interview subjects in the show.

“The beauty of collecting oral histories and performing them is that students meet a living, breathing human being on whom to base their characterization,” Becker said. “It’s an excellent acting exercise, but an even better exercise in empathy, something that all artists draw from in their work.”

Meanwhile, geography and history students directed by professor Amanda Rees have learned to be public historians by studying and interpreting the social and community history of the 1909-2000 company town known as “the Bibb” and managed by the Bibb Manufacturing Co. cotton mill. Their findings will comprise the exhibition linked to the oral history performance.

“Though the Bibb was one of hundreds of mill communities in the South, two things make Bibb City unusual,” Rees said. “First, when other mills were getting out of the company town business in the post-war period, the Bibb maintained control over the lives of its residents until the 1960s. Second, early homes near the mill were laid out using a regimented grid system. However an addition in the 1920s offered residents modest homes laid out on attractive, landscaped, curving streets designed by famed landscape architect Earle Draper.”

Rees said residents had great sidewalks and access to lots of green spaces, making for a very compact, attractive, walk-able community that complemented its rolling landscape. “Those qualities, combined with easy access to the RiverWalk, make Bibb City a landscape worthy of emulation throughout Columbus.”

Becker said the project’s public showcase, overall, is valuable for its “thick description.”

“The various oral histories, materials scripted from historical documents, as well as imagery created, provide layers of meaning that allow audience members to connect the dots on their own,” she said, “Although we have our own perspectives, we feel it is our job to represent the mill and community through as many voices as possible, leaving interpretation more open.”

For the performances, there is no admission price, but donations supporting the Chattahoochee Shakespeare Company will be collected at the door.

Complementing the opening shows, CSU student participants have created 30-minute, Bibb City walking tours to take place at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Friday, June 5 from RiverMill. The following evening, a 6 p.m. tour will start from the Comer Auditorium.

For more information, call 706-507-8403 or e-mail becker_becky@ColumbusState.edu.