SIA Annual Conference 1999 – Savannah, GA


Twenty-Eighth Annual Conference
Savannah, Georgia
June 3-June 6 1999

For the first time in twenty years, the SIA will head South for its annual conference. Conference planners are still working on final arrangements, but members can count on tours that will feature some unusual industries and processes tours in one of the most exciting and beautiful tourist destinations in the nation. Though its tourist office cultivates an image of a stunning urban landscape of city squares and antebellum mansions, situated in a beautiful natural environment of salt marshes, live oaks, and blooming magnolias, Savannah has been the home of a surprising range of important industrial developments. From the days of Eli Whitney’s 1793 cotton gin, to the 1999 opening of the largest and most modern cotton gin factory in the world, Savannah’s economy has been continuously linked to its port, and its processing of the food, fiber, and forest products of the South Georgia hinterland.

The first tour on Thursday morning will focus on some of these outlying regions. One tour will start with a stop at a steam-powered cotton gin before continuing into the heart of the old naval stores industry southwest of the city, featuring visits to an antiquated and modern rosin producing facilities, and into the heart of Vidalia onion country, where we get a tour of the extensive onion packing operations near the peak of the season. For those arriving a little later, Thursday afternoon tours will stick closer to Savannah. We will offer a bus tour of several local historic industrial sites as well as walking tours of the city’s famous squares, gardens, and architecture.

The Conference reception will be held in the former passenger shed of the Central of Georgia Railway. That building now houses the Savannah History Museum, and thus offers a useful introduction to the history of the region and the trains that rolled through the building. Professor John Duncan, a colorful and noted expert on the history of Savannah, will present a slide show on Savannah’s past to introduce you to the city. Plenty of hors d’oeuvers are included in the registration fee, and a cash bar will be available.

Friday’s process tours will feature a full range of the region’s vibrant and growing industrial economy. Selected sites include manufacturers of luxury jet airplanes, yacht refurbishing, ethnic hair care products, textile dyes, and sites that are the home of kaolin cracking, rosin processing, and creosoting. A few cottage industrial sites will be included, such as the craftsmen who make hand-built wooden kayaks, and those who manufacture the specialized vehicles used on the local docks. The port will feature prominently in several of the process tours, and most of the tours will stop at the reception hall of the Ocean Steamship Terminals for a quick lunch. Most of the Savannah tours will also feature Lummus Industries, the leading manufacturer of cotton ginning equipment. Mr. Donald van Doorn, who holds over fifty cotton ginning patents, will lead those tours.

Two out-of-town tours are scheduled for Friday, one to the Jesup area, where you will visit one of the most colorful factories you will ever find: a plant that makes both tutus and ballet slippers entirely by hand. That tour includes a firm that produces food processing machines, and a high-quality paper mill. A second bus will head due south to Brunswick, Georgia, for sites important for their historic and contemporary roles in fragrance chemicals, jet airplane refurbishing, stump-processing, seafood packing and rice milling.

On Friday evening, before the traditionally-known Show-and-Tell event, internationally-known photographer Jack Leigh will offer a tour by evening light of the Bonaventure Cemetery, (the cemetery, and Leigh’s photograph of the “the Bird Girl” statue there, were made famous in the bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Around here, it’s known simply as “The Book”).

The conference program will take place on Saturday, with a number of the papers highlighting topics related to the industrial and maritime history of the American South. The evening banquet will be held at the Historic Railroad Shops, a property that HAER described as the most complete and most significant antebellum railroad shops site in the country. The cuisine and the entertainment will have a local flavor, featuring a performance of Gullah heritage by the Sea Island Singers, plus gandy-dancers, a railroad balladeer and more. The Saturday event promises to be a memorable one. An additional feature, for those who missed the local tours on Thursday, will be a walking tour of local architectural and industrial history that leads guests from the hotel to the banquet site.

Two tours will be offered on Sunday morning.  One is a riverboat tour of historic and industrial sites along the Savannah River.   Tour leader Frank Wheeler has extensively researched the remains of local plantations along the river, and the tours will also feature historic bridges, port facilities, and salt marshes that are best viewed from the water.  The second, a bust tour similar to Thursday’s historic industrial sites tour, will offer a brisk visit to a number of historic industrial sites and buildings beyond the central Historic District.   Planned stops include an attractive 1898 municipal powder magazine, Laurel Grove cemetery, the mule sheds used by the original street car lines, the former USDA plant introduction station and Bamboo Gardens, and two of the locks of the antebellum Savannah and Ogeechee Canal. The bus will drop off passengers at the airport between 2:00 PM and 3:00 PM.

All in all, the Savannah meeting will provide a new experience for long time SIAers familiar with Pittsburgh, Lowell, and other cities of the industrial Northeast. The emphasis here will be on the industries of the Old South and the New South. On top of that, Savannah still offers the charms advertised in the tourist bureau literature: a stunning urban landscape of city squares and antebellum mansions, situated in a beautiful natural environment of salt marshes, live oaks, and blooming magnolias.


The conference hotel is the Hyatt Regency Savannah, located directly on the Savannah River on property that was once surrounded by cotton bales, rosin barrels, rice chaff, and sawed timber. Call 1-800-233-1234, and mention the Savannah site and the SIA conference.

Local Arrangements:

For questions about the conference in general, contact Mark Finlay, Dept. of History, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah, Georgia, 31419. (912) 921-5642, FAX (912) 921-5581. E-mail: Mark Finlay at

For more specific questions about tours, meals, entertainment, and fees, contact Ms. Charlotte Brawner Sauers, Coastal Heritage Society, (912)651-6895, FAX (912)651-6971.

Please visit the conference website for thorough descriptions of tours, abstracts, suggestions for further reading, tourist information, maps, and updates of any schedule changes.  The website will be updated each week until the conference.For questions to the webmaster, contact Katherine Ferreira: