GAINESVILLE — The Georgia Historical Society has approved a historic marker to commemorate the deaths of dozens of young women who perished in one of the nation’s deadliest fires.
The victims were killed when a tornado slammed into their Gainesville factory and the building caught fire in 1936.
The tornado struck the Cooper Pants Factory, causing a collapse that set off the fire there.
The fire trapped many of the workers inside, killing from 40 to 125 people, mostly young women, The Times of Gainesville reported.
The Gainesville City Council decided late last year to submit an application to the Georgia Historical Society to place a historic marker at the site. Jessica Tullar, special projects manager for the city, said she has been told that the marker has been approved.
The marker costs $5,000, with the state paying half and the city paying the other half.
The next step is to find any additional documentation about the fire and have the City Council approve the funding.
Hall County architect Garland Reynolds Jr. said he always thought there should be some recognition of the tragic factory fire 77 years ago.
“It’s a very complicated process to get it approved,” Reynolds said. So that’s why I was just tickled to death to hear that it was approved.”
Reynolds’ father worked nearby in a butcher shop. The fate of those young women haunted him, his son said. There was only one stairwell where the women could get out.
“It was a sweatshop,” Reynolds said. “They didn’t want the women to get up and leave their sewing machines.”
The story of the fire was passed down through Gainesville families, and some current residents remember hearing about it as children.
Members of the DeLong family still remember the fire because their great uncle Russell DeLong lost his wife and two daughters.
Wendy Brock said DeLong never recovered his wife’s remains. Her great-uncle Russell had found his wife, Hattie, but when he went back for her body, it was gone, Brock said.
“It was just family history that was told and was retold,” Brock said. “He was a bitter man. What remained of his life was ruined.”