The History: Remembering the R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company

Pictured above is a rendering of R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company in 1904 during its 50th year of operation. 

By EMILY KIMBELL, Newnan-Coweta Historical Society

Everyone in Coweta County is familiar with the abandoned Caldwell Tank site. For years, the site has been known as the “eyesore” headed into downtown Newnan. 

Now that demolition is nearly complete for the site, the moment brings a sense of loss. No more “zombies” roaming through the dilapidated brick or scenes from an alternate, dystopian world being portrayed. 

However, the demolition of the site is not so much a loss for the movie industry, which has used it as a location for several shows and movies (Walking Dead, Hunger Games, etc.), but rather a historical loss for the county. The site, now branded as 57 East Broad, was the original site of the R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company, one of the most successful and influential companies of its time. 

The Newnan-Coweta Historical Society (NCHS) has worked to preserve the history of the site through a publication with Arcadia Publishing. For nearly two years, NCHS has worked alongside the Blackburn family, who are descendants of Mathew Cole, to publish a pictorial history of the company. On April 11, 2022, Images of America: R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company will be officially released for public purchase with a book launch at the Historic Train Depot on April 30 from 4 to 6 p.m. It is only fitting (and entirely coincidental) that the book comes at the same time the last bit of brick is torn down to be saved for future projects. 

The following is an excerpt from the introduction of the book and gives a brief overview of the history of R.D. Cole and the information contained within the book’s pages: 

“When the Cole family moved to Coweta County in 1849, the family had no intention of living in the area permanently. However, a broken wagon that forced the family to set up a shop in the area for a while became the inspiration for the creation of a small, private wood shop. In 1854, R.D. Cole Sr. established the firm of Cole & Barnes as a sawmill. 

The company saw near immediate growth and began manufacturing sawmills, corn mills, boilers, and engines; contracting and constructing buildings and housing units; and eventually manufacturing steel, aluminum, and alloy. By the 1890s, R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company was the second largest water tower manufacturer in the United States. When R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company was sold in 1968, it was Coweta County’s oldest company at the time…

Once established, the R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company contributed to Coweta County’s growth and solidified the county as a manufacturing center. Due in part to R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company’s success and the other business ventures of the Cole family, Newnan became one of the wealthiest cities in the country during the mid-1800s.

Pictured is a rendering of the early R.D. Cole Manufacturing plant including the 24 x 36-foot wooden framed shop R.D. Cole originally used to conduct his business.

However, the history of R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company is more than a story about a business and its products. It is the story of a family who was unafraid to start over despite encountering prior loss and who were willing to pour their life into the betterment of their community. 

The Cole family clearly loved Coweta County and was proud of where they lived. They treated their employees with relative fairness and kindness. Even today, over 165 years since the start of R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company and 50 years since its closing, people still recall fond memories of working for the manufacturer. Much of their wealth along with their business resources were donated to local charities and churches, and their craftsmanship and handiwork are still seen across the county from public government offices to private residences.

R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company has always been a family affair. From the very beginning, R.D. Cole Sr. and his brother Mathew led the business, and the two brothers saw the company through its first fifty years plus. Mathew’s five sons continued the legacy and became instrumental in the development of the company, and for six more generations, members of the Cole family have worked at the family business. Every member of the family was a valuable contribution to the company’s success — sons learned the family business and took leadership positions, wives served on the board and owned stock, children worked in small capacities from even a young age.

Even when the company sold out of the family’s hand, the memory and meaning of R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company remained. The Cole family has quite literally held onto the memories of the family business in the records, photographs, newspaper clippings, and documents that they have kept through generations for hundreds of years. These family documents… give just a small glimpse into the life of a family, a company, and a community…and shows how one person and one family can make a permanent difference in their community.”

Copied from the introduction of Images of America: RD Cole Manufacturing by Emily Kimbell

Newnan-native, Emily Kimbell is the director of the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society and McRitchie-Hollis Museum. Emily is currently finishing her doctoral studies at Georgia State University, where she also teaches English Composition courses and is an active member of her community often seen on stage in local theatre productions and writing for local media outlets.  

Pictured here, circa 1890s, are the central members of the Cole family responsible for the development, growth, and success of the R.D. Cole Manufacturing Company.  On the back row (left to right) stands Roy Nall Cole (Treasurer), Frank Bartow Cole (Engineer), and Edwin Marcus Cole (Manager Atlanta Office). On the front row (left to right) sits Madison Filmore Cole (General Manager) R.D.Cole, Jr. (Superintendent), Mathew Cole (Vice President) and R.D Cole, Sr.(President).


  1. Louise Cole 1 May, 2022 at 20:35 Reply
    reviewindian xxx xnxx nasty girls sucking the same

    I ordered and am enjoying this book very much .

    It is fun to see pictures of my father, Raymond Tate Cole and other members of the Cole family. I read new information about the connection of the RD Cole MFG Co and the Tate marble company. The early family history is more of a tall tale but a nice one. I have tried to connect our Cole’s to Virginia Coles because both Robert and his wife Elizabeth Fambrough had Virginia as their birth state on 1850 census.

    Thanks for your effort and work on such a nice book. I’ll be sending copies to our Cole family members.

  2. terry cole 5 May, 2022 at 16:00 Reply

    I believe if you check census the both said they had no ties to va. and ill also have to find this book and read it as thru genealogy and these are my relatives also.

    • Louise Cole 6 January, 2023 at 20:53 Reply

      Hi Terry
      I do not know why you disagreed with the Georgia, Coweta Co. copy of 1850 Federal tax which states that Robert Cole and his wife,Elizabeth,both had census taker to write that they were born in Virginia Elizabeth Fambrough Cole has documentation concerning her family’s residence in Halifax Co,Va. before coming to Ga.
      As I wrote in my letter to Emily, documentation is needed about Robert Cole and his father William Cole. Of course we have will of John Cole in Greene Co. Ga,the grandfather of Robert Cole and there are a few Greene Co , Ga. deed records for John Cole.
      As far as I know there is no prison ship record for William Cole and nothing about him in Surry Co. Va.. I would very much appreciate your letting me know about other documentation that you have. Am I right that you are a descendant of Jesse Cole, son of Robert and Elizabeth? I did not see your letter until recently.
      Louise Cole Roth

      Please send me any documentation of early history of the Coles.

  3. Trenton Jennings 16 July, 2022 at 19:12 Reply

    Glad I have some pictures of the buildings made when I visited in mid-2018. I was on a business trip and on the way home, but I stopped to photo the local Carnegie library (a little hobby of mine) and wandered around town after that.

  4. Frank Jones 12 January, 2023 at 19:50 Reply

    I worked there in 1992 when the browns became the ravens, I was living in Wickliffe at the time it was still called Cole manufacturing , did someone else buy it and kept the same name ? I’m really wondering because I really liked working there I’m a welder and I really liked this article please let me know thank you.

  5. Lynn Blackburn 19 October, 2023 at 12:15 Reply

    Louise, this is Lynn Blackburn. You are right Elizabeth was from Virginia and Robert Surrey Co. NC. Everything in the book was written from documents. I would love for you to come to Newnan and visit. You can get my contact information from the Newnan Coweta Historical Society. Please bring pictures and stories of your line. Edwin Marcus was brilliant he was the engineer over the construction of the court house. Hope to hear from you.

Leave a reply