Stahl-Urban building loses Mississippi landmark designation

Published 3:47 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2024

BROOKHAVEN — Ashes, twisted metal and rubble are all that physically remain of the main Stahl-Urban building after it burned on February 26, 2024. Greenbrier Digging Services is on standby to clean up the debris of what was once a key employer in Brookhaven. 

Barry White, Director of the Historic Preservation Division, released a letter sent to Brookhaven’s City Engineer Mike McKenzie with WGK engineering informing McKenzie of what is next for Stahl-Urban. 

“Due to the fire, we acknowledge that the buildings are a health and human safety hazard and have determined they have lost their historic integrity,” the letter states. “Therefore the buildings are no longer eligible for Mississippi landmark designation and the demolition may proceed.” 

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McKenzie said they have not started demolition work yet. Any demolition of the building would require two phases. He said the first phase would get the walls knocked down because they are unstable. 

Next, they would get a hazardous materials inspector to inspect the sites before anything is hauled off. McKenzie said he needs to talk with Brookhaven Mayor Joe Cox about when the work would start. 

Remembering its heyday

Stahl-Urban was a garment manufacturing factory which moved from Terre Haute, Indiana to Brookhaven in 1936. The story of the company is one of the American Dream. 

George Zimmerman, an Austrian immigrant, moved to Illinois and invented bib overalls with the help of his daughter Rosa Urban. The company became Stahl-Urban in 1895 and built a factory in Terre Haute in 1906. 

Unionized workers in Indiana and a tax incentive from Brookhaven were factors in the move of the company. Former Brookhaven resident Peter Mullikin said his father Paul “Pete” Mullikin was one of the last presidents of Stahl-Urban before it merged with Kellwood and Paul kept a position in Brookhaven.

Mullikin remembers his great uncle Carl Urban being over the plant and his grandfather Marcell Urban was the senior partner. He said Mississippi wanted to attract industry after the depression which was another factor in the company coming to Brookhaven. 

Mullikin now lives in Texas but he came to town after the fire. His sister Marsha Wilmerding was in town in the week after the fire. 

“It is bitter sweet knowing it went up in flames. We spent time out there growing up as kids,” Mullikin said. “There are a couple of generations here who likely had someone they knew who worked there at some point.” 

He remembered the building very well and the times he would go visit his dad in the office. The production floor of the plant had pattern cutting and seamstresses running sewing machines. 

One summer he worked at the plant while he was in college. Those summers were spent unloading cloth at the railroad and taking them to the plant. 

“The August heat was dreadful,” he said. 

After high school and college he did not come back to Brookhaven for some time. In 2016, Mullikin said he visited Brookhaven for a presentation on the Stahl-Urban factory sponsored by the historical society. 

“The seamstresses were committed to this company and I know those relationships were important then,” Mullikin said. “They reminisced and they brought up some examples of thimbles and things they used at work. It was an education for me to hear those stories. A lot of people would talk about walking to work. It was fascinating. I didn’t know anything about it. I only knew one perspective of it.” 

Dianne Altman said her mother Yvonne Wooten worked at the plant. 

Altman recalled the plant as a lifeline to employees in Lincoln and Franklin County. Stahl-Urban was one of the first industries that employed mostly women. 

“They made good money for then. Men worked in the cutting room and were mechanics.  Mama always said Mr. D.L Price was the best mechanic and if she couldn’t get him she fixed it herself,” Altman wrote on Facebook. “Her house burned on Aug. 20, 2023 but we found her scissors in the rubble.”

All four surviving members of the Urban family found careers outside of textile manufacturing and moved away from Lincoln County. The fire brought a conclusion to the Stahl-Urban story in Brookhaven.

“It was there for generations and had an impact. We felt sad about it burning. That is what was left of the Urban family in Brookhaven,” Mullikin said. “When we did come to visit we would drive out there where it was vacant. I remember its heyday, when it was new and thriving.”