The town now known as Porterdale was nothing more than a cotton patch in 1830. It had been nine years since the Georgia General Assembly had formed Newton County on land ceded by the Creek Indian Nation and located Covington as the county seat in the middle of the new county. But residents of the seven dwellings in the little settlement three miles south of Covington called it “Cedar Shoals” because of the many cedar trees along the banks of the Yellow River.
Business establishments in Cedar Shoals included a grist mill, blacksmith shop, saw mill, foundry, and a small country store. But Noah Phillips, a young man from Litchfield, Connecticut, had a bigger dream for Cedar Shoals. Noah Phillips had learned the wool and cotton carding business working in mills in Pennsylvania and Tennessee, and by 1820 had made his way to the frontier village of Athens, Georgia. There, he worked in some of the first mills going up on the Oconee River.
Growing impatient with years of working for other people, Phillips began investigating sites to construct his own operation. He found the ideal location beside the Yellow River in Cedar Shoals.
Along with his brother-in-law, John Persall of Athens, and capital of $40,000, Phillips bought land and erected a wool carding and cotton factory beside the river called Cedar Shoals Manufacturing Company. The factory had 1,184 spindles, ten looms, and was operated 12 hours per day by 45 employees who earned $5.75 per month. Water powered the machinery, but there was no heat, air conditioning, or electricity in the mill. It was warmed by a single wood stove and lighted with oil lamps. Noah Phillips died in 1864, and is buried alongside his wife in the Porterdale Baptist Church Cemetery. But the mill he founded had spawned the growth of a tiny settlement called Cedar Shoals into a bustling little village.
The partnerships and ownership of the mill changed hands several times over the next 50 years. It was not until Bibb Manufacturing Company of Macon bought the operation in 1890 from a group of owners, which included prominent Newton County businessman Oliver S. Porter, and renamed the factory Porterdale Mill. On March 10, 1917, voters in Cedar Shoals voted to incorporate their town and to renamed it Porterdale after Porterdale Mills, Inc. and Oliver S. Porter.