by Larry Upthegrove
Joe Winship was born on August 29, 1800 in New Salem, Mass. He spent his childhood on his father’s plantation where schooling was rare, but country exercise abundant. The education he did receive was mostly during those dark, cold, Northeastern winter months that prevented the normal outdoor agricultural activities to occupy his time. The family unit was tight, and strict moral training gave him the character he needed to thrive on life and to pass good strength along to his sons.
Eventually, it was time for Joe to leave the family homestead, and he apprenticed himself to a boot and shoemaker, subsequently following his employer southward. Locating first at Monticello, Ga., he remained only two years with the initial situation, before moving into to merchandising and opening a store in Clinton, Ga., in Jones County.
Later Joe went back to the boot and shoe trade, in a joint venture with his brother Isaac Winship. Together, Joe and Isaac built a factory and tannery in Forsyth, Ga. Eventually, Joe sold his factory interests to his brother and went back to merchandising in Clinton. In 1845, he quit the store and established a cotton gin factory in Morgan County, which he continued to successfully operate until 1851.
At that time, Joe turned the factory over to two of his son-in-laws and moved to the young city of Atlanta to manufacture railroad cars. The business expanded so rapidly that none of the local foundries could keep up with Joe, so he established his own foundry and machine shop adjacent to the Western and Atlantic Railroad tracks, where it remained for many years (on Foundry Street).
During this time, Isaac rejoined Joe, and along with Joe’s two sons, Robert and George, became valued leaders in the company. The foundry and machine works had grown by leaps and bounds, working for other industries in addition to the railroad car industry. In 1856, an accidental fire destroyed the railroad car factory, and the Winships decided to not rebuild. Instead, they opted to concentrate all efforts on the ironworks. Since his sons were doing so well with the business, Joe decided to ease himself into retirement and let them, with the help of Isaac, carry the business forward.
When the Civil War came, the foundry and machine shops were of immense value to the Confederacy, and as a result was an important target to Union soldiers when they arrived in Atlanta. Union soldiers took weeks to dismantle machinery and buildings before the city burned in November 1864.
After the war, Joe’s two sons rebuilt the business and operated it for many more years. Isaac sold his interests and took his retirement just after the war ended. Most of the cotton gins in the south had been destroyed by the Federal Army, so much of the machine shop’s focus was in making new gins.
Joe Winship enjoyed a prosperous retirement for over 25 years, passing away in September of 1876 to sleep forever beneath the sweet soil of Historic Oakland Cemetery. His sons and their wives later joined Joe and his wife at Oakland. The Winship name will long be remembered in Atlanta, associated with many philanthropic activities. Joe’s great-grandson was Robert Winship Woodruff, one of Atlanta’s wealthiest and most generous of men, and the family name lives on to this day, attached to health projects like the Winship Cancer Center at Emory University.