Along with payments for high-profile jobs like constructing a fence for the University of Georgia, Athens Steam Company also benefited from unpaid slave labor. Specific details about slave labor within Athens Steam Company are unknown, but we can rely on E. Merton Coulter’s account of the general situation of slaves in antebellum Athens. During this period, the proportions of white and black Athenians were almost identical, and virtually all black residents were enslaved. Though white residents saw themselves as benevolent masters, they lived in fear of an insurrection among those African-Americans “employed” at places like the Foundry, where white and black workers often worked in the same building. As economical as slave labor could be, however, not all workers who could have built the Arch were enslaved. Mr. Thomas Bailey, a white man, began his career at the Athens Steam Company by working on the iron railing surrounding Broad Street, and he later became general manager of the company after serving as a foreman for the Confederacy and merging his own foundry with the company.
The construction of the Arch is one example of how unpaid slave labor greatly bolstered the economies of Georgia and the American South as a whole. Georgians fiercely sought to maintain their right to own slaves in the period preceding the Civil War. When the Civil War broke out, some students at the University of Georgia fought with Georgia’s Confederates, and the school struggled to stay open due to a lack of demand (as only white men could attend the institution at the time). The Foundry designed and supplied Confederate Athens with the double-barreled cannon in 1863. It was a massive failure and is much more useful as a sightseeing attraction for the city than it ever was as a method of defense.
Today, the Arch is thought of as separate from the surrounding fencing. Despite appearing timeless, it has been restored as recently as 2015 in order to preserve its historic characteristics. The fence extending from Broad Street to surround all North Campus was extended that far by a new company that took up residence in the same building in 1945, which was known as the Athens Boiler and Machine Works. The three pillars have become a symbol of both the University of Georgia and, ironically, the founding principles of the state: wisdom, justice, and moderation. The Foundry now serves as a music venue and hotel with a ballroom to host special events, including those organized by university students. It markets its history as an added layer of texture and Southern flair to a business that, though reasonably successful, bears no resemblance to the building’s original purpose.