In the center of a parking lot in Fort Payne, Alabama, a pavilion holds a diorama commemorating a beloved piece of local history: a drainage ditch. When the nearby W.B Davis Hosiery Mill completed a run of sock dyeing, the ditch carried “very hot, smoking and brightly colored” runoff. Locals would gather to take in the psychedelic spectacle, and the stream came to be known as Dye Ditch or Dye Branch.
The installation is called the Dye Ditch Gang, and it was created by local artist and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bobby Welch. It features eight characters who represent figures from Fort Payne’s boom years in the 1950s and 60s. Welch created the figures out of old newspaper, paint, and glue.
W. B. Davis purchased the Fort Payne mill in 1909 and converted it into a textile factory. Soon after, the operation expanded its capabilities, including a dyeing operation. The size and scale of the factory led to Fort Payne’s nickname, the “Sock Capital of the World.” (According to the New York Times, in the 1990s, the town had more than 120 mills that employed roughly 7,500 workers.)
Though that industry has taken a hit, locals are proud of the town’s heritage and hope it can bounce back. As Bobby Welch said, it is “a good place with good blood and Dye Ditch water in it.”