Proposed Landmark: Franklinsville Manufacturing Company

[Written for the Randolph County Landmarks Commission, as background for consideration of landmark status.]

1306 Andrew Hunter Road, Franklinville, NC

Owner: Randolph Heritage Conservancy, Inc. (a North Carolina nonprofit corporation)

In General

The “Randolph Manufacturing Company” was organized in March, 1838. It was the second textile mill in the county, building on the success of the Cedar Falls mill partnership which had begun operations in a converted wooden grist mill in 1836.

The factory at Franklinsville was built on property belonging to Elisha Coffin, an anti-slavery activist who named the surrounding village for Jesse Frankin, a former N.C. Governor and Congressman remembered for his crucial vote to keep slavery out of the Northwest Territory (now Ohio, Indiana and Illinois).

The Randolph Manufacturing Company, after being chartered by the legislature in 1838, was the first corporation ever to conduct business in Randolph County. An earlier Randolph Manufacturing Company, chartered in 1828, failed to attract enough stockholders to begin operations. The stockholders named in the charters of each company are substantially different, so it is unclear whether the 1838 company is an outgrowth of the 1828 incorporation.

From the beginning Franklinsville stockholders planned to conduct operations on a much larger scale than was done at Cedar Falls. The three story, 40 by 80-foot “Factory House” was the first building built in the county textile manufacturing purposes, and was probably one of the first ten in the state. It was also one of the first brick structures in the county, and was certainly the largest building in Randolph County when completed.

The Franklinsville factory also had the first looms in the county, and thus was the first “integrated” manufacturing operation (the first to manufacture cotton in all stages “from bale to bolt” of woven cloth.)

The community surrounding the factory was the largest urban area in Randolph County before the Civil War. It was incorporated as the municipality of Franklinsville by the state legislature in 1846 and was the first mill village in the state to become an official city or town.

In 1851, during a period of labor unrest following the famous missionary crusade of Abolitionist preachers Crooks and McBride, who formed a Wesleyan church in Franklinsville, the factory building was destroyed in a fire. It was immediately rebuilt on the original massive stone foundation and the surviving three-foot thick brick walls of the first floor.

In 1858 the rebuilt Franklinsville factory was purchased by the stockholders of the reorganized “Cedar Falls Company,” the first multi-property holding company in the county.During the war the Cedar Falls corporation operated both factories to spin cotton and weave coarse sheeting. In what appears to be the first integrated apparel manufacturing operation in the state, the Company produced cotton underwear, or “shirts and drawers” for soldiers, under contract to the state.

Unlike most North Carolina factories, the operations of those in Randolph county were not suspended after the war. The Franklinsville factory was reorganized in 1872 to weave “seamless” (tubular) cotton bags, which it continued to produce until 1915. The factory itself was regularly expanded and remodeled. It is estimated that approximately ten percent of the original 1838 factory remains today; that approximately sixty percent of the 1851 factory remains; and that approximately eighty percent of the present-day factory complex was built before 1900.

An unusual aspect of the Franklinsville factory is that the 1978 bankruptcy of Randolph Mills, Inc., had the unintended consequence of preserving some uncommonly antique machinery. Oldest of those preserved are 1892 “Opener-Feeders” and a 1903 picker-lapper. Several pre-1912 Saco-Pettee slubbers survive, and of the machinery purchased in the circa-1915 reorganization, two Saco-Pettee carding machines and sixteen Draper “E-model” looms exist.

Most important, however, is the survival of a huge amount of documentary evidence about the appearance, equipment and operation of the factory over its 140-year career. Several owners and stockholders over the years have been photographers, and an extensive record of the appearance of the factory, the community, and its residents was made. Even motion pictures from the 1930s exist.

The current unattractive appearance of the Franklinsville factory gives few clues to its honored place in the rich history of textile manufacturing in North Carolina.

Only Randolph, Alamance and Cumberland counties had five or more factories before 1860. Those around Fayetteville were burned by Sherman in 1865, and neither factories nor early housing survives. Several early houses survive in Edwin Holt’s 1836 Alamance Village, but the factory was destroyed thirty years ago. Isolated early structures still exist in Alamance, but the heyday of its industry began in the 1880, and the majority of its material dates from that time.

Of the very first North Carolina factory, the 1813 Michael Schenk mill in Lincoln County, nothing survives. The 1818 Rocky Mount Mill on the Tar River in Edgecombe County continues in operation, but only the home of its owners the Battle family survives from before 1880. The oldest surviving North Carolina factory is the 1836 Salem Manufacturing Company, now converted to the “Brookstown Inn” at Old Salem. No early mill housing exists there.

In Randolph County, portions of the walls of the 1848 brick Cedar Falls factory survive in the predominantly 20th-century structure. The 1850 Columbia factory in Ramseur is intact, though neglected. The 1846 Island Ford factory in Franklinville and the 1848 Union factory in Randleman have both been destroyed. Isolated antebellum structures survive in connection with all four of the other Randolph factories, but only in the original Franklinsville village are there examples of the complete tier of worker and supervisor and mill owner’s housing, together with cultural buildings such as the Masonic Lodge and the 19th century factory. Franklinville is the most complete example of an antebellum mill village in North Carolina, a fact which has been recognized by is inclusion of the National Register of Historic Places. It is the oldest surviving water-powered textile mill in North Carolina, and one of the oldest in the South.

In Particular

From March 21, 1859, the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company had been a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Cedar Falls Company, under the supervision of George Makepeace. Ten looms designed to weave seamless cotton bags were installed in April, 1872, and ten more were installed in July, 1874. George Makepeace having died in December, 1872, the mill was now under the management of Samuel Walker. The Cedar Falls Company had sold the mill to the Randleman Manufacturing Company on July 28, 1875, but less than a year later, on the Centennial day of July 4, 1876, the partners Hugh Parks, Benj. Moffitt and Eli N. Moffitt bought the property for $24,500. Hugh Parks was then the Mayor of Franklinsville and the primary owner of the Island Ford mill downstream. On January 26, 1877, the three partners formed a corporation, contributing $30,000 of capital in shares valued at $500 each. The first stockholders meeting was held March 28, 1877, at which Hugh Parks was elected President, Benj. Moffit Secretary- Treasurer, and Eli N. Moffitt, director. The new capital was used to modernize the mill’s equipment.

At some undisclosed time the 1852 gable roof was replaced by a flat roof with paneled brick parapets. This was undoubtedly done to qualify for insurance protection by one of the Factory Mutual insurance companies based in New England. The Factory Mutual companies had determined that the wooden trusses of gable roofs were fire hazards, and promoted replacement by flat roofs built with “slow-burn,” or solid tongue-and groove decking, construction. A separate tower for stairs was another requirement of the Factory Mutual companies, as the old open stairways inside the mill could act as chimneys during a fire. “Up until 1892 all the roving and yarn were carried in bags, up and down the steps, by boys; but after the tower was built and the elevator installed, the task was made much lighter.” Besides new stairs and an elevator, the tower also supported a wooden water tank feeding the new sprinkler system.

The one-story Baling Room housed the printing, sewing, baling and shipping operations of the mill. The Baling Press was operated by the rope-drive pulleys punched through the walls of the mill and separate Baling Room wing. A two-story Wheel House or Engine House was added to the mill in July 1882. This wing was much more elaborate architecturally than the old mill, having brick quoins at each corner and gothic-style hood moldings over doors and windows. The Wheel House provided space for a new water wheel and the first steam boilers and engine, which were installed and started for the first time on November 24, 1882.

“In October 1896 J.E. Duval started the first dynamo in this mill, and then tallow candles and kerosene lamps became a thing of the past,” wrote the corporate secretary. But the boilers and draft stack of 1882 proved inadequate to handle both the increased production of the mill and the new technology of the 1890s. “In 1897 a new engine room, 19×36 feet, an addition to the boiler room and a new smoke stack were built, and a new boiler and engine were installed and started on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1897, by Benajah T. Lockwood of Providence, R.I.” The original steam engine installed by the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company in 1882 had been purchased from the William A. Harris Company of Providence, Rhode Island. Harris had worked with the original George Corliss company before starting his own factory, and specialized in large mill engines using the highly-efficient Corliss valve gear. The original engine had a 14” diameter piston with a 36” stroke; its flywheel was 11 feet in diameter. On July 29, 1897, the Franklinsville company ordered a new engine having an 18” piston, 42” stroke, and 13-foot flywheel designed to carry a 24” leather belt to power the mill’s lineshafting. After installation the engine was used continuously until December 23, 1920, after which the mill was renovated for electrical drive.

The mill’s original power undoubtedly came from one or more wooden water wheels, probably of the breast (or “pitch-back”) type. The type of “new” water wheel installed in 1882 is unknown. In the major expansion of the mill of 1899, a 44-inch Leffel turbine wheel was installed and started August 14, 1899. The dynamo which provided lighting in the mill was run by this wheel until 1901, when a separate steam engine was installed for that purpose. In 1909 the old water wheel and water house was torn out, and a 285-horse power horizontal turbine wheel was installed by D.J. Heiston and Jake Lindemuth of the S. Morgan Smith Company of York, Pa. After conversion of the mill to electric drive in 1920, the turbine was used as back-up power for emergency pumps until about 1940.

In 1915 the corporate secretary wrote, “Some months ago Hugh Parks, Jr., saw the destiny of seamless bags, and after visiting Baltimore and New York, decided that the best thing to do was to make a complete change and to manufacture sheetings instead of bags. It was decided to build an addition (52×73) to the weave room and install 160 looms, for weaving sheetings, and the necessary preparatory machinery. In January, 1916, all the bag looms were thrown out; and the last bag was woven by Arthur Ellison on January 30, 1916. Arthur Ellison gave up his position in the weaving room January 30, 1916; when Hugh B. Buie was put in charge of the room. The last bags (22 bales) were shipped November 16, 1917 for the account of Amon Green & Co., Baltimore, Md., to Carleton Dry Goods Co., St. Louis, Mo. These bags were sold April 19, 1915.

Hugh Parks served as chief executive officer of both mills until his death in 1910. His control of the social and economic fabric or the community was benign but absolute. The mills continued under the control of Parks’ son Hugh Jr. until 1923, when stockholders led by Governor Worth’s grandson Herbert Jackson engineered a sale of both companies to David and John Clark, sons of Chief Justice Walter Clark.

John W. Clark moved to Franklinville and served as superintendent of manufacturing. David Clark, of Charlotte, was the President of the new corporation, Randolph Mills, Inc. During World War II John W. Clark received special permission for extensive remodeling and repair of the 100-year-old facility. Steel girders and I-beams recycled from other buildings were used to create a new support structure for the mill, completely independent of the exterior brick walls. The Opening, Picker and Card Rooms were expanded into the court yard between the old wings by bulldozing the intervening hills. At this time production was reorganized between the upper “Franklinsville” mill and the lower “Randolph” mill; cotton preparation and spinning operations were consolidated in the upper mill, with weaving and shipping done at the lower mill.

The Clarks continued and expanded the system of paternalistic control, providing a movie theater, public library and parks for the workers. In the 1960’s Randolph Mills employed 550 workers out of the town’s population of 750. Beyond small-scale domestic craftsmanship, the two factories were Franklinville’s only source of employment, tax revenue, commerce, and housing. John W. Clark’s death in 1969 brought an almost immediate end to the historic integration of manufacturing, housing and commerce, for Clark’s heirs could not afford to continue providing these activities. Much of the mills’ housing stock and unrelated property was sold off in the early 1970’s. Both textile mills ceased operations in 1977, and in 1978 the town’s oldest business, the flour mill, was closed. Randolph Mills, Inc. filed for bankruptcy reorganization in 1979. A considerable portion of the town of Franklinville was accepted on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district in 1985.


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One Response to “Proposed Landmark: Franklinsville Manufacturing Company”

  1. Cathy Bunn Says:

    My husband and I own a coffee table that supposedly made from a rafter of Jonothan Worth’s home when it was demolished.
    Any suggestions for authenticating the story. We received the table from Raymond Cummings when he downsized his home from the Uwharrie Golf Club.

    Any help will be appreciated.

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