Archive for June, 2009

Cotton Textile Manufacturing Processes

June 23, 2009

What follows is an illustrated outline of the stages and processes involved in manufacturing cotton textiles. I worked it up to support a lecture I’m giving to the N.C. Humanities Council Teacher Institute in Chapel Hill, which is this year studying the theme “The Culture of Textiles in North Carolina.” All of the historic photographs illustrating the processes were taken in Randolph County; most of them in the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company. George Russell, the superintendent of that mill from 1905 to 1925, created a remarkable album of his own amateur photographs in and around the mill, circa 1916.

Raw Material: Cotton Agriculture.

Randolph County has long been known as the foremost county in the state for wheat production, while its tobacco and cotton crops have always been minimal. It is ironic therefore, that this iconic postcard photograph of North Carolina cotton agriculture illustrates a farm near Asheboro. The photograph was taken by the state’s best known female photographer of the early 20th century.


FMC Teamsters, 1915. Mule teams were the usual choice to draw heavy loads such as these 500-lb. Bales of cotton. The Randolph Mfg. Co. on the east side of Franklinville used oxen instead.

The Cotton Gin .

The cotton Gin, whether located near the cotton field or the cotton mill, was the beginning point in processing the cotton boll into cotton cloth. Farmers brought their cotton to the gin, where the seeds were pulled from the fiber by the teeth of tiny “saws,” and the cotton fiber then pressed into five hundred pound bales. The gins were located in the upper floor of the two-story frame building at left; wagons bringing cotton from the fields unloaded sacks underneath, and the ginned cotton was baled at an adjacent screw press. This photo is probably not of the original gin, which was located beside Elisha Coffin’s grist and saw mill. The cotton gin also operated at a site on the head race east of the dam near the ox barn and and horse stables, and this may be a photo of that operation. In the early twentieth century the gin was moved to a location behind the new company store on Main Street, now the site of the Franklinville Volunteer Fire Department.

The Cotton Warehouse.

Before the factory was in operation, farmers hauled the bales to larger cities for sale; later the cotton bales were stored in a cotton warehouse until needed by the factory or until transport by railroad to some other factory. Until the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway opened service to Staley in May 1884, raw cotton and finished products had been carried to Greensboro by wagon. On November 15, 1886, the shipping point was changed to Millboro, northwest of Cedar Falls; by May 17, 1890, regular rail freight and passenger service was available in Franklinville. Frame cotton houses were used throughout the nineteenth century, until the pictured brick warehouse was built in the summer of 1900.

The Opening Room/ Picker or Lapper House.

The ties binding a bale of cotton were cut in the Opening Room, and cotton from several different bales mixed together in the middle of the floor, as shown. Handfulls of cotton were then thrown into the hopper of a Opener-Feeder, where large metal teeth shredded the compressed cotton and fans blew out some of the leaf fragments and trash. A moving belt then fed the cotton into the Picker, or Lapper, which created a flat lap, or roll of cotton. These rolled laps were taken off the end of the picker and hung on racks, ready to be rolled into the Card Room.


Carding Engines.

These are the Saco-Pettee revolving flat top cards installed in 1907. In the background the gear end of a set of slubbers is visible, with cast lettering that says “Saco-Pettee/ 1911.” Examples of both of these machines survive in the mill today. The laps were cleaned and condensed on the carding machines and twisted into “sliver” or ‘roving’ (about the size and shape of rope) that was coiled into the roving cans shown.

Drawing frames.

The cans were next taken to “Drawing Frames” (pictured above) where sliver from multiple cans were twisted together and coiled into another can, which was then taken to Roving Frames, starting with Slubbers (shown below) where multiple cans were again twisted into roving, about the size of a pencil, and wound onto large wooden bobbins. The roving bobbins would be carried to the spinning room by the card room hands.


The Card Room Hands (1915).

As shown, all the card room hands were men and boys. The work was mostly heavy lifting.

The Spinning Room.

In the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company of circa-1910, the Weave Room (and separate Opening Room and Slasher Room) was on the first floor, the Card Room was on the second, and the Spinning Room was on the third floor. Two types of spinning frames were required, one set to produce coarse warp yarn, and another to produce finer filling yarns. Warp yarns were spun onto stubby wooden bobbins, which could then be transferred to larger packages in the warper creel, taken to the dye room for dyeing, or spooled off and warped into skeins for sale as bundle yarn, or twisted together to make packing twine. Finning yarns were spun directly on to the pointed “quills” which snapped into the Draper filling battery on a loom.

The Spinning Room, Franklinsville Mfg. Co., before 1915.

The Spinning Room

Most spinners were women, although the supervisors were male, and “Bobbin Boys” “doffed” the full bobbins, throwing them into waiting buggies for transport to the next stage.

The Warper Room and Drawing-in Room. The woman is standing beside the warper and warping creel. To the far left may be a drawing-in stand, or it may be part of a warp-tying machine, which was a later advance on drawing-in a pattern by hand. Filling yarns were “drawn in” to the desired pattern through reed and harnesses in the “Drawing-in” Room; the loom’s entire “tackle” could be taken to the weave room to change the pattern on a loom. In the foreground are full warp beams waiting to be taken to the weave room.

The Drawing-In Hands, 1915.

The Dye House.

Colored cloth could be made by weaving with colored yarns or by dyeing natural cotton finished cloth by the yard. Colored yarn could be made either by dyeing the raw cotton before it was spun (often the method of choice for denim production), or by dyeing the natural yarn after spinning. In the 19th century only the signature red, blue or brown stripes in seamless bags needed to be dyed, so the dye house was a small addition to the back of the boiler room. In the 20th century, a bleachery was built at the Lower mill and flannel was dyed and printed in multi-colored patterns. Plaids were woven in many other Deep River and Alamance County mills, but never in Franklinville. A very simple one or two-color check could be woven on a plain or Draper loom, but multi-color plaids required a “box” loom with multiple shuttles carrying the different colors. Crompton and Knowles, or “C&K,” made the most popular American box looms.

The photograph above shows a view of the Central Falls Manufacturing Company dye house around 1900. Raw cotton is being forked out of the dye kettle; it would next have to dry completely before it could be picked, carded and spun. The blue indigo yarn used in Denim twill was usually “dyed in the raw” like this because the twill weave also used a natural white filling yarn; dyeing the denim after weaving would have colored both warp and weft yarns blue.

The second photograph shows a different dyeing process about 40 years later. Women’s hosiery at Acme-McCrary corporation in Asheboro was dyed after the knitting process was complete but before inspection and packing.

The Slasher Room.

Even coarse cotton warp yarn was too delicate to weave on mechanical looms without special treatment. Each individual warp thread was strengthened by dipping it into a vat of hot starch, or “sizing,” and then pulling it around a steam-heated copper drum to dry, before wrapping it onto a warp beam. The Franklinville mills used two circa-1900 Lowell Machine Shop slashers when they closed; the machines were perhaps the oldest then in use in any American factory. Because of their size (each the size of a tractor trailer) they could not be easily salvaged when the lower mill was demolished. Slasher room hand was one of the heaviest, hottest and stickiest jobs in the mill. From here the iron beam of warp yarn could be taken to the floor of the weave room and tied directly onto a working loom, or stored for future use.


The Weave Room (1915). The bag looms used in the Franklinsville mill throughout the nineteenth century were made by the Lewiston Machine Works of Lewiston, Maine. The first bag was woven in 1872 by Kate Russell, the daughter of Weave Room Overseer J.B. Russell. Most weavers were women. Men who learned to weave usually did so to learn how to repair the looms, and ultimately became “fixers” and supervisors. Weavers and Fixers were the most skilled and highly-paid floor employees in the mill. The bag looms used in the Franklinsville mill throughout the nineteenth century were made by the Lewiston Machine Works of Lewiston, Maine. Before 1915, weavers were paid by the number of bags that were woven on each machine per day. After the change to sheeting production, weavers were paid by the “cut”, or number of yards woven per day. In 1909 four bag looms were purchased from the Draper Company of Hopedale, Mass., because the company’s “Northrup battery” was revolutionizing the process of weaving. Draper’s innovative battery (the revolver-like cylinders shown to the right) automatically replaced empty bobbins in the shuttle with a new bobbin full of yarn. This automated one of a weaver’s most time-consuming tasks, and made it possible for a worker to double, triple or quadruple the number of looms he or she could operate. Labor activists later referred to this as “the Speed-Up.” When the changeover to sheeting manufacture was made in 1916, all 160 new looms were purchased from the Draper Company. The Draper “E” model looms shown were introduced in 1898 and became the workhorse of the southern textile industry. They were made in various sizes up to 1930. The standard width of cloth woven in 1915 was just 28 inches; forty inches or more in width was considered a ‘wide’ loom. A dozen 40″ or 42″ looms remain at the mill in Franklinville.

The Weave Room Hands, 1915.

(Hugh Buie, Weave Room Boss, 4th from left).

Parks-Cramer Humidifier, or “Air Conditioner”

The Parks-Cramer Company involved one of the outstanding figures in the development of the southern textile industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Charlottean Stuart Warren Cramer. The company was founded in 1918, when the G.M. Parks Company, manufacturers of industrial piping, heating, and ventilation systems based in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, purchased Cramer’s business interests. The new company established business operations in Fitchburg, Boston, and Charlotte. Stuart Warren Cramer was one of the principal inventors and entrepreneurs promoting the growth of southern cotton textiles. Born in 1868 in Thomasville, North Carolina, he attended the United States Naval Academy and the Columbia University School of Mines. In the early 1890s Cramer was chief engineer and manager of the D. A. Tompkins Company in Charlotte, the South’s foremost distributors of cotton-mill machinery and supplies. Its owner, Daniel Augustus Tompkins, was a major builder of cotton mills and a leader of New South industrialization. Cramer soon established his own textile engineering and contracting firm in Charlotte.

Cramer’s specialty in industrial engineering was in the humidification systems for textile factories, and it is said that Cramer coined the term “air conditioning”. In 1904, he introduced an electrically operated heat and humidity control mechanism, and in 1905, an automatic hygrometer. These instruments were predecessors of the Psychrostat, a humidifier control instrument, which injected a fine mist of water into the air, to moisten and “condition” the cotton fibers. Cramer’s best known patent was for the “Cramer System of Air Conditioning,” not just a method of cooling air, but automatically regulating temperature and humidity (high humidity static electricity and made cotton fibers adhere together and spin better).

The Cloth Room.

The Bushnell Baling Press is in the left foreground. In the center background is an automatic cloth folding machine. Sheeting is being packaged for sale here, although seamless bags were baled up and shipped in a similar fashion. From the cloth room, bales would be taken to the warehouse for storage until shipping out on the railroad.

The same Bushnell Press, in the ruins of the Columbia Factory, 2004.

Seamless Bags.

From 1872 to 1915, the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company made woven tubular “seamless” bags. The process of weaving a tube was invented by Cyrus Baldwin, a supervisor in the Amoskeag Machine Shop, and the bags were first woven in the huge Amoskeag Company mills of Manchester, NH. The Franklinsville mill was one of the first factories in the south to import the technology after the Civil War. By 1890 several dozen mills in the US were weaving the bags, which were widely used for shipping flour, corn, seeds, and frozen meat on railroad and steamships. Their popularity was due to their strength (no side or bottom seams to burst) and their durability (seamless cotton bags were returned to the processer, washed, and reused many times). The product suffered a precipitous decline after 1934, when the Pure Food and Drug Act prohibited re-use of food product packaging. Some mills retooled to produce a revised product, “pillow tubing”—actually seamless bags made of much lighter count yarn, and used for craft embroidery of decorative designs. The Franklinville mill retooled in 1915 to switch production to sheeting and other plain weave products. The last seamless bag was woven in the mid-1970s in Alabama by the Bemis Company.

Franklinsville Manufacturing Company: A Pictorial History

June 22, 2009
Franklinsville Manufacturing Company

Franklinsville Manufacturing Company

(This was partially written years ago as part of a walking-tour brochure of Franklinville, but I revised it recently to put a better face on the rather sad present condition of this historic factory, which is now Randolph County’s 3rd designated historic landmark.)

The 140-year story of the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company has one of the best-documented visual histories of any North Carolina cotton textile factory.  Portrait photographs of stockholders are known dating from the mid-1850s, the same time a professional artist, David L. Clark, lived in the community and left an extensive written account (although none of his sketches have been found).  A daguerreotypist is listed in the 1860 census, and F.L. Ellison operated a photography business in the community during the latter 1800s.  At the turn of the century, both Hugh Parks, Jr., the mill owner, and George Russell, the mill superintendent, were amateur photographers.  Their work is now indistinguishable, as the oldest Franklinville photographs all descended among members of the Parks and Makepeace families, who were related to both Parks and Russell.  Approximately the time of the 1923 sale of the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company to Randolph Mills, Inc., George Russell compiled a an extensive written and photographic history of the mill in identical scrapbooks, one kept by him and one given to Hugh Parks, Jr.  The Parks scrapbook descended to Carrie Parks Stamey, the middle daughter of Hugh Parks, Jr., and was copied in 1985.  Mrs. Stamey also possessed a number of unique individual photographs, which were also copied at that time.  The George Russell scrapbook descended to Margaret Williams of Franklinville, and was given to Mac Whatley in 1987.  Most of the following pictures come from those scrapbooks, although various individual views are used from other sources now found in the Whatley collection.  The quoted passages are taken from the written history of the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company as found in the scrapbooks and compiled from the original corporate records, the location of which are now unknown.

Faith Rock. The power of water falling over a series of stone ledges in the path of Deep River is the whole reason manufacturing grew up at the place which became known as Franklinsville. As the river flows from Guilford County through Randolph County its level drops some five hundred feet. As it reaches Franklinville it strikes a huge stone outcropping known as Faith Rock and turns, creating a dogleg bend in the river. In 1782 Faith Rock was the site of a Revolutionary War confrontation between the pro-British Colonel David Fanning, who chased the Whig Andrew Hunter along the ridge and into the river. Soon after the spot was recognized for its industrial potential, and several speculative owners purchased land around the falls before the site was developed as a mill seat.

Coffin’s Mill on Deep River. Flour milling is Franklinville’s oldest activity. Tradition credits construction of the first mill to Christian Moretz (or Morris) in 1801. The 2 ½-story frame building shown here was about 30 x 30 feet in plan, and housed a wooden water wheel that powered three mill stones and a minimum of flour-processing machinery. By 1802 Morris was being taxed for the operation of a large cotton gin, and he also operated a saw mill and wool carding machine. The availability of such a variety of products and services led to the formation of a lively rural trading community even before Elisha Coffin bought the property in 1821. Much if not all of the building pictured must dated from the time of Coffin’s ownership, as the oversized twelve-over-twelve window sash are appropriate to the 1830s. The southern wall of the Boiler House is visible in the left background. In 1912 the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company replaced the antique grist mill with a greatly-expanded modern operation which used steel rollers instead of stones to grind the grain. That three-story “Roller Mill” opened in 1913, operated until 1990, and burned in 1992.

Elisha Coffin (b. 11-23-1779, d. 5-22-1870). Elisha Coffin was born in the New Garden section (now Guilford College) of Guilford County. He was the son of Quaker emigrants from the island of Nantucket who moved to North Carolina in the late 1760s and early 1770s, and both his father and grandfather had served as crew members on whaling voyages to the Arctic. Elisha Coffin learned the trade of a miller and millwright, buying and building a number grist mills in Guilford and Randolph. For 60 years Coffin’s family of Nantucket Quakers served as the liberal backbone and conscience of Piedmont North Carolina, spearheading the fight against slavery. The very year Elisha Coffin purchased the mill on Deep River, he and his father assisted nephew and first cousin Levi Coffin, “the President of the Underground Railroad,” in transporting escaped slave Jack Barnes to freedom in Indiana. Coffin ran the various mills on Deep River until 1838, when he allowed the new Randolph Manufacturing Company corporation to purchase the operation as an adjunct to textile manufacturing.

Island Ford Manufacturing Company, built 1846. No photograph or drawing of the original Randolph Manufacturing Company mill is known, but the Island Ford mill half a mile downriver was built 7 years later by Elisha Coffin, George Makepeace and a very similar group of investors. The two mills probably looked much alike, although the Island Ford mill was built of wood while the Franklinsville factory was of brick. (The two-story weave shed in the foreground was added to the Island Ford mill in the 1850s.) Construction began on the Franklinsville factory in the summer of 1838, and spinning and weaving operations started in March, 1840. The monitor roof effectively gave the mill four usable floors; in the Franklinsville factory it appears that this was used as the “dressing room,” where hot starch was applied to warp yarns. It was there that the fire started which destroyed the building on April 18, 1851.

Franklinsville Manufacturing Company. 1874. Samuel Walker, Agent. The west side of the mill, with all the employees lined up for the camera. A ladder leans against the gable roof. A Greek Revival-style bell cupola covers the northern gable peak, while a chimney stack rises from the southern end. Lighter-colored brick are clearly visible up to the level of the second floor joists, marked by cast iron tie-rod ends; this indicates where the original 1838 walls were found to be solid enough to build upon. There are at least forty workers posing on the ground, three on the tall ladder, and one sitting in a third-floor window. 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.

George Makepeace (b. 9-19-1799, d. 10-9-1872). Makepeace learned the textile industry in small mills around Wrentham, Massachusetts, on the Rhode Island border not far from the birthplace of the textile industry in Pawtucket. Makepeace was hired by the Franklinsville company to install the machinery and train the workers. He was en route to Randolph County on December 25, 1839, when his daughter Lucy was born in Petersburg, Virginia. For many years Makepeace was one of the region’s only skilled experts in textile manufacturing, consulting with mills all around the Piedmont and training the next generation of North Carolina’s textile management. During the Civil War the Cedar Falls Company under Makepeace’s management was the largest integrated textile manufacturing operation in the state, processing raw cotton into yarn, cloth, and clothing. In 1862 he reported that the Company “had been furnishing the State Government for the past year with a large amount of its manufactures for the use of the Army and is now under contract to supply fifty thousand shirts and drawers for the army.”

Franklinsville Mfg. Co. (1876). Taken from the northwest, with the northern gable end clearly visible, although the sun reflecting off what appears to be a metal roof is hiding the bell cupola in its glare. The lighter-colored brick of the original first floor is still visible, as are the two chimneys at the south end. Wooden board sidewalks are provided across gulleys and muddy tracks. There are approximately 35 people posing on the ground, and at least two looking out of third-floor windows. The factory had undergone three ownership changes in the previous two years. 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. “At this time the mill was a three-story brick building, 40 x 80 feet, with picker room, 34 x 40 feet, built of stone and some distance from the main building. The mill was then equipped with twenty looms for weaving seamless bags, and the necessary preparatory machinery. The only bag made then was a 16 ounce bag, branded ‘Franklinsville,’ which had both double warp and double filling. Hugh Parks and Benj. Moffitt took charge of this mill at once, keeping James F. Carter, Overseer of Carding; Nathan A. Fergerson, Overseer of Spinning; and Jesse P. Arledge, Overseer of Weaving. It was only a short time until Hugh Parks put in Matthew Sumner [as] Superintendent, who was also Superintendent of the Island Ford Manufacturing Company.”

Stockholders of the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company, 1876. 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.

Franklinsville Mfg. Co. (1883). Hugh Parks, Sr., Pres. Benj. Moffitt, Sec. & Treas. Baling Room Completed. The factory has undertaken a major expansion in the intervening 7 years. In July 1879 the old throstle spinning frames were replaced with ring spinning frames purchased from and erected by the Lowell Machine Shop. A spooler was installed at the same time. In February, 1880, new railway heads, drawing frames and speeders were erected, and in December 1880 and January 1881 a new picker and eighteen cards were installed. A two-story addition was built to the mill in July 1882. Called the Wheel House or Engine House, 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 wing 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. The smokestack for the boilers is visible at the south end of the Wheel House. At some undisclosed time the 1850’s 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. 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 new picker, eight more cards, a spooler, a warper, and ten more looms were also installed at this time. This new equipment heralded the weaving of the first 14-ounce bags, having a double warp and single filling. The new product was branded “Parks,” in honor of the company’s President, Hugh Parks.

Group Employee Picture, Franklinsville Manufacturing Company, ca. 1885. The group is assembled in the mill yard between the oil or waste house and the mill, facing the company store, where the photographer stands. Oil for lubrication and lamps was housed in a separate building from the factory, as were rags and cotton waste used for cleaning.

Franklinsville Mfg. Co. (1886). Taken from the southeast, with the 1838 stone Picker House in the foreground. The Wheel and Engine Houses are still just two stories, and it is obvious that the boilers are fired with wood. Four different weights of seamless bags were now made in the mill, the increase having been made possible by the addition of a slasher, which made lighter weights of yarn suitable for weaving by strengthening them with starch. “In February 1884 the first slasher was put in, which was known as a hot air slasher and was made here in the mill. It was in March of the same year when the first single warp bags were made. They were a 12 ½ ounce bag branded ‘Chapman,’ and an 11 ounce bag branded ‘Dover.'” These products proved popular, and increased the demand for bags beyond the mill’s capacity to spin lower counts of yarn. Therefore, in 1887, a 17×40 foot addition was made on the west side of the Picker House, “and five new Lowell spinning frames and a new spooler were added, and the manufacturing of Chain Warp began, by use of the Circular Mill.” In October 1888 the Baling Room was expanded and the first cylinder slasher was installed. By 1893 the demand for seamless bags was such that ten more looms were installed, and in 1894, as the orders for single warp bags increased and those for double warp bags lessened, it became necessary to add two more cylinders to the slasher. The first self-feeder and opener was installed in the Picker House in February, 1896.

Franklinsville Mfg. Co. (1892) Hugh Parks, Sr., Pres.; Benj. Moffitt, Sec. & Treas. Tower Completed. The most obvious new feature is the brick tower positioned at the northeast corner of the original building. “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.” 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. Besides new stairs and an elevator, the tower also supported a wooden water tank feeding the new sprinkler system. Even though the scrapbook label clearly states that the above picture dates to 1892, when the tower was completed, it appears that it actually dates to 1895, as a third story is obviously present atop the 1882 Wheel and Engine House. “In 1895 the third story was built on the engine room; and two new Hopedale twisters were put in, replacing the old ones, for making selvage for bags and twine for hemming.”

Employee Group Picture, ca. 1895. The employees are assembled in front of the stair tower, facing the company store.

Smoke Stack. Built 1897. “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.” 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 double door under the shed roof led into the boiler room. The steam engine was located in the wing to the left of the door. The dynamo was evidently a D.C. generator, as the subsequent 1920 turbine boiler powered the first AC generator. “The old No. 1 Keeler boiler was sold and delivered to Kersey-Carr Company on February 23, 1921.”

1897 Franklinsville Mfg. Co. Corliss-type steam engine. 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. On July 21, 1921 the engine was sold and removed to C.R. Preddy of Builder’s Sash and Door Company of Rocky Mount, N.C. On April 5, 1933, it was again sold and moved to Williams Lumber Company of Wilson, N.C. Williams Lumber was bought out by Stevenson Millwork in 1965, and the engine operated until that business was liquidated in 1972. It was disassembled and stored in a field in Smithfield until 1977, when it was purchased by Shell Williams of Godwin, N.C. Williams moved the engine to his home on U.S. 301 in northeast Cumberland County and re-erected it on a concrete block foundation. It was located there in 1995, and identified from the original W.A. Harris records now in the possession of the New England Museum of Wireless and Steam. Inside the upper half of the flywheel is faintly visible, in red paint, “Franklinsville Mfg. Co., Franklinsville, N.C.”

Unloading Water Wheel (1909). 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. The wheel housing visible on the railroad car still exists in place under the mill, although the runner wheel appears to have been removed.

Seamless Bags made by Franklinsville Mfg. Co., 1901. “The double warp bags were discontinued this year, as the demand was for a single warp and single filling bag; this required more slashing, and a new two cylinder slasher was installed in August, 1901. This year the brands were changed; the 16 ounce bag was branded “Atlantic;” and the 14 ounce bag, “Lone Star.” 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.

Franklinsville Mfg. Co. (1913). Benj. Moffitt, Pres. Hugh Parks, Jr., Sec.-Treas. Taken from one of the wooden bridges which crossed the head race, this view looks northeast toward the south sides of (from left to right) the Picker House (now two stories); the Baling House (in the center, now also two stories and housing the slasher, the drawing-in room, the warper room, and spooling); the main mill; the Wheel House (now three stories); the Engine House (one story); the Boiler Room (one story, but having a gable roof with clerestory). The shed porch on the far right belongs to the new Roller Mill, out of sight.

The Franklinsville Mfg. Co. Roller Mill, circa 1920. Built in 1912 and put into operation in 1913, the roller mill made Excelsior brand flour. Later the Excelsior brand was limited just to whole wheat flour, and the new Dainty Biscuit brand was given to more refined white flours. Its drive wheel shared the head race water with the cotton mill until conversion to electric drive.

Construction of the Feed Mill, 1936. This is a detail taken from a larger view from Faith Rock across Deep River, looking northeast. A major expansion of the roller mill operation in the late 1930s provided for increased sales of chicken, rabbit, horse, mule, goat and hog feeds. The terra cotta tile silos were built for wheat storage. The three-story 1899 wing of the cotton mill and the one-story 1915 weave shed are visible in the center of the picture.

Expansion of the Card Room, circa 1944. 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.

The “Upper Mill” area of Randolph Mills, Inc., circa 1950. Taken by Aero-Pix of Raleigh, this aerial photograph shows the entire complex of the Franklinsville Manufacturing Company. The original mill, as expanded in 1899, is at left center; the Baling Room wing to its right and the Picker House just about that. Across the road is the 1884 Company Store, then serving as the machine shop. Directly above it is the 1919 Power House and Smokestack (125 feet, 2 ¾ inches of radial brick on a fifteen-foot-deep foundation of crushed stone and concrete, demolished about 1975). Heading west from the Power House is a house used by the company as a hotel, now the site of the company garage. From there to the dam was the original location of the company stables and barn, and the cotton gin. On the opposite side of the head race just below the dam is the Peanut House; across the road from there is the Chicken Hatchery; adjoining it is the antebellum residence of the President of the Company; then the Feed Mill and Roller Mill.

Naomi Wise

June 3, 2009

Tomorrow is my 22nd annual walk and talk on Randolph County history for the Asheboro-Randolph Chamber of Commerce.  The Chamber’s “Leadership Randolph” program was the whole reason I started this blog several years ago, and the reason I developed the Randolph County Chronology and Bibliography that are attached to the blog. In my attempt to get things down in writing that I’ve spoken to the class about for years, I’ve written more here this year than in all the other years combined. Some major topics I have avoided, however, because they really need a modern, in-depth treatment—more than I can usually justify on this site.

Naomi Wise is one of those topics. The nutshell version is that Naomi Wise, an unmarried Randolph County girl, was supposedly drowned by her lover, Jonathan Lewis, in a lover’s quarrel in April 1807. Beyond that, details vary, but over the years the story was set to song, and became very popular. The song is now considered the oldest American murder ballad, and its music is actually the living landmark of the event.

The murder on which the song is based really happened in Randolph County more than two hundred years ago, yet sadly, little physical evidence remains. The tombstone shown above is located in the graveyard at Providence Friends Meeting, on Providence Church Road west of New Salem Road in Providence Township, Although a hundred or more years old, the stone is not original; it moreover bears an inaccurate date of her death. Perhaps that makes it the perfect emblem of the story of Naomi Wise.

I’ve told the story for Leadership Randolph, and lately in the computerized multimedia age I’ve played the 60s Doc Watson version on CD through my Jeep speakers. Here’s the 21st-century equivalent, the embedded YouTube video of the Doc Watson recording-

Doc Watson is just the most contemporary artist who has sung a version of this song. Folkorists such as Bascom Lamar Lunsford and others have collected and recorded other versions, with widely-varying lyrics. As discussed at length in the most recent publication on the subject [NAOMI WISE: Creation, Re-Creation and Continuity in an American Ballad Tradition,” by Eleanor R. Long-Wilgus (Chapel Hill: The Chapel Hill Press, 2003)], the many versions of the ballad occurred as a lost original version was gradually passed down from singer to singer since the actual events occurred.

(a copy of the ballad of Naomi Wise in the handwriting of Miss Laura Worth, on a 1920s voter registration form)

The “standard” version of the ballad is the one attached to the 1851 narrative story by Braxton Craven entitled “Naomi Wise: Or, The Wrongs of a Beautiful Girl.” Craven, the headmaster at that time of the Normal College, soon to be Trinity College and ultimately Duke University, romanticized the story so as to make Naomi Wise an innocent victim and heroine of the story in a fashion that is still familiar with the Lifetime movie channel, Nancy Grace and Greta van Susteren on cable TV. In Craven’s story, the innocent virginal 18-year-old orphan girl was lured to her doom by a dastardly sexual predator who was ultimately caught and punished for his crime. That’s the version perpetuated in the ballad text printed by Craven, and in its numerous reprintings and transfigurations over the years. It’s a version that was probably written to conform with the age-old English song tradition of “Murdered Girl” ballads.

A story I’ll tell you

About Naomi Wise,

How she was deluded

By John Lewis’ lies….

He promised to meet me

At Adams’ springs;

He promised me marriage

And many fine things…

I got up behind him

And straightway did go

To the banks of Deep River,

Where the water did flow…

“No pity, no pity,”

The monster did cry;

“In Deep River’s bottom

your body shall lie.”

The wretch them did choke her,

As we understand,

And threw her in the river,

below the mill dam….

(The Story of Naomi Wise was once considered the signature event of the Randleman area, and for several years high school students acted it out in a spring pageant on the riverside. But the bicentennial of the event in 2007 passed without notice.)

As Eleanor Long-Wilgus discusses briefly in her much longer analysis of the ballad lyrics, the true story is, as usual, much less black and white. A detailed analysis of the history behind the ballad can also be found in “Omie Wise: The Ballad as History,” by Molly Stouten, published in Spring 1997 issue of The Old-Time Herald magazine. Hal Pugh, owner and operator with his wife Eleanor of the New Salem Pottery, are modern Randolph County’s guardians of this story, and have done more research than anyone else I know about Naomi Wise (publish! Publish!) In recent years an early 19th century document has been discovered in the Special Collections of the UCLA Library which is the only contemporary account of the event. Entitled “A true account of Nayomy Wise,” it is a lengthy poem found in a penmanship copybook belonging to Mary Woody and her brother Robert Woody.

“To Such as here [hear] and Wants to Know

A Woman Came Some years ago

Then from a Cuntry named by hide [Hyde County, in eastern NC?]

In Randolph after did reside

And by Some person was defil’d

And So brought forth a bastard Child

She Told her name neomy Wise

Her carnal Conduct Some did despise

It was not long till She’d another

That might be Call’d a basturd’s Brother…”

The actual story appears to be that unmarried Naomi Wise was in 1807 already the mother of Nancy (b. 1799) and Henry Wise (b. 1804), and was probably pregnant by Jonathan Lewis, a well-to-do store clerk employed by Benjamin Elliott, the Clerk of Superior Court and future owner of the Cedar Falls cotton factory. The “Bastardy Bonds” for Nancy and Henry can be found in the Randolph County papers at the NC State Archives (for years they were hidden by local historian Laura Worth, who disapproved of the facts). Following the child support law of the time, Naomi charged each father with “begetting a child on her body;” each man then posted a bond publicly insuring that the county would never have to pay to support their children.

(Cost sheet from November 1810 term of Superior Court, showing the expenses of arresting and holding Jonathan Lewis for trial.)

Apparently the argument between Naomi Wise and Jonathan Lewis arose when she revealed her pregnancy, but demanded that Lewis marry her rather than post a Bastardy Bond. Lewis was in fact charged with her murder, jailed after the inquest, but escaped before trial. He fled to Elk Creek Indiana, where he was eventually re-arrested and extradicted back to Randolph County. Jonathan Lewis was tried and acquitted for the murder of Naomi Wise in 1811 (all of these court records are in the state Archives).

What physical evidence remains beyond the site of her grave?

“He promised to meet me at Adams’ Springs” — Adams’ Spring is located on the west side of Brown Oaks Road, about a hundred yards south of the Woolen House (NS:11, p. 116 of my architecture book) which fronts on New Salem Road.

The local school was once located near the spring, which was for many years marked by a gazebo. Nothing marks the spot now, save oral tradition.

To the left of the shed in the grainy newspaper photograph above is a piece of paper tacked to an almost-invisible stump—the very one, it was said, used as a mounting block for Naomi Wise to mount Jonathan Lewis’ horse and ride to her death. This is the kind of local landmark once a common part of every historic site, but gradually lost to the passage of time and the deaths of all those with first, second or third-hand knowledge of the event. Compare the open landscape of the early-20th-century photo with the modern view of trees, weeds, scrub pines and brambles…

Finally, the site of the murder survives: Naomi Falls, taken near dusk from the Naomi bridge over Deep River. The camera position is just west of the site of the remodeled Peter Dicks Mill (see that entry), and the distant rocks in the center water mark the site of the falls and ford once covered by the dam impounding water to power the 1881 Naomi Cotton Mill. Here it is in daylight….

And here, a hundred years ago- Victorian picnickers at the site of the murder….

(from the historical photograph collection of the Randolph Room, in the Asheboro Public Library.)

There you have it—Randolph County’s most famous murder.  Both more, and less, than local history recognizes.


Here’s the wikipedia link: .  The article perpetuates some errors but includes a good general overview of the topic.

Here’s an internet transcription of the classic Manley Wade Wellman retelling of the tale in his book Dead and Gone; it is by far the most readable version of the story: .

Local historian Calvin Hinshaw says that he was told back in the 1950s by New Salem resident George Newman Hinshaw that the narrative poem first printed by Braxton Craven was written by Levi Beeson and his mother soon after the event.  The format of the poem copies a traditional “ballad of experience,” which always begins with a call to the audience (“Come all ye-“) and then proceeds to explain the sad story of the subject victim.

There are MANY different versions and printings of the original Craven story, and even more versions of the ballad.  The original ballad, reconstructed by Eleanor Long-Wilgus, was said to have been sung to the hymn tune “How Firm a Foundation,” composed in the 18th century by Anne Steele (It works- try it with the Craven ballad transcription).   Two of the most recent singers to try out the ballad are Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello- quite a journey from the banks of Deep River in 1807!