Archive for July, 2019

The Power of Water: Hurricane Florence in Randolph County, September 2018

July 24, 2019

Hurricane Florence from space- NASA.

People often ask me why we don’t have a Randolph County museum. The short answer is that a decent museum would cost a lot of money and need staffing, neither of which the county wants to sponsor. Even private efforts take a lot of time just trying to raise money for one exhibit, as the following story will show. This is the text of a grant application I wrote to the NC Humanities Council last fall seeking to get the right to host a Smithsonian Institution travelling exhibit on “WaterWays.”  It would have been a great way to jump start a museum gallery and major exhibit in Randolph County, specifically in Franklinville, as the text indicates. It was tied to the amazing display of water power we all witnessed in September 2018 as Hurricane Florence blew through the area. Like 12 out of the other 14 applications I wrote last year, it was denied with a one paragraph letter. But the application is a bit of modern history that I am proud of writing.

Franklinville footbridge across Deep River, Sept. 18, 2018 (Tom Allen).

Preface

Recent events have underscored the fact that North Carolina cannot ignore the impact of water on human activity. According to radar estimates from the U.S. National Weather Service the slow passage of Hurricane Florence during the weekend of September 14-17, 2018 dropped 8.06 trillion gallons of rain on the state. That’s almost enough water to completely fill Lake Mead, the reservoir behind the Hoover Dam in Nevada.

When the Florence floodwaters peaked in Randolph County that Monday about noon, the Cedar Falls and Franklinville communities had water at or near the 500 year flood level- yet 160 year-old mill buildings and 140 year-old railroad bed were “high and dry.” Being just 30 miles from the source of the river, those communities were fortunate: as high as the waters rose, the flood actually came and went in less than 24 hours. By Tuesday the cleanup was underway in Randolph County, but the same hurricane waters wouldn’t find their way back to the Atlantic for at least a week.

Drone shot of the Deep River at the Upper Mill, Franklinville, showing the mouth of Walnut Creek where it enters the River. (Tom Allen)

Over three days Hurricane Florence put about six inches of water into rain gauges in Franklinville, where the average annual rainfall is 46.6 inches. That more than a month’s worth of rain fell in those 4 days was not in itself catastrophic: the greatest single day total in state history was the 21.15 inches of rain that fell on the town of Highlands in Macon County on July 29, 1879. Communities in Craven, Carteret and New Hanover counties received more than 30 inches of rain from Hurricane Florence, and then over the next ten days were forced to cope with even more water flooding down the estuaries of the Cape Fear toward the sea.

Florence floods Englehard, NC.

While it lasted, the blocked roads and flooded parks along Deep River attracted hundreds of spectators, looking out at scenes not seen in more than 50 years. One of the most common questions was “Why did they ever build a factory beside a river? That was stupid!” The vivid answer was in front of them, but 21st century residents have become so divorced from their history that the lesson was invisible. The river was the entire reason these mill communities came into existence: to harness the power of flowing water.

The Upper dam during Florence- the head of the dam is about 35 feet above the grist and cotton mill a quarter mile downstream. (tom Allen)

Head

To calculate the power of a river, we need to know the height it falls from source to exit point (the ‘head’) and the amount of water that travels down the stream channel in a given period of time (the flow rate). How much water is in a river depends on the land area which slopes toward the river; the drainage basin or catchment area describes the area that collects surface water and channels it toward a single discharge point into the ocean. The flow rate varies with both the amount of water in the channel, and the slope of the channel from point to point.

Deep River alone is 125 miles long; its twin the Haw River begins in northeast Greensboro and flows through Alamance, Orange and Chatham counties for 110 miles. The Deep and the Haw converge at Mermaid’s Point near Haywood in Chatham County, where they form the renamed Cape Fear and flow an additional 80 miles to meet the ocean at Bald Head Island.

The Deep, the Haw and the Cape Fear estuaries together make up the largest watershed in North Carolina, containing 27% of the state’s population. The name Cape Fear comes from the 1585 expedition of Sir Richard Grenville, and marks the southernmost tip of Smith (now Bald Head) Island. It is the fifth-oldest surviving English place name in the U.S (after Roanoke, Chowan, Neuse and Virginia.) Spanish explorers had named it ‘Rio Jordan’ in 1526, and the English tried renaming it the Charles River (1664) and the Clarendon River (1671), before reverting to the original name.

The Deep and Haw Rivers unite at Mermaid’s Point to form the Cape Fear River, which enters the Atlantic Ocean at Southport.

Deep River heads in a spring near a runway at the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, elevation 925 feet above sea level. In 202 miles the water merges with the Atlantic Ocean.

It leaves Guilford County below Jamestown, where the reservoir lake level is maintained at a constant elevation of 675 feet from there to the Randleman Dam. After the dam, the river’s elevation is 600 feet at the US220 bridge in Randleman; at the Old Liberty Rd. bridge at Central Falls, it is 575 feet; at the lip of Cox’s Dam it is at 560 feet; and it descends to 500 feet by the time it reaches the Loflin Pond Bridge at Cedar Falls. Water flows over the Upper Dam at Franklinville at 475 feet; the Lower Dam at 450 feet; and at the US 64 bridge just below the mouth of Sandy Creek the water level sinks to at 439 feet.

The US Geological Service monitoring station at Gabriel’s Creek, the river’s only flow monitor in Randolph County is located just upstream of the Brooklyn Bridge in Ramseur, where the water is 425 feet above sea level. The drainage area above this point includes 349 square miles. From there the river continues to fall gradually; reaching 420 feet at Buffalo Ford; 400 feet at the Coleridge Dam; and 325 feet at the Moore County line just north of Howard’s Mill.

At Gulf in Chatham County the water level is 270 feet; at Moncure 213 feet; at the Buckhorn Dam at Lockville, where the Deep meets the Haw River to form the Cape Fear, the level has sunk to 160 feet above sea level. The drainage area above this point now encompasses 3,157 square miles. At Fayetteville the river elevation reaches 213 feet; at Lumberton 131 feet; until at Wilmington it is just 38 feet above the ocean. Southport, where the fresh water of the river reaches the Atlantic, is less than 15 feet above sea level. More than 9,000 square miles of North Carolina, 17% of the state’s total land area, drains into the Atlantic through the mouth of the Cape Fear.

Trash backs up behind the bridge at High Falls in Chatham County during Florence.

Flow

The power of flowing water is measured in cubic feet per second. The US Army Corps of Engineers maintains a gauge at Gabriel’s Creek near Ramseur that has been operating continuously since 1985, and can be checked in real-time on the internet. This monitoring station can record floods of up to 26 feet above normal river level, and discharge rates of up to 20,000 cubic feet per second. The median daily flow at the Gabriel’s Creek usually finds 60 cubic feet of water flowing downstream every second. The daily flow varies according to drought and rainfall; in 1943 the lowest recorded flow was just 6.5 feet per second at the meter; the largest flow in the last 60 years was 2,410 cubic feet per second in 1960.

Whiteville, NC.

The night of September 16, 2018 saw records broken at the Gabriel’s Creek station: both the flow and the height of the river exceeded the operational limits of the monitoring devices. The US Geological Survey Service estimates that the river that day crested at more than 31 feet above flood stage, with an estimated discharge of 32,000 cubic feet per second.

Power

The theoretically available power from falling water can be expressed as Pth = ρ q g h, where

Pth = power theoretically available (W)

ρ = density (kg/m3) (~ 1000 kg/m3 for water)

q = water flow (m3/s)

g = acceleration of gravity (9.81 m/s2)

h = falling height, head (m)

Fayetteville Police Dept. camera showing the flood cresting at the railroad bridge over the Cape Fear. The bridge is normally more than 40 feet above the water.

After converting cubic feet to cubic meters, we can estimate that on September 16th the 1,225 cubic yards of water flowing down Deep River, falling 100 feet from the Gabriel’s Creek station to the county line, represented 1,081,553 kilowatts of energy. Since a megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts, the flood waters of Hurricane Florence equaled a thousand megawatts, or a gigawatt of energy flowing through Randolph County; gathering force and heading into eastern North Carolina.

For scale, a gigawatt is enough electricity to power 700,000 homes, and in 2017 there were just over 62,000 housing units in Randolph County. Using another scale: a single modern nuclear reactor can generate about 1 megawatt. The largest nuclear installation in the United States, with multiple reactors, generates 4,000 megawatts. This means that, if harnessed to generate electricity, the 2018 flood waters of Hurricane Florence flowing down just one North Carolina river, would have equaled the output of a million nuclear reactors.

A sobering fact: since record-keeping began in 1901, Hurricane Florence is only the third highest flood peak on Deep River, slightly below Hurricane Hazel of 1954, and far below an unnamed storm in September 1945, when the peak flow at Gabriel’s Creek was estimated to have reached 43,000 cubic feet per second, or nearly 1.5 gigawatts of energy leaving the county.

This was the reason mills were located along rivers. The power of falling water, harnessed mechanically, can do the work of many men and many animals- even many nuclear power plants.

Franklinville Industrial History is powered by Water and Steam 

The new S. Morgan Smith waterwheel being delivered to Franklinville Manufacturing Company in 1909.

Our community’s history has been intertwined with the power of the river from its very beginning, and still today Deep River powers local businesses.  A large part of Franklinville was included within the National Register Historic District in 1985, and dozens of structures dating from antebellum times still stand in the town. Our new branding motto is that “History Lives Here.” But when we consider the community’s relationship to the river, we might just as well say “History Works Here.”

When Deep River ran free toward the sea, shad, herring and sturgeon were commonly caught here.  Fish such as these lived their lives in the ocean, but came upstream to lay their eggs in freshwater rivers and creeks. About halfway between Island Ford and Sandy Creek, an aboriginal fish weir, used to funnel fish into woven baskets, can still be seen at low water.

A medium-sized Atlantic sturgeon caught in the Pee Dee River in 2017.

Prehistoric native Americans left the Deep River area before settlers began to arrive and record Indian names and legends, but geography can hint at their travel patterns. From Bush Creek to Sandy Creek on either side of Franklinville the river drops sixty feet in a series of rapids and shallows that created two crossings used by natives for hundreds or thousands of years. At the lower (downstream) crossing known as Island Ford, “Crawford’s Path” ran from the Great Indian Trading Path near Julian South to Cheraw, South Carolina. The “Ellison Road” crossed at the upper ford, branching off Crawford’s Path and running west towards Asheboro, Salisbury and Charlotte.

Settlers began arriving in what is now Randolph County in the 1740s, when the area was part of Bladen County. In 1752 it became Orange County, which in 1771 became Guilford and in 1779, Randolph. The earliest known settler in the Franklinville area was Solomon Allred, who in March 1752 applied to purchase 640 acres “at the mouth of Sandy Creek, including his improvements.” To the West, Herman Husbands in November 1754 entered 402 acres on Deep River “called the Cedar Falls.” In between Hercules Ogle, a blacksmith, received permission to build a grist mill on his property near Solomon Allred in 1759.

The first settler on the actual site of Franklinville was Jacob Skeen, who entered title to 400 acres on Deep River including the mouth of Bush Creek and “his mill seat” in December 1778.  This is the first indication that the obvious waterpower potential of the falls above Island Ford was already being developed, using the kinetic energy generated by falling water to grind corn and wheat, gin cotton, card wool, saw wood, and smelt iron ore. Another miller, Christian Moretz, rebuilt the mill in 1801, and Elisha Coffin, another miller, bought the property twenty years later. The community which grew up around this mill became known “Coffin’s Mills on Deep River,” and later Franklinsville (the final ‘s’ was dropped in 1918). The wheat and corn mill survived until 1913 when it was replaced by a roller process mill. The ‘Roller Mill’ made both plain and self-rising flour, sold under the “Dainty Biscuit” brand name until a year before the mill burned in 1987.

The three oldest cotton textile mill villages on Deep River are Cedar Falls (1836), Franklinville (1838) and Island Ford (1845), all located within three miles of one another. When Franklinville was incorporated by the legislature in 1846 it was North Carolina’s first textile mill community to become a municipality. The original Franklinsville factory was spinning yarn by late 1839, and began to weave cloth in February 1840. Another cotton mill was added at Island Ford in 1846, apparel production lines cut and sewed undergarments for soldiers during the Civil War, and for a time wool spinning and sock knitting took place. Textile production continued in Franklinville until the mills finally closed in 1978.

The mill first installed a supplement to the river’s power in 1883, when a wood-fired boiler began to run a mechanical steam engine. A later 1898 Harris Corliss engine still exists.

Worthville Covered Bridge abutments after the bridge was washed away, 1912

The river was first used to turn an electric generator in Worthville about 1886; Franklinville acquired a generator and put electric lights in the mill in 1895. In 1919 a steam turbine generator station fired by coal began supplying electricity to the entire Franklinville community. Deep River Hydro, headquartered in Franklinville, even today operates low-head hydroelectric generators there and in Coleridge which send electricity to the Duke Energy grid. The cotton mills may have closed in 1978, but Deep River is still powering homes, businesses and industry in North Carolina today.

Pier destroyed at Wrightsville Beach by Florence.

Our Pitch

From the 1770s to the present, Franklinville has been putting Deep River to work. This is why we want to host Water/Ways. 2018 is the 240th anniversary of the first known use of waterpower in our community. 2020 will be the 180th anniversary of using the river’s energy to weave cotton cloth. There is no county history museum or exhibit gallery in Randolph County; several communities have tiny local museums but none has any space appropriate for hosting a SITES display. Hosting Water/Ways would be a huge vote of confidence in our effort to brand Franklinville as the home of history in Randolph county.

Randolph Heritage owns 15 acres on Deep River including the site of the grist mill and 1838 cotton mill. The 1919 Power House located at 1295 Andrew Hunter Road includes a 1400 square foot space with 20-foot-high ceilings that can be configured to house the SITES show and additional exhibits. The Power House is part of a complex of buildings that we plan to configure into a visitor’s center and gallery space to tell the story of Franklinville and its water-powered industry. There are also plans to rebuild the adjacent Cotton Warehouse into four large multi-purpose spaces.

The Power House complex is located on the Deep River Rail Trail, a hiking and biking trail being built on the former right-of-way of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway. It also adjoins the Deep River Blueway, a state paddle trail, and a kayak and canoe access point is planned for another part of the Randolph Heritage property. All these points are planned to be connected by a string of wayside signage marking significant points in Franklinville’s relationship to the river—the dams, the head and tail races, the sites of water wheels, wool carding machines, cotton gins, and saw mills.

Local exhibits will make use of the Randolph Heritage collections, which include oral history recordings, archival photographs, historic textile machinery, and historic water wheels and turbines.

We are creating a special collection of Hurricane Florence images, including spectacular aerial drone video of Deep River in flood through Franklinville on Monday September 17, 2018.

A sailboat is shoved up against a house and a collapsed garage Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, New Bern, N.C. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Town of Franklinville and Randolph Heritage plan to construct a series of tours, lectures, events and programs that will allow the visiting public to explore water from both scientific and cultural perspectives. Our purpose here is to begin to reconnect local residents to the value of the waterway, and so give them the ability to be better guides and ambassadors for the heritage of the river. We hope to build a core group of engaged parties who will work together to reclaim, restore and reinvigorate our waterside communities. We will create these programs and activities in collaboration with local schools, 4H clubs, the Franklinville Public Library, the Franklinville Volunteer Fire Department, the Randolph County Public Health Department, and others.

Florence flooding the Cape Fear in downtown Wilmington.

Potential program and event topics include:

*Engaging students water quality monitoring, watershed ecology and environmental stewardship;

*The hydrology of water power, from dam to tail race.

*The power of steam.

*Tours of the Sandy Creek drinking water treatment and the Franklinville wastewater treatment plants

*The history of Busk Creek ironworks and exploring how it used water power to smelt iron ore

*Exploring the local history of alcohol production from moonshining apple brandy to brewing beer

*A fishing tournament at Sandy Creek- discuss what lives in the river, licenses needed, etc.

*How clean/dirty is our river water? Are there toxic legacies in Deep River mud and sediment? Randleman, Asheboro and Franklinville all at times used river water to bleach, dye and finish cotton cloth. Older residents remember when the river would run blue, green, yellow and red, based on what colors were being used upstream.

North Carolina National Guard soldiers sandbagging a bridge near Wilmington.

We believe that hosting Water/Ways will be an appropriate way to open our renovated gallery space and to kick start our campaign to bring the history of Franklinville and Deep River to vivid life. We hope that the Humanities Council and SITES will to partner with us to champion the incredible ongoing story of the power of water in North Carolina.

A Cajun Navy air boat rescuing a family near Kinston, NC during Florence.